Back in the mid-1970s a group of University of Regina engineering students ran a tape recorder, which they called Bob 6, for the student union president. Their argument was that because the position of president – and of the student council – was so impotent that all it could do was take the wishes, concerns and fears of somebody and replay them to somebody who can actually do something.

Today, regional and national chiefs are stuck in the position of Bob 6, or at least Bob 6 if somebody took out the batteries. A lot of people within the Idle No More movement talk a lot about how Bill C-45 overrides the treaties. But it doesn’t matter. Stephen Harper is the prime minister who killed the Kelowna Accord, and he is a member of the same political party that helped destroy the Charlottetown Accord 20 years ago. He made this mess — not the chiefs, not the Idle No More movement — because he and his followers scuttled every other possibility of creating a process of helping to resolve these issues, and offered nothing but contempt for anyone not as rich and as white as he is in return..

So when Murray Mandryk – who’s a fine political columnist and should damn well know better than to write what he did today – tries to call out First Nations chiefs over the procedural wrangling over today’s meeting or non-meeting, there’s a whole bunch of reasons why they’re acting that way. 

Not only are they getting pressure from the Idle No More movement (which is doing as much to undercut the exalted position too many in the old boys club of organizations such as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations as it is to challenge the Harper government) but they know that to sup with the devil requires a real long spoon. And for any aboriginal person, supping with Harper requires a very long spoon.

See, the Reform/CPC’s whole shtick on aboriginal rights has been to ignore them. Not just rights, but aboriginal peoples as well. Racism? Treaty violations? Screw it, it’s just the economy. They’ll get used to it. Just as Heindrik Verwoerd assured investors (and Commonwealth leaders in 1961) that apartheid was just good economics and labour relations. (It didn’t work – South Africa was expelled from the Commonwealth following the Sharpesville Massacre). And anybody opposing them were people bent on upsetting The System. You don’t want to upset the system, do you?

The Conservative Party of Canada isn’t interested in hearing from aboriginal leaders unless those leaders think they have a knife to the government’s throat – and then Harper will use the real or imagined threats of civil disobedience or ‘domestic terrorism’ to ramp up police powers, do stuff to further disenfranchise people who would vote for somebody else and generally bully the public into following Harper’s agenda. Anybody who so much as looks sideways at aboriginal concerns will be seen as those who Are Against Law And Order. By demonizing and sidelining people such as Chief Spence in particular and aboriginal peoples in general, Harper wants to solidify his hold amongst the chattering classes and business community who worry that hellfire and destruction will happen – especially on the economic front — if Harper doesn’t have supreme power.

That’s how the National Party of South Africa sold apartheid. Anything else is bad for business. And you don’t want to do anything that’s bad for business, right? So take the batteries out of the tape recorder and let them wail all they want, boys.