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North logical setting for fictional Uprising

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FLIN FLON -- The Mounties held out as long as they could, but Flin Flon, Cranberry Portage and The Pas have fallen.

Local authority has crumbled. Unrest ravages the streets. Invading aboriginal guerillas have methodically seized control. Now everyone will have to listen.

This is the scene described in Uprising, the controversial novel by Douglas Bland, chairman of defence management studies at Queen's University.

Using real communities as his backdrop, Bland envisions a national native populace so estranged it steers the sort of insurrection Canadians only ever see on TV.

Bland reportedly claims all insurgent scenarios described in his novel -- including those around the Flin Flon-The Pas area -- have been discussed by native activists.

Northern Manitoba makes perfect sense as a setting. We are three major communities and a few smaller centres encompassed by 33 reserves in all directions.

Demographically, we are at least two-thirds aboriginal, probably more, and the aboriginal population is the only one growing -- and quite rapidly so.

And the lifestyle contrast is probably as sharp as anywhere in North America. While most aboriginals live in ramshackle homes in desolate towns, the bulk of us in Flin Flon, The Pas and Thompson -- relatively affluent communities -- have it pretty good.

Still, it's not as though an aboriginal uprising is on anybody's radar, despite the undeniable racial divide.

The Thompson Citizen just took down its Facebook page because of anti-aboriginal posts.

In Flin Flon, talk of an eventual road to link up with the roadless Pukatawagan reserve has met vocal opposition.

And in The Pas, which has made great strides since the infamous murder of Helen Betty Osborne, an aboriginal high school student, some natives wonder whether progress has come quickly enough.

Racism is not a one-way street, of course. It's easy to find non-aboriginals who feel victimized by native racism, or who wonder why preferential hiring practices work against them based on the lightness of their skin.

But could it all really lead to an uprising? I don't have Bland's credentials, but I have lived in the north my whole life -- and I would be shocked.

What's not shocking is what we recently witnessed near Snow Lake. On the afternoon of Jan. 28, protesters from Pukatawagan's Mathias Colomb Cree Nation blocked the road to Hudbay's massive mine-in-progress, Lalor.

With Idle No More sweeping the nation and the term "99 percenter" now part of our lexicon, it was inevitable that First Nations would begin to demand more seats at the table for wealth-generating resource projects.

At Lalor, the standoff could get tense. Mathias Colomb members have demanded Hudbay halt development until they grant their permission; the company has said work will proceed as planned.

Reaction in Snow Lake and area has overwhelmingly favoured Hudbay. If band members want a share of Lalor, it's been said repeatedly, they should apply for jobs there like everyone else.

But band protesters don't necessarily want widespread sympathy. To them, this is a question of ownership, akin to someone mining gold between the picket fences of your backyard without bothering to ask or reimburse you.

There isn't really a history of these sorts of protests in northern Manitoba, but they have gone on for years in provinces such as B.C. and Ontario. Unavoidably, we have joined the club.

Not that it's understandable to everyone. As Snow Lake Mayor Clarence Fisher told the CBC: "You know, I'm not quite clear how coming to one municipality is solving problems in your own place."

For many, the ultimate solution -- to the racial divide, the Third World reserves and the land-claim disputes -- is simple: Get aboriginals to leave their reserves and participate in the mainstream northern economy.

Sounds great, except part of what we're talking about is human nature. Would I as a non-aboriginal person in Flin Flon ever be so inclined to leave if I were guaranteed income and housing here, as natives are on reserves?

I've asked a few friends that same question now. I'm still waiting for the one who says they would.

Jonathon Naylor is editor of the Reminder

newspaper in Flin Flon.

jonathon_naylor@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 A15

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