Language Games in Canada
In 1980 and 1995, residents of Quebec voted against creating a separate nation. This morning, the BBC News web site claims that
Canada's parliament has approved a government motion recognizing the people of mostly francophone Quebec as a nation within a united Canada.This comes down linguistically to the parliament creating a nation that is not a nation. Indeed,
Constitutional experts say the motion carries no legal weight and would be unlikely to give Quebec separatists a lever to extract more political powers from Ottawa.So, indeed, this would be a non-nation, nation. In fact, what it comes down to, as cabinet minister Michael Chong recognized, is a recognition of "ethnic nationalism".
In the U.S., we have a number of ethnic nations, most, if not all, being Amerindian in nature. But, citizens of the Navajo nation, for instance, have their own police force and legal system. To be a member of the bar of the Navajo nation one must have graduated from a normal law school and be a member of the bar association of one of the four US states within which the Navajo nation sits. In short, the "Navajo nation" is not a non-nation nation such as proposed for Quebec, but is a quasi-independent nation. Navajos are also full-fledged American citizens as they should be since their ancestors predate those of most others in the USA.
As is well-known, there are Indian tribes who have special fishing rights in various parts of the United States. In Minnesota, for instance, the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians won fishing rights in 1990 ceded by a 1837 treaty and works with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to set limits that preserves the fishery. Indian fishing rights issues in the Northwest have been widely publicized over the years.
Alongside fishing rights, Amerindians also have the right to set up casinos and, much to my surprise, there exists so many casinos in Oklahoma, my original home state, it must be difficult to avoid tripping over them. I observed that there are none in my home town of Enid, which is in the part of the state known as the Cherokee Strip. Normally, something like "Cherokee Strip" would be taken as referring to something that has some substantive association with Cherokees and it does -- all of them were run out of the area. While growing up there it never occurred to me how twisted White thinking must have been to continue to call their area of the state by the tribe that had been forcibly removed from it.
In many cases, it isn't really the Amerindians that create the casinos, but rather casino companies that do so on behalf of Amerindian tribes. In the last election in Rhode Island voters soundly rejected a casino proposed by Harrah's Entertainment to create a casino on behalf of some Indian group. The idea that non-Indians are exploiting (even if they are also helping) American Indians is a very familiar one.
So, in the USA, we have somewhat substantive nations present inside the nation as a whole. Canada seems not to be very different, except when it comes to Quebec. What the Canadian parliament is proposing to do is to call Quebec a nation even though the word "nation" would not have the conventional meaning it has in phrases like "the German nation" or in "the Navajo nation," which are themselves quite different. Indeed, it seems that the word "nation" as applied to Quebec would have no conventional meaning at all. It would be a totally empty expression semantically. Indeed, as PM Stephen Harper concedes, it is simply "a gesture to recognize Quebec's unique cultural heritage within Canada." Something like the single finger salute, perhaps?