Having just completed reading the report from Truth and Reconciliation Commission I can’t help but notice some similarities to what is happening in Indian country today.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission points to a flawed ideology where Government and Church both felt that it was best to educate and make “Indian” people less Indian. They did this by stripping away all cultural identity of the children who were apprehended and placed in the schools. The children and generations of people to come were traumatically affected by these actions. In fact the federal government and some provincial governments have apologized for these actions.
Flash forward to today and current legislation that impacts Indian Identity and cultural loss. Many people might think that identity and cultural loss was only in the residential schools system but it continues today through the imposition of a legislated identity on First Nations people.
Today in Canada Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada decides who is an Indian for the purposes of deciding benefits. They have imposed a legislated identity which is completely artificial and have created a whole “cultural” group of Indians. This identity is completely based on their definitions of what an Indian should be and how anyone will inherit the identity.
Given the fact that Indian status has become the marker for “status” All of our people have adopted this as being the only way to identify yourself. We have become a nation of Status, non-status, 6 (1), 6(2) half breed “Indians”. All defined and controlled by the current government and embodied in the way we think of each other.
From the very beginning the Indian Act has subordinated the First Nation populations. The continued efforts of government to devalue and divest First Nations of their rightful authority is seen today, and we still continue to lose our identity and our culture by assimilating into the population known as “Indians”. The introduction of status Indians has resulted in transformations of the structure and culture of our societies. This continues today as people are registered in different categories of status our communities are filled with people who don’t meet the criteria determined by the Federal Government and who feel the pain of not having an identity whether artificial or not.
Children and adults continue to suffer humiliation as a result of not meeting the criteria and living in communities where rights and benefits are tied to a status card.
First Nation leaders continue to accept these ideologies with no effort to fight or change the system that was not OURS to begin with. People spend more time and effort changing the name of a football team from Redskins than in changing and declaring ourselves as the nation’s we were born into.
Let’s not sit through another 100 years of cultural and identity loss before we do something about it.