When I set up the geography for my dystopic future novel, The Price We Paid, (formerly Shea) I knew that I wanted to have several Autonomous Indigenous Regions (AIRs) between the United States and Canada which would serve as a place that dissidents, Muslims and other people fleeing the fascist Christian Republic could find refuge. I think I probably got the idea from the film Frozen River (one that I think anyone who makes more than $50,000 a year should see).
Frozen River takes place on the Mohawk Reserve at Akwesasne and tells the story of desperate people: A Mohawk woman who smuggles immigrants from Canada into the U.S. and who is shunned by her family for doing so and a mother of two whose husband has gambled away the downpayment for a prefab house. She joins the Mohawk woman to recoup the money. . .
Anyway Akwesasne straddles the Canadian and U.S. border, so when the river is frozen, people can cross from one side to the other without going through U.S. and Canadian customs.
So I thought for my novel, that would be really useful; I could see the Mohawks and other First Nations that have communities on both sides of the border—Anishinaabe, Dakota, Blackfoot, etc. —being amenable to receiving persecuted people from the Christian Republic, but I wasn’t sure if the history of how their autonomy came about would stand up under scrutiny. I thought maybe Canada could have a Mohawk Prime Minister in the 2050s who helped facilitate the creation of the zones and that the United States, in its weakened status, might not have the power to object when large chunks of its territory were carved out, because the Latin American Union and China would support the AIRS.
One of my Christian Peacemaker Team colleagues, Peter Haresnape, who works on our Aboriginal Justice team and is thus familiar with the intransigence of Canadian Federal and provincial governments when it comes to the rights of the First Nations told me he thought that that non-Indigenous Canadians wouldn’t allow this change to happen out of a simple sense of morality. So based on his suggestions, I came up with the following footnote:*
In 2052, with indigenous nations wielding more influence in the Canadian government, Prime Minister Kaniatariio, announced that Canada supported the autonomy of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Nation, whose territory at Akwesasne straddled the U.S./Canadian Border, and would defend it militarily if need be. China and the Latin American Union (LAU) immediately joined a defense pact with Canada, saying they would view an incursion by U.S. troops into the territory as a hostile act against their own nations. The LAU joining this pact was somewhat ironic, given that Colombia and Peru had almost exterminated their own indigenous populations by this time. Within the next decade, three more Autonomous Indigenous Regions were established between the U.S. and Canadian border at Red Lake, Dakota, and Niitsítapi, incorporating large swathes of U.S. territory.
The granting of autonomy was not entirely altruistic on Canada’s part. The Autonomous Regions became tax havens for wealthy Canadians, and the northernmost tribes whose lands contained significant mineral deposits agreed to cede their lands to the Canadian government and move to the Autonomous Regions.
The First Nations allowed descendants of European settlers still living in the regions to remain on their lands, but not to pass the properties on to their children. Since Estadounidenses were allotted considerably greater political freedoms in the Indigenous territories than they were in the U.S., most chose to remain on their lands. The few settler Canadians living in the Canadian Indigenous regions accepted financial compensation and emigrated to Canadian provinces.
I asked my friend and CPT colleague Jim Loney to read my manuscript, because I wanted his perspective on whether I had portrayed my gay teenager, Ralph, realistically. Jim (who is the author of Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War, which tells of the time he was held hostage in Baghdad November 2005-March 2006) told me that he had problems with my Canadiana. He said the Northern Nations would never cede their lands willingly (which was something I had wondered about, too.) He also said he just didn’t see white Canadians morally evolving to the point where they would elect a Mohawk Prime Minister by 2052 or be amenable to Autonomous Indigenous Regions.
He further said that my set-up for the Canadian Civil War was based on a false notion of the Parti Québécois. They are secessionist, yes, he said, but they are also progressive, and therefore unlikely to seize Indigenous lands or bomb Indigenous education centers. What I wanted was a Parti called Pure Laine (Pure Wool), which refers to people of a pure French-Canadian heritage. As we talked further, we realized that this political party and its militia groups would be just the sort of people that the Christian Republic would support with funding and weapons so they could foment a coup in Quebec and stop the trafficking of people and supplies through Akwesasne.
And then we realized we could backtrack a bit to the Mohawk Prime Minister. What if a much beloved populist Anglo Prime Minister were assassinated in the late 2040s-early 2050s by a member of Pure Laine (possibly with the backing of the Christian Republic?) What if one of his political passions had been reparations to Indigenous peoples in Canada, and after he died people elected Prime Minister Dudley Kaniatariio as a way of honoring that legacy? Kaniatariio, as a savvy politician, could then lay the groundwork for the AIRS.
That scenario, Jim said, might work.
One of the things I generally like about writing for Christian Peacemaker Teams is its communal nature. Someone (if I’m involved, usually me) knocks out a first draft, and then other people suggest new information and perspectives that are incorporated into the piece. My character Ralph became who he was at the suggestion of one of my beta readers. I feel both excited and relieved that my future Canadian history makes more sense now because of Jim’s input.
Note: The Price We Paid was featured this week in the Worlds of the Imagination blog, as part of the 77 challenge, (7 lines starting at the 7th line from the top of page 7 or 77) Thanks fellow She Writes member Olga Godim http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6471587 Olga_Godim for picking me!
*I’m currently eliminating all the footnotes either by incorporating them into the text or just losing them. Not everyone is as enamoured of fake academia as I am, according to my beta readers.