Tuesday, November 28, 2006

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?

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Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

In re Navajos and other Amerindians:
I'm not sure how their being here first should affect their citizenship rights in the USA. Certainly they are citizens of their own nations. This is not to say that I would deny them citizenship in the USA; I'm just not sure how it's relevant.
As to their status as independent nations, they are in some ways as independent as any of our states. From a legal perspective, the normal law of sovereignty recognizes them as sovereign nations. This means that they have the option of whether or not to allow their citizens to sue them, and it also means that they can criminally prosecute a person for a crime even if that person has been acquitted in state court and/or federal court (so in theory, even though we have the Double Jeopardy Clause, if you commit a crime in a reservation you can be prosecuted three times). It's also worth noting that you can be prosecuted again by them even when you've been convicted in another court, which would amount to double punishment, without violating the Double Jeopardy Clause.

On other concerns, each state in the US is treated similarly, which is why you can be prosecuted by both federal and state authorities for a crime, and why you can't sue your own state unless they let you (the Eleventh Amendment prohibits you from suing a state where you don't reside, but only in the federal system). A quirky fact in this area is that if you have jurisdiction and venue over State A with regards to a set of circumstances in State B, you can sue them in State B. State B will then apply their law regarding choice of law for each aspect of a case, and it can be that you could sue State A in State B even if you wouldn't be able to sue them in State A. This probably sounds very confusing, but it can happen for instance in problems involving bodies of water shared by two states. Someone sued California in Nevada over issues related to Lake Tahoe.

I know this has gone completely off topic, but maybe it's interesting to you.

2:59 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Maybe I should clarify my statement about citizenship. Your statement seems to view citizenship rights as somehow tied to the land itself. But it seems to me that they are tied to the government itself, not the land.

11:08 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

To suggest that the people we stole the land from should mot have a right to full citizenship in the USA, as well as any rights they may have within their tribal organizations strikes me as bizarre. You are right that the government has the right to grant citizenship or take it away in certain circumstances, as when felons lose the right to vote. Why is that I wonder? Why should being put in the slammer for drug possession be relevant at all to voting rights?

8:45 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

"Why should being put in the slammer for drug possession be relevant at all to voting rights?"

That's a really good question. I honestly have no idea. There's nothing in the Constitution which forbids denial of voting rights for that reason though. All the Constitution's rules on voting rights are phrased as prohibitions on denial of the right based on certain grounds (Amendments XV, XIX, and XXVI). I doubt you could get support for another amendment which prohibits such a denial on the basis of criminal conviction. It doesn't seem relevant at all (unless the crime were something like treason) but it also wouldn't make sense to have an affirmative command to give voting rights to everyone as long as they meet certain criteria; at least I don't think so. That would seem to be a big infringement on states' rights.

But going back to the Amerindian citizenship issue, I don't suggest that they shouldn't be citizens. I only state that the fact of their being on the land has little to do with citizenship. Each nation can set up its own criteria for citizenship, and I applaud the US for giving them citizenship, but I don't think that they would have had to do so just because they were here first. After all, they were already citizens of sovereign nations (the individual tribes) and dual citizenship is an unusual thing indeed, at least outside of the United States (where everyone is a citizen of the US and most often also of an individual state, although the question of which state is often informal and may not ever come into question unless a law suit is brought in federal court and they must determine diversity of citizenship).

10:44 AM

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4:27 AM


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