Chief Derek Nepinak at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
Every year, on the 21st of June, the contribution and culture of the First Nations People, The Metis and the Inuit, is recognized and celebrated on the National Aboriginal Peoples Day. I have purposed to write down my own reflections concerning the First Nations Peoples, a few things that I have asked myself as a foreigner residing in Canada. It is hard to ignore the issue of the First Nations people, especially in British Columbia which is special to Canada because of traditional unceded territory (Hunter, 2017). There is also a rise in population amongst the aboriginal people because more and more are showing up to register themselves as First Nations People.
The Aboriginals are a diverse group of people, who love culture and want to preserve it. Among other things, they want existing treaties to be implemented and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples | United Nations For Indigenous Peoples”, 2018)- that Canada ratified in 2010 to be followed, an equal voice in governance, elimination in discrepancies of federal education funding to ensure better education for their children, a review of other federal laws and a closure in the gap of living conditions between mainstream Canadians and the Aboriginals.
While these may seem like much, it is clear to me that the Aboriginals have gotten far more than they bargained for. Part of their story include the small pox epidemic that killed around 900 people in Montreal, forced Aboriginal assimilation that led to the majority of their children being enrolled in a residential school system which had traumatic effects on both the individuals, their families and community at large(Larson, 2018). Even now, socioeconomic data show huge differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. The numbers are baffling. Life expectancy is ten years shorter for the Inuit people compared to other Canadians. The suicide rate is up to ten times higher. Simply, they were and have not enjoyed equal treatment, and from the appalling stories they tell, indigenous inequality feels man-made or a choice.
Reconciliation must and should be first in any agenda that seeks to improve the lives of all Canadians. Winston Churchill, rightly put it, “those that fail to learn from history are bound to repeat it”. The easier thing to do is to ignore or refuse to care, but very soon it may not be the Aboriginals. It may be a different community. Canada, the home of all diverse cultures may just lose it. Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relations, and I commend and respect that Canada is curving out her own way of how this process may look like. Although it may take many generations, it is worth the price since peace-building has been known to take time.
The issue of the Canadian Aboriginals is not merely an “Indian problem”, (The Conversation, 2016) neither is it unique to Canada alone. Other countries alike have had to re-look deeply at their foundations and boldly take steps into reparation. Australia for instance, have the “stolen generations” whose children were treated akin to the Canadian Aboriginals with regards to forced assimilation. Making it right has meant, alongside 53 other steps, the launch of a national sorry day every 18th of May. New Zealand has taken steps to finance land claims and settlements of the Maori people (Fatima, 2015).
The Sami people of Northern Europe are yet another good example, and The Norwegian government had to establish a Sami parliament in 1989 to advice on issues important to communities. Finland and Sweden have also supported such initiatives. Greenland and South Africa are other countries that have had stories to tell.
The truth is that reconciliation does not begin and end with the formation of commissions or trials (The Conversation, 2017). It generates hard questions, and invokes difficult discussion. And, in the case of Canada, it involves firstly and fundamentally, according the first nations minimal human rights treatment. Before they are the Aboriginals,-or before they are Indians; – they are humans. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
Aboriginal People (As a social problem). (n.d). Retrieved from http://www.yorku.ca/lfoster/2009-10/HRES3890/lectures/AboriginalPeople_AsaSocial%20Problem.html
Carreiro D. (2018). Beyond 94: Where is Canada at with reconciliation? | CBC News. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/beyond-94-truth-and-reconciliation-1.4574765
The Conversation (2016). Canada’s progress shows indigenous reconciliation is a long-term process. (2018). Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/canadas-progress-shows-indigenous-reconciliation-is-a-long-term-process-49893
Hunter J (2017). Horgan’s acknowledgment of unceded Indigenous territory a milestone for B.C. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/horgans-acknowledgment-of-bcs-unceded-territory-part-of-a-path-forward/article36686705/
Fatima, S. (2015). How other countries have tried to reconcile with native peoples. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/how-other-countries-have-tried-to-reconcile-with-native-peoples/article24826144/
Larson, C. (2018). The Wipe-Out of Canada’s First Nations. Retrieved from https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/05/02/the-wipe-out-of-canadas-first-nations/
The Conversation (2017). Rwanda & South Africa: a long road from truth to reconciliation. (2018). Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/rwanda-and-south-africa-a-long-road-from-truth-to-reconciliation-75628
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples | United Nations fSor Indigenous Peoples. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples.html