Canada’s federal government has made many pre-election promises and continues to make promises to resolve the chasm between mainstream life in Canada versus life for the original peoples.
Central to this idea is reconciliation. Reconciliation is to be the meeting of two distinct peoples, the settlers and the original peoples. However, until now reconciliation has been defined by settler norms. Is there any significant change coming that will benefit the first peoples?
Current mainstream media representations present federal statements in “reconciliation” as innovative, unheralded and positive. Justice Minister Raybould-Wilson’s principles are seen as concrete evidence of a new approach to the myriad of problems faced by the first peoples.
Contrast the government’s “innovation” with the original people’s position. It is a repeat of the cavalry coming and the results are predictable. Solutions that come from a paternalistic point of view, however well marketed or lauded will have the same results. Consider the creation of reserves, the temporary placement of original peoples on specific parcels of land as a colonial “solution” that remains unsettled.
Translations from east to west state that the original people were intent on “sharing” the land. This idea of sharing the land includes the “resources” that allowed the original people a separate existence where spirituality, humility, sustainability and harmony flourished. Indigenous people did not compartmentalize the land, waters, plants, animals and human beings like the newcomers.
The original people looked into the vast cosmos and saw the interconnection of all things. This relatedness caused the indigenous not to harm the very parts of the land or waters that would sustain them.
So this is part of the initial problem. This understanding of the first peoples has never been properly communicated. It has been undermined and belittled but it has not been praised as visionary or the best way to safeguard the planet for all life.
Following this difference in worldviews, the goals of settler society and the original people are polar opposites. Where settler society looks at land as an economic tool, the original people see their ancestors. Where settler society lives to accumulate, the original people were honoured for their gift giving and giveaways. Where settler society valued the individual, the original people valued the collective.
These core values have been misunderstood, or if understood, willfully denigrated. What is the justification for this willful blindness? Canadian historical commentaries have contained scenes of wild Indians savagely beating on each other, roaming the continent without direction or purpose. The contributions made by the original people have been downplayed and consistently overlooked. Why?
Is it not better for all Canadian mainstream blood memory to think that they “rescued” the Indians from themselves? Is it not better for Canada to deflect their genocidal policies?
Policies such as overhunting animals relied upon by the original people that would then lead to starvation.
Polices such as distributing blankets carrying the smallpox virus for which whole nations had no immunity.
Policies such as taking children “ostensibly” for school, but actually causing the breakdown of the original people’s family units, clans and communities.
Quick rebuttals will always immediately say “this was all in the past” and the number one retort: “Get over it”.
With Bill C-45, waters and lakes are no longer protected; including waters used by the wildlife that are integral to the spiritual, ceremonial and ongoing lifestyle of the original people. This means that similar to the overhunting of wildlife, this current government is willfully harming the water used by animal and plant life utilized by the original people. This is a current, not past issue and it’s not over.
Suicide is an ongoing reality in the original peoples’ communities. The reasons for youth suicide are varied and many but Federal responses include health cutbacks or worse mainstream approaches that do not understand indigenous trauma that has lead to suicide. The original people are not only experiencing youth suicides but also targeted attacks in locations like Thunder Bay. Is the termination of first nation youth and first nation people similar to directly contributing to their deaths through virus-laden blankets? This is a current, not past issue and its not over.
Safe communities require safe drinking water, roads, infrastructure, adequate housing education and health dollars. One priority of this government is to bring clean drinking water to more First Nation communities. How is it that in this day and age, reserves are without access to clean water?
The Canadian federal government like other governments has allowed for the removal of First Nation children from their homes. This is very similar to the residential school removal. One important factor, argued by Cindy Blackstock is that kinship homes in the community or community foster parenting is paid far less than when children are placed in non-native or urban homes. Why? If reserves lack services, then clearly increased dollars will benefit children in care services or in basic needs. Not only is this a current issue, it is very similar to reduced education dollars received for children who attend on reserve schools versus provincial schools. It’s not over.
Reconciliation is therefore, not about respecting two nations. Reconciliation is about fitting the original peoples ways and worldviews into the Canadian framework. This is why the original people continue to protest, speak out and object to any statements, principles or policy statements made by the Federal Government.
It has taken more than 500 years for settlers to try to quell the indigenous spirit that exists in the original people. The rigid measures taken by Canada — elevating First Nation resistance to terrorist proportions is ridiculous. How can protecting the land where our ancestors have always lived be in any way threatening? It may be threatening to the colonial usurpers who treat land and waters as commodities, but for a people who have survived longer than the newcomers have been allowed to stay on this island, it is stewardship.
Reconciliation is to reconcile two viewpoints; but the viewpoint of the original peoples (which now should be all humans’ viewpoints) cannot be constrained in a petty, nearsighted approach. Reconciliation is an unattainable myth.