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Controversial author nabs Donner prize


Suzanne Methot, Windspeaker Contributor, Toronto







Page 24

Tom Flanagan, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, was presented with the $25,000 Donner Prize for his book, First Nations? Second Thoughts, at an awards ceremony in Toronto.

The Donner Prize is awarded by the Donner Canadian Foundation, which was created in 1950 by businessman William H. Donner. The annual prize rewards books written about Canadian public policy. The Donner Foundation has awarded more than $90 million in grants to more than 750 projects across Canada since 1967. A board of governors comprised of the Donner family and Canadians from the worlds of business, banking, and academia is in charge of grant-giving at the foundation level. A new prize jury is created every year.

This year's jury was chaired by Grant Reuber, the former chancellor of the University of Western Ontario and deputy minister of finance in Joe Clark's Conservative government. The jury consisted of Paul Boothe, who is the deputy minister of finance and secretary to the Treasury Board in Saskatchewan, a professor of economics at the University of Alberta, and a former economist at the Bank of Canada; Pierre Lortie, the president and CEO of Bombardier; John G. Richards, a professor of business at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, a former member of the Saskatchewan legislature, and a scholar at the C.D. Howe Institute; and Elizabeth Parr-Johnston, the president and vice-chancellor of the University of New Brunswick.

Flanagan, a former Reform Party strategist, has come under fire from Aboriginal people for the controversial views expressed in First Nations? Second Thoughts, published by McGill-Queen's University Press. The book attempts to dismantle what Flanagan calls the "prevailing orthodoxies" (nationhood, sovereignty, self-government) that determine Aboriginal policy in Canada. He argues that Aboriginal policy based on those orthodoxies benefits a small elite of Aboriginal politicians, administrators, and well-connected entrepreneurs, but keeps average Aboriginal people poor and dependent.

Instead of self-government, Flanagan recommends Aboriginal assimilation into the Canadian economy, free-market access to Aboriginal land, and an end to special status for those living on-reserve. Flanagan does not believe Aboriginal people were ever "civilized," so he argues that colonization was "inevitable" and "justifiable."

In his acceptance speech, Flanagan said he has received "brickbats as well as bouquets" for his work.

"The issue is intrinsically political," he said. "But it is the role of the scholar to test assumptions . . . and to provide a comparative context."

Later, Flanagan told a reporter that "the only time I've ever spent on reserves is when I would sneak on to go fishing in protected waters. What I would like, more than anything, if various First Nations could stomach it, is if they would invite me to come visit. I would really love to spend time visiting reserves and becoming personally acquainted with local conditions.

"I think you can have something to say as an outsider, but there's a limit to that. I'd like to get more insight. So if you print that, maybe I'll get an invitation or two," he said.

Alan C. Cairns, a visiting professor of political science at the University of Waterloo and an expert on the Constitution and the Charter of Rights, was named second runner-up and awarded $10,000 for his book Citizens Plus: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, published by UBC Press in Vancouver.

Although Cairns dismisses the government's attempts to assimilate Aboriginal people, he is also critical of the Aboriginal insistence on special recognition and powers that amount to a third level of government. Cairns argues that integration is the middle ground, and says that a society can be made up of smaller, distinct communities invested in a larger common purpose characterized by universal values such as human rights and equity.

University of Saskatchewan academic Ken Coates ws nominated for his book The Marshall Decision and Native Rights (McGill-Queen's University Press), but was shut out of the awards.

The shortlist for this year's Donner Prize was drawn from a total of 59 submissions on a range of policy issues including governance, trade, and the role of the judiciary. Three of the seven short-listed books were written about Aboriginal policy.