Saturday, June 21, 2014

Towards Right Relations

Today is the Summer Solstice.  Which means that it is also (in Canada) National Aboriginal Day.  In many places across the country ceremonies have taken place today or will take place tomorrow to honour and celebrate Aboriginal culture (for example).

And that is great.  But it is not enough.

Like in many countries, the relationship between those of aboriginal ancestry and those of other ancestry is very complicated in Canada's history and Canada's present.  And it is my belief that there is a great need for that relationship to be developed.

And to develop that relationship there are areas that need to be named and addressed and accepted.  One of these is the history of Residential Schools.   A start has been made on that front, with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which had its last public event in March.  Many stories have been told and much history has been revealed but only a start -- both in the discovery/sharing of truth and in the process of reconciliation.

Another area is in the lived experience of far too many Aboriginal folk in 2014.  There are First Nation communities that live in what are routinely described as "Third World" conditions.  Aboriginal people are highly over-represented in the prison system and in the lower strata of the socio-economic ladder (and under-represented in other areas of life).

Another is the very real fact of hidden, sometimes barely hidden, racism in Canadian society.  We may not longer see the "No Indians Need Apply" help wanted ads that once appeared but there is a racism problem in many parts of the country.  A racism problem that leads many to be put out by the "special treatment" (aka treaty rights) First Nations get, or shows up in the still common stereotype that Indians are predisposed to substance addiction, or appears when over and over Aboriginal folk are described as lazy or disrespectful of property or overly demanding, or is evident when it appears that the legal system puts a different emphasis on missing First Nations folk than on other ethnicities or....  And yet many people will deny that this racism exists, or that it is as widespread as it is...

Then there is the whole question of land.  Whose land is it?  Now. Today.  Not whose land was it 150 years ago, but whose is it now?  And who gets to decide how it will be used?   And if we agree that land "ownership" has passed on what are the terms of that transfer?  There are so many shades to this question of land that whole books can be written about just this one issue -- and court cases have already stretched for years in trying to figure it out.

And there are complicating factors.  Complicating factors like the fact that I truly believe some of the European folk involved in negotiating the treaties, particularly the later treaties, were agreeing to terms that they never expected would be actually lived out.  I believe it was a matter of saying/doing what was needed to get the land with the expectation that the "problem" (which was the existence of the Indians) would only last for a little while longer anyway.  Or complicating factors like the fact that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, sometimes because the good intentions of some get run over by the pavers.  I find that to a degree the Residential Schools fall in this category.  There were some who became involved because they honestly believed that this was a way to help the folk adapt to a changed world.  But the pavers were trying to extinguish and assimilate, not assist in adaptation and so overran the intentions.  What are the good intentions in 2014 that will be judged as insanely misguided in another generation?  Or complicating factors like the whole "history is over, we can't change it so lets just live in the present and prepare for the future" attitude -- which is really a (sort of) polite way of saying "stop whining about the past".

So we have started.  We have only started.  Some will say we should be farther along (and we likely should be but that is because we probably should have started a generation earlier).  But we have a long way to go in sorting out this relationship.  And until we do THAT needs to be a part of the discussion around National Aboriginal Day.

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