Friday, August 22, 2014

How to think about the Canadian aboriginal issue with a libertarian view?

Libertarianism is a very big tent (hence the tipi picture). It pulls in people from all political directions, left, right, centre and for various reasons too numerous to expound here.

But there are two moral principles that are touchstones to the libertarian idea that separate it from all other political ideas. The first is the concept of "self-ownership," each of us is a sovereign being. The second is the "non-aggression principle" or NAP, where any unsolicited violent force against another person or their property is wrong because it violates the principle of self-ownership. It is these two ideas that keep libertarians together and pointed in the right direction. 

For me those ideas themselves do not comprise a complete philosophy, far from it. My philosophy includes those ideas as well as others which you may find here. Reason and evidence are among the things I try to use daily and believe wholeheartedly. Sadly for me, too many libertarians that I know believe the latter two ideas are irrelevant. But I digress.

My last two posts were about aboriginal issues, and this will be my final post of the series. I see the two touchstones of libertarianism as instructive in how to approach this issue. They can be applied to the aboriginal situation in Canada. By using this reasoning a libertarian resolution to the issue can be achieved at some point in the future.

Let me summarize the present situation in Canada as I see it.

Many natives bands have signed off on the 11 treaties covering a wide swath of the country and gave up their rights to land etc. in return for ongoing payments of goods, various entitlements and money. There are also large parts of the country where lands are disputed by the local native bands. In either case individual natives on reserves have collective, not individual land rights. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs sends tax payers money to the band chiefs on reserves according to the Indian Act, money that is coerced from the rest of us. The Indian Act perpetuates the natives lack of property rights ( (1) No Indian is lawfully in possession of land in a reserve). The money is distributed to band members according to the wishes of the chief and band council. Even if this was a voluntary arrangement between the Crown and the natives at one time, it most certainly is not now. The fact that the Indian Act precludes even fee simple property rights on reserves to natives without special permission is just wrong. Tax payers being coerced to enforce this legislation obviously contravenes the NAP, as most taxes do. No libertarian should support any of this. I don't.

Natives on the receiving end however, would have a very different view, many feeling entitled to their entitlements, which I think amounts to rent-seeking. Some even hold up the canard of "aboriginal sovereignty" to justify their situation. I'm a sovereign individual too, and my home is my castle. Reading the Indian Act puts the lie to sovereignty. Legislation that confers rights actually does the opposite, it is limiting because it gives permissions. It is not sovereignty, it is dependency. No libertarian should support the Indian Act.

From a governance viewpoint, the paternalistic Indian Act stipulates a type of crony wealth redistribution that is open to the possibility of corrupt practices by the Chiefs or band councils. Here is one Chief that made almost $1 million last year representing a band of just 81 members. This news only came to light after new legislation was instituted that requires bands to report their financial status which is absolutely unbelievable in 2014, but so typical of 'government oversight,' an oxymoron if ever there was one. You're welcome to wade through this opaque mass of government information generated by the transparency legislation here.

In my last post I mentioned the rent-like obligation placed on non-natives. This ongoing debt with no end in sight, is contrary to the NAP because no one wants to have an obligation they did not consent to, and no one should continue to acquiesce to this agreement. No libertarian should support this. 

Despite this, native leaders travel the world complaining of the bad treatment aboriginals receive in Canada. I found an exchange between Prof. Walter Block and Lorne Gunter on the issue of 'Human Rights' and natives here. Its well worth the read and contains some interesting data. Prof. Block, by the way, " (my) view. Wholeheartedly, and enthusiastically," I asked him.
Some of the apologists for aboriginal 'rights' in Canada will point out that it's really not that expensive to satisfy the obligations in the treaties and agreements with the natives. That may be true (but still no excuse) in the grand scheme, but there are hidden costs that must be factored in:

Aboriginals have the highest incarceration rate in the country:
"While Aboriginal people make up about 4% of the Canadian population, as of February 2013, 23.2% of the federal inmate population is Aboriginal (First Nation, Métis or Inuit). There are approximately 3,400 Aboriginal offenders in federal penitentiaries, approximately 71% are First Nation, 24% Métis and 5% Inuit.
In 2010-11, Canada’s overall incarceration rate was 140 per 100,000 adults. The incarceration rate for Aboriginal adults in Canada is estimated to be 10 times higher than the incarceration rate of non-Aboriginal adults.
The over-representation of Aboriginal people in Canada’s correctional system continued to grow in the last decade. Since 2000-01, the federal Aboriginal inmate population has increased by 56.2%. Their overall representation rate in the inmate population has increased from 17.0% in 2000-01 to 23.2% today.
Since 2005-06, there has been a 43.5% increase in the federal Aboriginal inmate population, compared to a 9.6% increase in non-Aboriginal inmates.
Aboriginal youth have the highest suicide rates in the country:
"Suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than for non-Aboriginal youth, and rates among Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average. Some speculate that the problem is actually worse, as stats don't usually include all Aboriginal groups."
Aboriginals are treated differently by Police in all jurisdictions across Canada even though the Indian Act specifies:

"General provincial laws applicable to Indians
88. Subject to the terms of any treaty and any other Act of Parliament, all laws of general application from time to time in force in any province are applicable to and in respect of Indians in the province, except to the extent that those laws are inconsistent with this Act or the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, or with any order, rule, regulation or law of a band made under those Acts, and except to the extent that those provincial laws make provision for any matter for which provision is made by or under those Acts."
I won't even go into the issue of contraband cigarettes/tobacco. This may not have been an issue when treaties and agreements were established more than 100 years ago, but things have changed.

Is it possible that the impact of the Indian Act, aboriginal dependency on big government and all of the things I've mentioned plus others, are the cause (direct or indirect) of the present situation? I'd say yes.

Milton Friedman said judge policy by results not intentions. It's very clear to me what the results have been between the various aboriginals and Crown/government over the past hundreds of years. The policies have not worked, particularly for the aboriginals.

I tend to agree with Lorne Gunter, this will not be fixed for a generation or two, if ever, and I have no idea where to start. But let me suggest that a good place to begin is to admit the problem and confront it. This is a huge waste of human resources, people that should be contributing to our country are being wasted literally.

I would like to see the Libertarian Party of Canada take up this issue, no other party seems to have the courage.


  1. Without a sweeping recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty and treaty rights, repealing the Indian Act would be akin to forceful assimilation, something that is not applicable to the Non-Aggression Principle. Trudeau and his cronies already tried this with the White Paper. It's wrong and it will never fly.

    I share your opposition to taxes and force. While I am not a deontological libertarian, I agree that the obligations put on the backs of taxpayers are unfair, and cause problems for individuals and families.
    Still, your apparent lack of objection to assimilationism, and your support for ignoring our obligations in the treaties concerns me. This policy is not so much libertarian as it is nationalist. Simply stopping payment would cost taxpayers a few cents, but it would also effectively negate the treaties, returning all of the lands in question, at least in title. The only solution to this would be to ignore the claims, which is effectively stealing. These treaties were made in good faith. Land for promises. If we don't believe the deal is fair anymore, then the libertarian thing to do would be to renegotiate, not to occupy the land and assimilate the people.

    Case in point, I reject the notion that the issues caused by past governments cannot be solved peacefully, without forceful assimilation or property theft.

    1. “Repealing the Indian Act would be akin to forceful assimilation” I disagree.
      Promoting or preventing assimilation is not a function of government. It is the responsibility of the individual or group that does or does not want to be assimilated.
      I don’t give a shit what Trudeau said in whatever white paper - that’s irrelevant to my argument. The Indian Act defines who is an Indian - don’t you think that is an individual choice, not something government tells you?
      Nowhere did I ever say the treaties should be ignored. The ongoing payments by this and future generations must be stopped and settled with some compensation somehow.
      Where there are no treaties - those natives better decide to come to a table and discuss - there is no “title” (how was it granted?) to the land they once occupied. That land has been homesteaded for hundreds of years, there is no return. The longer the issue festers the less likely will be a fair settlement to the natives.

  2. jeez I do hope this is the last one!Since you are speaking for the Federal Party do you think Tim Moen feel's on the topic.He grew up beside reserve's maybe you should let the federal Party Leader speak on this.

  3. I don't speak for the Federal party and I don't know what Tim thinks, that's not my problem.

    This is a personal blog and I'm stating a personal opinion.

    BTW, there is nothing that I have said that disagrees with the current LPC policy which I agree with. But it needs to be fleshed out - I hope this helps.

  4. I enjoyed the Gunter/Block exchange, although Block's defense of the pursuit of the ideal is pure philosophy, while Gunter is attempting to speak to current political reality. There will be -- and always should be -- tension between these viewpoints. Philosophy encourages abstracts, while politics demands results -- or it is impotent...

    A political party usually starts out from a philosophical position; unfortunately, by the time it has reached power and become a political machine, it has usually become purely pragmatic. Maintaining the balance for as long as possible is the most difficult task that a political party faces...