A shorter version of this commentary was published by New Brunswick Telegraph Journal on April 22, 2016.
I have a bias in favour of aboriginal people.
They saved my ancestors, when we first arrived and during the Terror years in the eighteenth century. They live among us yet we know nothing about them. Despite our best efforts, their culture is still alive, for the most part, and for now. We share a country – theirs – but they don’t have our quality of life.
They have a great sense of humour, in my experience. Despite what has happened to them and their current situation, they are not terrorists. Today’s aboriginal peoples are survivors of ethnocide attempts. And those attempts may yet be “successful”.
They saved my ancestors.
Some of my ancestors were First Nations.
For all those reasons, I have a bias in favour of aboriginal peoples.
But that’s not why I think Canada’s most critical issue is the aboriginal peoples.
Rather, it’s because we won’t have any peace until we address this issue. Not that we will be badgered and harassed by the concerned parties – we might be. And not because Canada’s reputation will suffer – it does, but not enough. The issue of the aboriginal peoples is our most important because we are in the wrong. And if we don’t address it, we are only delaying it.
It’s like living on stolen money. Can we be fully happy and secure doing that?
So Canada has a problem: us. We are the aboriginal peoples’ problem.
Around here, First Nations did not cede their land, but that hasn’t meant much. Governments gathered them in camps and then imposed a form of government that did not give them the same rights as non-Aboriginal citizens, and which often did not respect treaties. The Indian Act continues to have harmful impacts on their communities.
Thousands of aboriginals, some as young as five, were taken from their parents and sent to residential schools to “eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children”, the official mandate of those schools, the last of which was closed in 1996.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose work between 2008 and 2015 was financed by the survivors of these schools, has excellent resources for us to learn more. Seven generations went through the hell of those schools. The Commission concluded that it will likely take another seven generations to create a healthy relationship between us and them. We need to get moving.
The past is not as important as what we do in the present.
Thankfully, a majority of Canadians favour making the aboriginal issue a political priority. One could be surprised at that, since the horrors visited upon the aboriginal peoples seem to have had little power to wrest us from our lethargy on this issue. We’ve shown we can mobilize for refugees, but thousands of disappeared aboriginal women, thousands of aboriginal youth who commit suicide, thousands of aboriginals living in Third World conditions don’t seem to move us to action. I believe the problem is partly that this is not a case where, like a character said in a George Bernanos novel, we can “come across an injustice… about my own size, not too strong or too weak for me” and “jump on its back and twist its neck. »
We will not make this right with just sympathy and social work.
Political decisions brought us to this point, where posttraumatic stress syndrome is practically in the DNA of many aboriginals, as they have said. You think
excuses apologies and ceremonies will fix that?
It is a political problem and a question of justice. We will have to recognize and act on their right to a fair share of territory and resources.
We will have to negotiate nation to nation, as between equals. The end result should be aboriginal peoples as independent and happy as we are.
Luckily, the new government is making noises in that direction: to attack the issues nation to nation.
There is something « about our own size »: Keep them to their word. Put the issue at the top of our list of priorities for the country. It’s time.
This is a question of justice to be resolved, with a few centuries of delay, so that we can all enjoy this great and young country.