Abstract This article explores the nature of parliamentary opposition on issues affecting Indigenous communities at Canada’s national parliament. Content analysis is performed on all oral questions asked on Indigenous issues in the 37th, 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st parliaments. The findings reveal a particular preferred frame for approaching Indigenous issues, centred on a poverty-based problem statement. In contrast, more particularistic Indigenous issues, such as historical restitution, resolution of competing claims to territory or increasing self-determination, are underrepresented in parliamentary discourse. The article explores the implications of this finding for Indigenous issue representation, and the representation of other groups in parliament. Parliament has not, traditionally, been viewed as a welcoming place for Indigenous peoples in the settler states of the former British Empire. In Canada, it is the site where non-Indigenous politicians debated policies of domination and assimilation—but Indigenous peoples themselves have been mostly absent from these proceedings (c.f. Daschuk 2013). According to the Library of Parliament, there have been just 43 Indigenous Members of Parliament (MPs) since its creation in 1867 (Parliament of Canada, 2016). In the modern period, the bulk of Indigenous political energy in Canada has been funnelled towards judicial challenges, lobbying and advocacy organisations, and outside of institutions altogether, towards protest and direct action. But after 40 years of forceful and effective mobilisation, the issues affecting Indigenous communities are more present in parliamentary discourse than ever before. Despite this, Indigenous scepticism towards the institution thrives. But what is the quality of issue representation for Indigenous peoples, in an institution that is central to Canadian democracy, but also a living symbol of the colonial foundations of the country? A preponderance of literature on Indigenous politics and governance focuses on the performance of the state in relation to Indigenous issues. This article instead seeks to examine the performance of the parliamentary opposition in holding the government to account on this set of issues. The conventional view, particularly within Indigenous scholarly and activist circles, is that the democratic opposition is generally inattentive in enforcing accountability on Indigenous issues. This has contributed to general disengagement from electoral politics among Indigenous peoples, and to calls for some form of ‘professional opposition’ to augment or supplant the democratic opposition—an Aboriginal auditor general (Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 2011) or officer of parliament for Indigenous relations (Morden and Thomas, 2015), for example. But this supposition has not been subjected to serious research scrutiny. This article specifically examines Indigenous issue representation in Parliament, rather than descriptive or substantive representation through the participation of Indigenous MPs. My research question is: What is the character of parliamentary opposition on Indigenous issues, and does it align with Indigenous advocacy and lobbying? In other words, to what degree does an overwhelmingly non-Indigenous opposition reflect the views and concerns of Indigenous communities? To assess this I undertake content analysis of every instance when an Indigenous issue, broadly defined, was raised by an opposition MP in oral question period during the 37th, 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st parliaments (29 January 2001 to 2 August 2015). The resulting data set comprises 1315 ‘issues raised’.1 I am primarily interested in what kinds of issues are raised and with what frequency, as well as partisan effects and trends in the overall degree and kind of questions related to Indigenous issues. The findings suggest increasing attentiveness to Indigenous issues in recent Parliaments, and some anticipated differences between opposition parties. Most importantly though, the findings suggest that a particular framing prevails in parliamentary opposition, and with it, preoccupation with a certain category of issues to the exclusion of others. A large majority of the parliamentary advocacy of opposition MPs adopts a frame which views poverty as the fundamental problem affecting Indigenous communities. Other issues which hold strong salience for Indigenous communities and which are intrinsically Indigenous—such as treaties and land claims, governance and autonomy, and Aboriginal rights—appear minimally in parliamentary discourse, despite Indigenous lobbying outside of Parliament. This suggests that while the volume of opposition advocacy on Indigenous issues is significant and increasing, opposition advocacy operates inside a restrictive frame, is partial and incomplete in predictable ways. There are lessons here for the study of Indigenous issue representation in other settler states, but also for the substantive representation of ethnocultural groups in national parliaments generally. The framing which is employed by the opposition is likely driven by the electoral necessity of performing opposition to an overwhelmingly non-Indigenous audience. This imposes some basic limitations on the ability of opposition MPs to hold the government to account on a subset of issues that are vital to Indigenous communities, but which do not resonate directly with a settler public. Focussing on poverty permits MPs to foster an inclusive moral panic, and to engage ideological and values commitments on the part of the settler public. Something like the restitution of stolen land to Indigenous peoples, for example, does not offer the same opportunities for narrative bridging. 1. Indigenous peoples, settler colonialism and parliament Indigenous people hold a unique position in Canada, in history, law and politics. They are internal nations (rather than ethnic minorities) who, by nature of their priority in time and experience of colonialism, hold distinct rights in the Canadian constitution. For most Indigenous nations, their relationship to Canada is mediated by treaties—historical and contemporary agreements that establish rights and govern land distribution. Indigenous people also experience poor socio-economic outcomes across almost all indicators, and the condition of Indigenous communities occupies vast public attention. This is especially true in recent years, when ‘reconciliation’ between Indigenous peoples and the settler state has entered the vernacular. Despite a trend towards greater autonomy for Indigenous governments, the national government remains the primary governance presence in Indigenous communities. In the federal distribution of powers, the Canadian constitution confers responsibility for ‘Indians and lands reserved for Indians’ on the national government. This renders the national government the key crown agent and administrator to Indigenous peoples. The national Parliament, therefore, remains the centre of Indigenous policymaking in a practical, if not symbolic sense. But Indigenous scepticism of Parliament is widespread, deep and abiding. It is reflected in an ongoing debate within Indigenous society about whether it is efficacious or even normatively desirable to exercise Canadian citizenship, and vote in Canadian elections (c.f. CBC News 2015). The rate of Indigenous electoral participation is generally low, though there are competing explanations for why this may be (c.f. Ladner and McCrossan, 2007; Fournier and Loewen, 2011; Berdahl et al., 2012). Indigenous peoples have limited means to significantly impact the composition of Parliament. In total, they number fewer than 5% of the overall population, and this refers not to a single constituency but a broad category of peoples comprising more than 60 diverse nations. Moreover, Indigenous people are widely dispersed geographically, still lessening their electoral clout under a single-member plurality electoral system. In 2015, a record ten Indigenous MPs were elected, out of a total of 338. The historically high number still left Indigenous people underrepresented in Parliament. Some consideration has been given to major parliamentary reform in order to correct this problem, including various forms of guaranteed representation (Williams, 2004)—but none of these proposals has approached realisation. More recently, instead of focusing on boosting Indigenous descriptive representation in Parliament, Indigenous lobbyists have called for an Aboriginal Auditor General—an independent officer of Parliament with the authority to investigate government performance on Indigenous issues, and provide impartial advice to parliament (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2011). This partly reflects disengagement from normal parliamentary practice and a lack of faith in the ability or inclination of the opposition to effectively represent Indigenous interests. The scholarly literature follows this ambivalence, by generally treating parliament and Indigenous politics as separate areas of study, with some exceptions (c.f. White, 1993, White, 2006, Malloy and White, 1997). But from the literature on Indigenous politics, we can infer some sets of expectations about parliamentary opposition. I begin from three competing hypotheses regarding parliamentary opposition on these issues. The first two are drawn from the critical normative literature on Indigenous-state relations in Canada, and the study of ‘settler colonialism’. This field holds, broadly, that settler states are founded on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and, as a consequence, are fundamentally unfriendly to their interests. Variables such as the descriptive representation of Indigenous peoples in parliament, or which party is governing at a given political moment, are treated as immaterial and unable to effect the central thrust of the settler state in Indigenous lives. According to Patrick Wolfe (1999), leading historian of settler colonialism, colonial conquest is ‘a structure, not an event’ (p. 96), ‘at base, a winner-take-all project’ (p. 163). Settler colonial theory distinguishes minimally between the state and settler society as a whole (Morden, 2014), leading one to expect that the mostly settler opposition is more likely to reflect back to the government its own norms than those of Indigenous communities. My first hypothesis, then—the stronger variant of the settler colonialism hypothesis—is that members of the parliamentary opposition have no interest or incentive to raise Indigenous issues, and will be more likely to advocate on behalf of settler society in its inevitable instrumental and normative conflict with Indigenous peoples. But a softer interpretation of settler colonial theory is also possible, which yields a second, competing hypothesis: that while the parliamentary opposition may advocate on behalf of Indigenous peoples, the basic zero-sum contest over lands and resources that characterises the Indigenous–settler relationship will impose limitations on the kind of opposition that is performed. A distinct third hypothesis can be drawn from a competing school in the study of Indigenous politics, which argues that a sympathetic discourse, grounded in political correctness and historical guilt, has achieved pre-eminence in the field of Indigenous issues. Tom Flanagan describes an ‘aboriginal orthodoxy’, ‘widely and firmly accepted in any circles exercising any influence over aboriginal policy’ (Flanagan, 2008, p. 3), with an especial emphasis on distinctive rights for Indigenous people, sovereignty, self-determination, and ‘nation-to-nation’ relations. The orthodoxy described by Flanagan is modelled most closely on the Canadian experience, but is an ‘international phenomenon’, present also in Australia and New Zealand according to Flanagan (Flanagan, 2008, p. 8). From the ‘aboriginal orthodoxy’ school can be derived the following hypothesis respecting parliamentary opposition: that opposition MPs will conform to the norms described above, treating Indigenous peoples as ‘privileged political communities’ apart (Flanagan, 2008, p. 194), rather than focusing on more practical and material solutions for those communities. 2. Design of the study This article adopts Question Period participation as an indicator of opposition behaviour on Indigenous issues. Question Period is the most public-facing activity that Parliament undertakes—a 45-minute afternoon term during which MPs from opposition and government backbenches can ask oral questions to ministers. The exchanges are broadcast widely—at least, more so than any other parliamentary proceedings—and as a result, Question Period is a critical opportunity for opposition members to score points against the government. It is often derided as the ‘theatre of parliament’—but this is precisely the kind of parliamentary behaviour that concerns us here. While substantive opposition may take place in committees and elsewhere, at Question Period MPs perform their opposition for an at-home audience. As Penner et al. argue ‘though they often seem chaotic and discordant, even attention-seeking and absurd, oral questions contain relevant information about representatives’ political and legislative priorities’ (Penner et al., 2006, p. 1009; see also Salmond, 2014). Opposition behaviour is examined in the past five Parliaments, covering 29 January 2001–2 August 2015. The case selection includes significant changes in the composition of Parliament, encompassing majority and minority Liberal and Conservative governments, and three different parties—the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democratic Party (NDP)—as the official opposition. This permits the examination of partisan difference in opposition on Indigenous issues. I have examined the frequency of issues raised but am especially interested in the content and distribution—which issues were emphasised over others. A keyword search of Hansard records for Question Period was performed,2 and the results were subject to content analysis to confirm that they met the broad criteria for inclusion. I have included all questions in which some measure of advocacy is directed towards Indigenous communities. This includes a common category of question in which Indigenous communities are cited among other groups, or highlighted within a question that speaks to a problem affecting all of society. For example: ‘Here we are in 2009 and yet we have one in ten children in Canada living in poverty, one out of four aboriginal children… . Will the Prime Minister tell us if he is committed to eradicating child poverty?’ (Layton, 2009); or ‘Mr. Speaker, this government has done nothing in the past year to improve on-the-job training. Aboriginals, immigrants and the disabled are particularly affected by this government’s negligence. How much longer do we have to wait for a real national policy on investment for on-the-job training?’ (Ignatieff, 2007). But the majority of questions are focussed solely on Indigenous peoples. Content analysis proceeded with ‘inductive category development’ (Mayring, 2000), as common themes and focuses were identified from, rather than imposed on the data. Issue categories were revised and refined in small degrees in later stages of data collection (Mayring, 2000). Some descriptive statistics were produced from the data, and then the identified issue salience tendencies were evaluated against proxies for Indigenous issue saliency, and theories of framing and Indigenous politics. 3. Longitudinal trend—overall increase in focus on Indigenous issues The first conclusion from the descriptive statistics is that a focus on Indigenous issues has generally trended upward over the course of the five parliaments studied, especially accelerating in the last two parliaments. Table 1 below provides the frequency with which Indigenous issues were raised, adjusted for the relative length of each session of Parliament. Table 1 Adjusted frequency of Indigenous issues raised by Session Session No. of issues raised No. of HOC sittings Issues raised/HOC sitting 37,1 43 211 0.203791469 37,2 74 153 0.483660131 37,3 12 55 0.218181818 38,1 54 159 0.339622642 39,1 192 175 1.097142857 39,2 86 117 0.735042735 40,1 5 13 0.384615385 40,2 83 128 0.6484375 40,3 127 149 0.852348993 41,1 328 272 1.205882353 41,2 311 235 1.323404255 Session No. of issues raised No. of HOC sittings Issues raised/HOC sitting 37,1 43 211 0.203791469 37,2 74 153 0.483660131 37,3 12 55 0.218181818 38,1 54 159 0.339622642 39,1 192 175 1.097142857 39,2 86 117 0.735042735 40,1 5 13 0.384615385 40,2 83 128 0.6484375 40,3 127 149 0.852348993 41,1 328 272 1.205882353 41,2 311 235 1.323404255 There are consistently fewer than 0.5 Indigenous issues raised per House of Commons (HOC) sitting in all four sessions of the first two parliaments. A sharp increase is observed between the 38th and 39th parliaments, which correspond with a change from a Liberal to a Conservative government (and consequentially, a Conservative-led to a Liberal-led opposition). Thereafter, rates remain relatively higher—particularly if the anomalous first session of the 40th parliament is ignored, a session that lasted only 13 HOC sittings, and was consumed by a parliamentary crisis over who should form government. In both sessions of the 41st parliament, more than one Indigenous issue was raised per HOC sitting. 4. Opposition by whom? But to what degree is parliamentary opposition on Indigenous issues homogenous, and how much is it impacted by the actors involved? The longitudinal trend above is suggestive of partisan differences in at least the degree of parliamentary opposition on Indigenous issues. With the Conservative Party/parties in opposition (there were two conservative parties in opposition before their merger in 2004) parliamentary advocacy on Indigenous issues appears significantly less common than after the Conservative Party took power, displacing the Liberals to opposition. In the 41st parliament, the social democratic NDP also acted as the official opposition for the first time in history, and this corresponds with greater weight given to Indigenous advocacy. But the data set presented here does not control for other variables that could explain changes in the degree of attention paid to Indigenous issues. Greater media attention over time, for example, likely explains some of this change (c.f. Soroka, 2002). Regarding the kind, rather than degree of parliamentary opposition on Indigenous issues yields a more definitive finding. MPs from conservative opposition parties, as well as ideologically conservative members sitting as independents, are distinguished from MPs of other parties in one notable tendency. All of the questions concerning government waste and mismanagement—directed both at the national government and at the Indigenous governments themselves—originated with conservative MPs. This is an important category of questions from a framing standpoint, as will be discussed below. Consequently, this stark partisan distinction is noteworthy. In the 39th, 40th and 41st Parliaments, when the Conservatives formed government, the partisan affiliation of opposition MPs had limited salience. The centre-left Liberals, social-democratic NDP, Green Party and Quebec nationalist Bloc Quebecois generally adopted thematically similar approaches to Indigenous advocacy. Where differences exist, they can be easily related to points of divergence in the positioning of the parties. For example, the NDP was more likely than the Liberals to cite the negative effects on Indigenous communities of oil and gas developments—and this reflects the party’s more hard line programmatic stance against oil sands production. Another notable partisan distinction was the sustained advocacy by the Bloc Quebecois on the topic of Aboriginal rights and particularly, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada was among the last world states to endorse. Though prima facie surprising—the Quebec sovereignty movement has often come into conflict with Indigenous movements for recognition—one can readily identify the calculus behind this trend. Arguing for a form of international recognition for self-determination is, after all, deeply resonant within the mission of a minority nationalist and secessionist party. In short, where partisan differences in Indigenous advocacy exist they are fairly predictable, map closely on ideological and programmatic differences between the parties, and support the general priorities of those parties. But with the notable exception of a conservative focus on waste and mismanagement, there is a strong degree of thematic convergence. There is not the space here to investigate in any great depth the kind of representation delivered by Indigenous MPs. Working with such small total numbers of individuals, and in a Canadian context where partisan discipline is intense and the agency of individual MPs obscured, this would require close qualitative study of the MPs themselves. But a short note on the performance of Indigenous opposition MPs in Question Period is merited. Indigenous MPs did indeed make their presence felt in Question Period on Indigenous issues. In total, approximately 15% of all Indigenous issues raised over the five parliaments were in oral questions by Indigenous opposition MPs. During the same period, Indigenous MPs were usually less and never more than 2.3% of the entire Parliament, and 1.3% of opposition members. So we can conclude confidently that Indigenous MPs are massively overrepresented in parliamentary advocacy on Indigenous issues. But it remains difficult to draw firm conclusions about the impact of individual Indigenous MPs. Given that the Canadian question period is tightly controlled by party whips, this could simply be an indication that Indigenous MPs are deployed strategically by their leaders, as the most effective advocates on these issues. For the same reason, it is difficult to evaluate the importance of the agency of other (non-Indigenous) MPs speaking to Indigenous issues. Certain MPs have become publicly identified with Indigenous advocacy, in large part because of their parliamentary interventions, but again, distinguishing their individual initiative from party coordination would require closer investigation. There does appear to be a trend over time towards a kind of specialised opposition—more consistent attention from a select group of MPs, who shape their parliamentary careers very much around these issues. By the 41st parliament, MPs who spoke to Indigenous issues raised them on average 5.5 times per parliament, up from 2.1 in the 37th parliament. 5. Opposition over what? I am most interested in the question of how opposition on Indigenous issues are framed, which issues preoccupy members, and which issues are excluded. Content analysis revealed a number of relatively consistent thematic focuses, as well as other forms of advocacy delivered through oral questions. The initial result was 16 discrete categories of ‘issues raised’. The categories are described in brief below where necessary and illustrative examples are provided. As indicated in Table 2, social issues and social policy are consistently a primary focus of parliamentary opposition. General social policy, health and education are three of the four most frequent themes invoked in questions, and collectively represent 1/3rd of total questions. Violence against Indigenous women, a particular focus of Indigenous advocacy in the past decade, is the second most common category, and its frequency accelerates dramatically over time—with 57% of references occurring in the second session of 41st parliament only, the most recent session captured in the study. This corresponds with an increase in public attention and advocacy activity on this issue, and appears qualitatively to be linked with media coverage. Gendered violence references are clustered around major news events, such as the widely publicised murder of an Indigenous student studying gendered violence at the time of her death. While this issue is distinct in both its gendered and public safety dimensions, it shares thematically with social policy categories in its focus on poverty and vulnerability. Table 2 Question categories by overall frequency Category Overall frequency Percentage of total questions Social policy/issues—general 174 13.2 Missing/murdered Indigenous women (i.e. calls for an inquiry into high rate of homicide for Indigenous women). 134 10.1 Health 112 8.5 Education 97 7.3 Energy, resources, and the environment 93 7.0 General (i.e. broad invocation of issues affecting Indigenous communities, rather than a single-issue focus). 88 6.6 Residential schools (i.e. historical policy of assimilation for which prime minister apologised in 2008, which was focus of a truth and reconciliation commission). 83 6.3 Community-specific (i.e. criticism of government over general conditions faced by one specific community, rather than a single-issue focus). 83 6.3 Aboriginal rights 56 4.2 Land claims (i.e. restitution for broken treaties, negotiation of modern treaties, conflict over land ownership) 39 2.9 Governance (i.e. Indian Act, greater autonomy and self-determination) 36 2.7 Water quality 32 2.4 Kelowna accord (i.e. political accord promising social investments in 2005, cancelled in 2006). 28 2.1 Land, wildlife and fisheries 28 2.1 Government waste/mismanagement 18 1.3 Other/miscellaneous (incl., ad hominem criticism of Minister, episodic advocacy over smaller time-bound events, etc.) 214 16.2 Total 1315 Category Overall frequency Percentage of total questions Social policy/issues—general 174 13.2 Missing/murdered Indigenous women (i.e. calls for an inquiry into high rate of homicide for Indigenous women). 134 10.1 Health 112 8.5 Education 97 7.3 Energy, resources, and the environment 93 7.0 General (i.e. broad invocation of issues affecting Indigenous communities, rather than a single-issue focus). 88 6.6 Residential schools (i.e. historical policy of assimilation for which prime minister apologised in 2008, which was focus of a truth and reconciliation commission). 83 6.3 Community-specific (i.e. criticism of government over general conditions faced by one specific community, rather than a single-issue focus). 83 6.3 Aboriginal rights 56 4.2 Land claims (i.e. restitution for broken treaties, negotiation of modern treaties, conflict over land ownership) 39 2.9 Governance (i.e. Indian Act, greater autonomy and self-determination) 36 2.7 Water quality 32 2.4 Kelowna accord (i.e. political accord promising social investments in 2005, cancelled in 2006). 28 2.1 Land, wildlife and fisheries 28 2.1 Government waste/mismanagement 18 1.3 Other/miscellaneous (incl., ad hominem criticism of Minister, episodic advocacy over smaller time-bound events, etc.) 214 16.2 Total 1315 Energy, resources and the environment are the fifth most common thematic category. These questions also accelerated in frequency with the passage of time; approximately 2/3rds of all references occurred in the 41st parliament. Prima facie, this represents a thematically distinct approach to Indigenous issues. But a clear trend in the advocacy on this issue was to bundle Indigenous concerns over resource development into broader environmental or regional critiques of those projects. So this category of questions became more common amid general intensifying political conflict over the construction of pipelines to convey oil sands oil to Canada’s west coast. Indigenous groups are one of several constituencies generally (though not universally) opposed to the construction of these pipelines, and this technique of invocation was commonly used—citing Indigenous communities among others to bolster general arguments in opposition to pipeline construction. Some specific points of emphasis arise episodically, and are clearly driven by events. One example is residential schools—an historical policy of assimilation for which the Prime Minister officially apologised in 2008. Another is the Kelowa Accord, a 2005 political accord promising major social investments which was cancelled in 2006. Almost all references (86%) to the Kelowna Accord occurred immediately after a change of government in the first session of the 39th Parliament, when the new government declined from upholding the agreement. Thereafter, the Accord largely disappeared from parliamentary advocacy. Residential schools are a primary area of focus during the 39th parliament, in the run-up to the official apology, and then again in the 41st parliament, during and immediately after the truth and reconciliation commission. For the categories that come after community-specific advocacy in total frequency, there is a significant drop-off, with all subsequent categories falling below 5% of total issues raised. Just as social issues are clustered at the top of the list, there is arguably a thematic clustering at the bottom. Aboriginal rights (a special category of collective rights recognised in the constitution, which relate to use and occupation of land), land claims (claims made by Indigenous groups over specific tracts of land that were either promised in historical treaties, or were never surrendered), and general lands, wildlife and fisheries management all speak to Indigenous claims-making outside the world of government social spending. Aboriginal rights-based litigation and participation in land claims in fact often operate as two avenues to approach the same ends—recognition and restitution for Indigenous nations—and resource management is an element in both approaches. Governance, too, is a distinct but related category; like the others, it is an area in which Indigenous peoples are negotiating with the state for greater control. Collectively these issue areas represent just 12% of total advocacy. Both governance and land claims experience sharp peaks in advocacy, and are very infrequently invoked otherwise. Governance is affected by an endogenous impetus; fully 81% of questions raised on the issue of governance occur in the 37th parliament, wholly driven by an effort on the part of the government to pass new legislation amending the Indian Act. Nearly half of all advocacy on land claims occurs in the first session of the 39th parliament, driven by the exogenous, media-driven impact of an occupation by Indigenous protesters of disputed territory which produced a major conflict. It should be noted that most of the interventions on this issue represent land claims advocacy in only the broadest terms, concerned less with restitution for Indigenous claims and more with the restoration of order in that particular case. These questions can be read as advocacy on behalf of local non-Indigenous communities at least as much as Indigenous communities; for example ‘When will the government listen … to [non-Indigenous] citizens of Caledonia and to aboriginals and take not simply a spectator role but a leadership role in solving the dispute?’ (St Amand, 2007). Advocacy on land claims is, therefore, even softer than its frequency suggests. The issue of government waste and mismanagement is basically sui generis—the only area of parliamentary advocacy specifically on Indigenous issues for which interventions can be read as primarily antagonistic to, rather than sympathetic of Indigenous interests broadly defined. Questions within this theme generally advance one of two objectives: either to suggest that money is spent irresponsibly (and explicitly or implicitly, that too much is spent) by the national government on Indigenous issues, or that Indigenous governments themselves are corrupt and mismanaged. Of the questions on these issues, 100% were asked during the 37th parliament—when the Liberal Party was in government and conservatives in opposition, as noted above. Another way to regard the distribution of issues is to combine all universal themes—social policy, the environment, etc.—into one category, and all intrinsically Indigenous-specific themes—Aboriginal rights, land claims, etc.—into a second. (By necessity, general advocacy—that which lacks a specific focus—is excluded). One finds that 76% of classifiable issues raised fall into the universal category, to 24% related to Indigenous-specific themes. Content analysis, therefore, yields three main conclusions about the content of parliamentary opposition on Indigenous issues. First, social issues, variously rendered, predominate. Secondly, particularistic claims by Indigenous people—to land, resources, autonomy—are much less common in parliamentary discourse, and coloured by other concerns. Thirdly, other kinds of advocacy tend to be more episodic, and have a stronger relationship with attention-garnering events, or the legislative agenda, or general partisan contestation over issues that are not exclusive to Indigenous communities. 6. Does issue salience in Parliament reflect Indigenous advocacy outside Parliament? From the above, we can begin to construct an image of the kind of parliamentary advocacy that is performed on Indigenous issues. But to what extent is it unique to that environment—or does it simply mirror Indigenous advocacy beyond Parliament Hill? It is difficult to compare, as other studies have done, issue salience in parliament versus issue salience among the general public. We lack good data to indicate issue salience within Indigenous communities, or even with respect to Indigenous issues among the general public. But we can construct a kind of proxy, by applying the same thematic categories to the advocacy efforts of Indigenous organisations. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is the largest, most well-resourced advocacy organisation representing the largest single segment of the Indigenous population. Tribal chiefs elect a national chief and regional chiefs, and vote on motions at an annual general assembly and special chief’s assembly each year. AFN resolutions are a highly imperfect proxy for Indigenous public opinion, certainly—especially as the AFN faces increasing legitimacy challenges from elsewhere within Indigenous society. But the distribution of resolutions offers, at least, a window into professional advocacy on Indigenous issues. Table 3 sets out AFN resolution categories by total frequency, using resolutions passed in a five-year period in 2011–2015. This table, juxtaposed to the distribution of issues raised in parliament, reveals some consistencies and important differences. Social policy/issues are similarly common in AFN lobbying—totalling about 30% of motions passed during the five-year term. But advocacy is distributed much more evenly across several other issue categories. Governance, Aboriginal rights, land claims and lands, wildlife and fisheries management are vastly more frequent in AFN advocacy activity, collectively representing about 1/3rd of total resolutions. Land claims alone are nearly 10% of AFN relations, compared to about 3% of opposition advocacy in parliament. Governance, rights, and land management represent 8%, 7% and 7% of AFN motions passed, compared to 2.7%, 4.2% and 2.1% of questions raised in parliament. Using the same two large buckets wielded above, one finds that 58% of resolutions dealt with universal themes, whereas 42% dealt with intrinsically Indigenous themes. Table 3 Question categories by overall AFN resolutions passed Category Overall frequency Percentage of total resolutions Social policy/issues—general 34 11.6 Health 29 9.9 Land claims 28 9.5 Education 23 7.8 Governance 23 7.8 Energy, resources and the environment 23 7.8 Residential schools 22 7.5 Aboriginal rights 21 7.1 Land, wildlife and fisheries 21 7.1 Missing/murdered Indigenous women 14 4.7 Water 9 3 Community-specific 3 1 General 2 0.6 Misused funds 0 0 Kelowna accord 0 0 Other/miscellaneous 40 13.7 Total 292 Category Overall frequency Percentage of total resolutions Social policy/issues—general 34 11.6 Health 29 9.9 Land claims 28 9.5 Education 23 7.8 Governance 23 7.8 Energy, resources and the environment 23 7.8 Residential schools 22 7.5 Aboriginal rights 21 7.1 Land, wildlife and fisheries 21 7.1 Missing/murdered Indigenous women 14 4.7 Water 9 3 Community-specific 3 1 General 2 0.6 Misused funds 0 0 Kelowna accord 0 0 Other/miscellaneous 40 13.7 Total 292 This suggests that these claims-seeking issue themes hold stronger salience in Indigenous public opinion and activism than in parliamentary opposition on Indigenous issues. And while the AFN is a flawed reflection of Indigenous society generally, it is unlikely to skew overly in the direction of those kinds of issues, and in fact may do the opposite. The AFN has long faced criticism from within Indigenous society for actually being insufficiently committed to land and governance issues, and to cooperating too readily with the national government’s programme-spending policy approach; ‘[the AFN] is, in many ways, designed to enact Indian Act policy… the money that comes into the AFN is all policy-driven money intended to implement federal colonial policies and laws’ (Nepinak, 2014, p. 90), according to one prominent chief and activist. Rival and alternative advocacy entities, like a direct action movement which crested in late 2012 and early 2013, have placed treaties, land, rights and autonomy more firmly at the absolute centre of their activism (Gordon, 2014). So while the case should not be overstated—there are no indications that parliamentary advocacy is radically disconnected from the activism of Indigenous peoples outside of parliament—there is evidence to suggest that issue salience is weighted differently within and without. 7. Discussion—framing, problem definitions and settler colonialism What does this tells about the nature of parliamentary opposition on Indigenous issues in a settler state? The distribution of themes suggests issue of framing that is basically different from the framing employed by Indigenous activists and advocates, and this in turn offers lessons about what kind of opposition is possible. Frames—‘schemata of interpretation’ (Goffman, 1974)—are organising edifices of political discourse, which serve both cognitive and communicative functions. Frames that are successful, insofar as they are replicable and sustainable, need a kind of structural resonance, but frames are also subject to agency. Parliamentarians can employ frames to create boundaries around the content of debate, while still responding to societal pressure. As Loizides (2009) sets out, ‘Frames have two essential components: first, a diagnostic element, or a definition of the problem, its source, grievances, and more generally, the motives involved; and, second, a prognostic element, the identification of appropriate opportunities and strategies for redressing the problem…’ (p. 281). In an act of parliamentary opposition, especially oral questions, the emphasis is definitively on the former element—the problem statement. The corresponding prescription is often left implicit. Abele, Maslove and Graham suggest that there have been four basic Indigenous policy paradigms in the past half-century, built around alternative problem statements: ‘the problem is poverty’, ‘the problem is unequal [individual] rights’, ‘the problem is a culture of complaint and victimization’, and ‘the problem is a relationship to the land’(Graham et al., 1999). At least three of these are clearly represented in parliamentary discourse. The ‘unequal rights’ paradigm carried weight in the 1960s and early 1970s, but receded after a politically disastrous move by the national government in 1969 to abolish any legal distinction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. But the other three are present, and influence how Indigenous issues are represented in parliament. Of the three, ‘culture of complaint’ is by far the least common frame that is employed in parliament. It is reflected in a single category of issues—what I have called government waste and mismanagement—which is only advanced by conservative MPs in opposition, and even then, not as a primary avenue for parliamentary advocacy. We find elements of this frame in questions like the following, which argues that government intervention cannot help Indigenous communities, leaving implicit the ostensible real problem: ‘Mr. Speaker, over the last 30 years in Canada we have seen an eightfold increase in per capita spending on aboriginal problems, yet the societal problems continue and worsen. This billion dollar Band-Aid approach of dealing with symptoms and ignoring the causes just throws good money after bad… what… would let the government believe that its failed approach will work in the future any better than it has in the past?’ (Pallister, 2002). ‘Relationship to the land’ effectively captures that subset of issues which feature much more prominently in extra-parliamentary Indigenous activism than in parliamentary discourse. This is the problem statement embedded in most questions concerning land claims and resource management—for example, ‘Mr. Speaker, the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in northern Manitoba has been waiting 12 years for the approval of their treaty land entitlement. The minister has given no reason for the delay, which is costing the first nation millions of dollars, money that could be spent to improve the lives of their people…’ (Ashton, 2015). This frame also incorporates the rights discourse—collective Indigenous rights, to be clear, which in Canadian and international law are anchored in use of or title to land. Governance is a more awkward fit, but defensible. The overwhelming majority of discussion related to governance focuses on Indigenous communities with a territorial base, and deals in varying degrees of directness with the kind of control they may exercise over that land. Though it appears in the chamber, ‘Relationship to the land’ is distinctly not the preferred or most powerful frame employed in parliamentary discourse. This status belongs to the ‘poverty’ problem statement—by far the most common frame employed by all opposition parties in parliament. It is reflected in discussion about education, health, other social policy and missing and murdered Indigenous women too. It is also a central theme in general advocacy on Indigenous issues. For example: ‘Mr. Speaker, the fact is that the social conditions of our [Indigenous peoples] are this country’s greatest failure and, in fact, our greatest shame… . The Conservatives … cannot find any new money whatsoever to deal with the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding before our very eyes. Aboriginal people need a champion around the cabinet table, not another minister for managing poverty’ (Martin, 2012). The basic prescription embedded inside this problem definition is a relatively simple one: more government, a stronger resource commitment and an end to neglect. Even where it is ideologically incongruent—for example, when small-government conservatives are in opposition—it is a simple, useful frame to employ. The relative distribution of frames allows us to evaluate the hypotheses I began with. I see little reason to embrace the first hypothesis, ‘settler colonialism strong’, which predicts that MPs will have no interest or incentive to advocate on Indigenous issues in parliamentary debate. Indigenous issues do feature in parliamentary opposition, and perhaps more importantly, this is a dynamic value. We witness growth in attention across the period study, culminating in more than one reference to Indigenous issues raised in Question Period per day of HOC sitting. To be clear, I am not offering a normative comment on whether appropriate attention is paid to Indigenous issues. This is simply a rebuff to any overly structural or dogmatic argument from settler colonial theory, which expects parliamentarians and state actors to imagine themselves as locked in some zero-sum contest against Indigenous people. At the other end of the spectrum, there is only limited support for the ‘Aboriginal orthodoxy’ hypothesis, which predicts that opposition MPs will be strictly governed by ostensible new rules of political correctness, manifested in an impractical nation- and sovereignty-based discourse. It is true that very little parliamentary opposition advances an argument that is intentionally antagonistic to Indigenous interests, or disputes the reality of Indigenous grievances. The ‘culture of victimization’ frame appears rarely, and is likely far less common within parliament than it is—at least anecdotally—in popular and media settler conversations about Indigenous peoples. But nor does the so-called orthodoxy itself have much of a presence in parliament, with limited attention paid to issues like self-determination and collective rights. The best-supported hypothesis is that which I have presented as settler colonialism-lite—the argument that the foundational conflict between Indigenous peoples and the settler state is felt in the limits of parliamentary opposition on behalf of Indigenous peoples. I have remarked on the minimal presence of questions related to governance, rights, self-determination, land and wildlife management—the ‘relationship to the land’ framing—and that this is a point of divergence from non-parliamentary Indigenous activism. On these issues, there is greater continuity between governments. One can also anticipate that these kinds of issues command less attention, or resonate less strongly, with a majority public, as opposed to the simpler, more universal ‘poverty’ framing. So a range of centrally important issues concerning Indigenous people are underrepresented in parliamentary opposition. The tendency is almost to treat Indigenous people in parliamentary discourse simply like an ethnic minority facing poor socio-economic outcomes. The unique legal, political and historical position of Indigenous people becomes obscured. This is consistent with the expectation from settler colonial theory that areas of basic divergence between Indigenous peoples and the settler state—over who land belongs to, and who can claim sovereignty—render some things unsayable, even by opponents of a given government. There is an important qualifier to introduce here. It may be that opposition MPs regard complex legal proceedings or bilateral state-Indigenous proceedings, like land claims negotiations or Aboriginal rights litigation, as simply inappropriate targets for Question Period advocacy. This measure of prudence no doubt explains some reticence, particularly to intervene in specific contexts. At the same time, these are policy fields, they reflect government performance, and are, therefore, fair game for debate. A useful analogy may be (for example) the international trade negotiations in which a government is engaged—which opposition MPs are less reluctant to pursue in Parliament. These tendencies amount to an especially important finding for the study of Indigenous politics in settler states. But it may be applicable in other contexts too. There are lessons here for studying substantive representation of other kinds of minority groups in parliament. It is important to distinguish between the kinds of minority group issues that are represented in parliament, rather than just regarding the volume of representation on minority group issues. Oral questions are indeed the theatre of parliament, and this is an important metaphor. Theatrical performance includes players, scripts and also an audience—and the imagined audience will affect the kind of opposition that is performed. Of course, representation of minority issues is not exclusively intended for a minority audience. Indigenous issue representation in Canada is likely not even primarily intended for an Indigenous audience—which in almost all cases is too small to yield a strong political return on performative investment. The electoral incentive has always been to play to a larger audience, and despite some change in recent years, this remains the case. And this is reflected in the nature of parliamentary opposition on Indigenous issues. Poverty, poor health, inequality in the provision of education—these are inclusive narrative figures, which can be received by a broad public audience. They carry ideological resonance in some cases, but are also pitched at such a high moral level that it is possible, through them, to embarrass a government on a retail scale. In other themes, like energy and the environment, Indigenous interests are deployed to strengthen a general argument against development. But questions of sovereignty, restitution to Indigenous communities for historical mistreatment, or acknowledgement of Indigenous claims to control of land and resources, are more particularistic narrative figures. They relate to intrinsically Indigenous issues, and are grounded in the uniqueness of Indigenous people within the Canadian constitutional order. While they respond to Indigenous advocacy, they are less effective communication strategies with the larger, mostly settler public in mind. We should be mindful, then, of the specific stories that are told in representation of minority issues. In this is information about the degree of completeness with which minority groups issues are substantively represented, and whether minority groups are simply set pieces in a kind of broader advocacy. 8. Conclusions Over the past five parliaments, Canadian parliamentarians in opposition have devoted increasing attention to Indigenous issues. There are partisan differences in the degree and kind of advocacy that is performed, but some basic universal trends can be observed. Greatest attention is paid to issues like health, education, social assistance and vulnerable Indigenous women—policy domains that are responsive to a framing which suggests, in broad strokes, that poverty is the problem. Much less common are the more particularistic concerns over Indigenous sovereignty and governance, control of land and resources, and Indigenous rights, issues which feature prominently in Indigenous activism outside of parliament. I have argued that this is consistent with a hypothesis inferred from the literature on settler colonialism, which is that the settler colonial context establishes parametric limits on the kinds of advocacy that even opposition parliamentarians will advance. I have also suggested a new hypothesis, which is that this is just one manifestation of a political dynamic in which substantive representation of minority groups in parliament is filtered through the political exigencies of performing to a majority audience. All of this suggests that there is a valid argument for some form of ‘professional opposition’ in parliament, such as an Aboriginal ombudsmen or officer of parliament for Indigenous relations. There appear to be limits to what issues the democratically elected opposition is prepared to hold the government accountable for in the realm of Indigenous affairs. Critical dimensions of Indigenous politics and policy—preoccupations of Indigenous political actors themselves—are consistently underrepresented in the discourse. I have proposed an explanation for why this may be a structural and intrinsic problem. Installing systematic scrutiny of government on issues like land claims and governance is a reasonable response. It may also improve the performance of the elected opposition on Indigenous issues. Footnotes 1 Defined as an instance when one opposition MP or several MPs from the same opposition party ask one or multiple questions that explicitly identify an issue affecting Indigenous communities. 2 Using search terms indigenous AND aboriginal AND indian AND “first nations” AND métis AND inuit. Acknowledgements This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [Grant number: 756-2015-0007]. References Ashton N. ( 2015) HC Deb., 29 May 2015, 11:25, p. 14343. Berdahl L., Poelzer G., Beatty B. ( 2012). ‘Aboriginal Federal Turnout in Northern Saskatchewan’, Aboriginal Policy Studies , 2:1, p. 26–41. CBC News ( 2015, 9 September). ‘Perry Bellegarde Says He Will Vote in Federal Election After All.’ CBC News Online, accessed at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-bellegarde-voting-first-nations-1.3220841 on 1 April 2016. Daschuk J. ( 2013) Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life , Regina, University of Regina Press. Flanagan T. ( 2008) First Nations, Second Thoughts , 2nd edn, Kingston and Montreal, McGill-Queens University Press. Fournier P., Loewen P. ( 2011) Aboriginal Electoral Participation in Canada , Ottawa, Elections Canada. Goffman E. ( 1974) Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience , Boston, Northeastern University Press. Gordon J. ( 2014) ‘Idle No More Manifesto’. In Kino-nda-niimi Collective (eds), The Winter We Danced: Voices from the Past, the Future, and the Idle No More Movement , Winnipeg, ARP Books. Graham K., Abele F., Maslove A. ( 1999) ‘Negotiating Canada: Changes in Aboriginal Policy Over the Last Thirty Years’. In Pal L. (ed.), How Ottawa Spends 1999-2000 , Toronto, Oxford University Press. Ignatieff I. ( 2007) HC Deb., 7 February 2007, 14:24, p. 6511. 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Parliamentary Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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