As I have been a lot lately, I was thinking about Aboriginal issues in Canada today and . . .
I don’t think that it can seriously be denied that at least since the “Gradual Civilization Act” was passed by the Parliament of of the Province of Canada in 1857, Government policy toward First Nations, Metis and Inuit has had the ultimate goal of assimilation, of making surviving aboriginal people into just another Canadian ethnicity. This was the goal of the Indian Act which took over from the Gradual Civilization act. As Duncan Campbell Scott, Superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1913-1934, articulated the policy:
I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department
Assimilation was also, as is well known today, the purpose of what became the genocidal tragedy of the Residential Schools.
And the White Paper of 1969 was explicitly a plan for the rapid assimilation of aboriginal people into “Canadian Society” and for the extinguishment of aboriginal and treaty rights for all time.
But what I was thinking about today is the simple question, “Why?”
Why did successive governments for a century and a half go to all this trouble and expense to set up programs of assimilation? Surely they could have just sent surveyors into the areas now covered by the numbered treaties. They could have announced that clearing, cultivating and occupying x number of acres would earn a person a title deed to that patch of ground. They could have simply declared as vagrant anyone who didn’t get to work on farming or migrate to find industrial or commercial employment.
Why did they go through all the mess of treaty negotiation, translation, ceremony, Indian Act, Indian Agents, Residential Schools, Reserves, Royal Commissions, Truth and Reconcilliation . . . ?
I think I know exactly why.
Underlying all the mess is an assumption and an acknowledgement that Aboriginal Title is legitimate and must be dealt with by some means. The real “Indian Problem” Duncan Campbell Scott was so determined to solve is the “Aboriginal Title Problem”, and it is a “problem” which continues to bedevil governments today. Both sides have always acknowledged aboriginal title. Successive governments have proceeded on the assumption that the best way to extinguish aboriginal title is to eliminate the title-holders, preferably by means more quiet than warfare.
Especially since Aboriginal and Treaty Rights were entrenched in the Canadian Constitution in 1982, I believe governments will continue to be bedevilled by assumed and acknowledged aboriginal title until such a time as there is a just agreement on sharing the use and the protection of the land and its resources. This sharing is exactly what the First Nations understood the numbered Treaties to be about. This sharing is also what the Idle No More movement is all about.
Surely it is clear by now that assimilation of the aboriginal people is a policy doomed to failure.
Canada will more likely be assimilated by the First Nations.
Some might argue Canada has been gradually being assimilated for a few centuries now.
I would argue that the assimilation of Canada should be a long-term goal of Idle No More.
If ever more non-natives become Idle No More by coming out to witness and to take part in the joyous celebrations of Aboriginal culture, it won’t take five more centuries to find a peaceful, happy, final solution to the colonization problem.