The Current State of the Indigenous Population of Canada

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Since the beginning of Canadian history, aboriginals have been belittled, dehumanized, and marginalized, through the colonization of European lifestyle and culture. Striping them of not only their culture and identity but their heritage. Leaving them dissipated, tormented, and traumatised, throughout current and future generations. Their lifestyle was seen as savagery and in civil, while colonization was seen as the answer and solution to their circumstances, but ultimate it was a tactic of power and control. Although aboriginals were initially valued for their skills and resources, that quickly changed due to the greed and avariciousness of the European settlers, eager to obtain power and control. Patricia Monture advises it is “a living phenomenon… The past impacts on the present and today’s place of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian Society cannot be Understood without a well-developed historical understanding of colonialism and the present-day trajectories of those old relationships” (Elizabeth Comack, p. 66), explaining that in order to right those past wrongs that continue to transpire into today’s society one must understand where they rooted from.

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Unfortunately, most Canadians are simply unaware of the history of the Aboriginal presence in what is now Canada, lacking little to no understanding of the origins and evolution of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people that have led us to the present moment. People were conditioned into believing “The national mythologies of white settler societies are deeply racialized stories” (Elizabeth Comack, p. 68), of empty land vaccinated to savages, deeply in need of a new way of life, civilization. However, in actuality, Europeans invaded what is now known as Canada, from indigenous people and reclaimed it as their own. Emphasizing the shift in the narrative told to people to diminish the truth, of which Canada was developed on. Being that

“Before the arrival of the Europeans, Aboriginal peoples had their own laws and customary practices for maintaining peace and stability within their communities- including the use of force and ostracism to enforce social norms and the role of elders in administering those norms.” (Elizabeth Comack, p. 69)

Contesting that aboriginals were already developed and well off before, European settlers arrived and didn’t necessarily need their help in maintaining an economy. As Celia Haig-Brown explained “acting through the power of organized religion and colonial governments, Canadians insisted that Aboriginal peoples should abandon their ways, languages, spiritual and economic systems, seasonal movement to hunting and gathering places and most importantly their lands” (Elizabeth Comack, p. 70), assuming that because Indian cultures and societies were clearly inferior to settler society Europeans sought to take their land, culture, and economy as taking their power and retaining it as theirs.

Resistance took the form of holding ceremonies in secret and altering the practices to make them seem more acceptable to European eyes. Nevertheless, colonization of first nations people by western European and later by Canada, has had a number of phases, each its own set of overlapping economic, social, political, and legal agendas. Official and non-official policies were put in place to colonize and ultimately control the aboriginal community. All to which seemingly takes a more aggressive approach of colonization, from granting land and status to undertaking everything all together. Starting with the Proclamation acting 1963, granting aboriginals rights to reserved land. The Act of Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes in 1857, of gender and voting rights. The Indian Act in 1876, of common law rules of marriage, over Indian status after marriage. To lastly residential schools in 1880, of the forceful removal of aboriginal children from their homes into Catholic schools. Along with numerous other non-official policies, of the fur trade, through selling opposed to sharing/giving.

Condoned by policymakers, advocating residential schools as the best system for educators and civilizing. Neglecting the countless abuse, and corruption involved. Residential schools didn’t just inflict emotional and physical abuse but essentially cultural loss, that may not ever be restored. Achieving the sole purpose of which was to conform indigenous people into European culture, civilizing the savagery that was believed to be indigenous people. All based on the aphorism,“Kill the Indian, save the man”. Assuming that children separated from their parents would be the best potential converts to Christianity, and ultimately colonialism. Imagine being forcefully removed from your family, and everything you know only to be placed in a school where you are continuously abused, not only physically but sexually and emotionally. Where you are forbidden to talk in your native language, the only one known to you while living in horrible, torturous conditions. Resistance is inedible, but never too late, which is why cases such as Blackwater v. Plint, a case of several former students who sued the united church and Canada for injuries due to physical/sexual abuse, neglect, and forced assimilation. Arguing the loss of culture and language as a result of residential schools. Are fighting back the injustice that was residential schools, because the government, as well as society, must know that what was happening in residential schools was not only enable but should’ve never happened to begin with.

The ultimate question, What happened to the indigenous population? Well while the effort by the European colonizers to take control over the lives of Aboriginal people involved a number of strategies, including the signing of treaties, the Indian Act, and the residential school system, the North West Mounted Police played an instrumental role in carrying out this colonial project or civilizing mission the population has decreased and the little who survived, have been tainted and traumatized. Through the dismissal and loss of their culture. Intergenerational trauma is an immense consequence of residential schools, and ultimately colonization on the aboriginal community. Starting with the adverse experience from the first generation, due to the residential schools. Causing impedes in development, such as depression & anxiety, as well as changes to coping strategies, resulting in substance use, Increased stressor experiences, Poor mental health, Increased reactivity to stressors, of increased fear, and lastly poor parenting skills. Which precedes into the next generation, their kids, as a result of poor childhood experiences, and the cycle repeats.

Don’t be fouled, As Elizabeth Comack as stated in “Colonialism Past and Present”, Colonialism has not disappeared; it has just taken on new forms in contemporary times (79). Such as social exclusion, poverty, violence, and alcohol use have dominated the lives of many. Aboriginal people and their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system has become a problem of large proportions. Racial discourse, shifting from aboriginal people as savage, inferior,” and “child-like, consequently in need of a civilizing influence and the benevolent paternalism of the state. To a more contemporary discourses include the notions of the welfare recipient/’ the drunken Indian, and the criminal other, consequently in need of heightened surveillance and control. Grace-Edward Galabuzi (2009) notes, “social exclusion is used to broadly describe the structures and the dynamic processes of inequality among groups in society; which, over time, structure access to critical resources that determine the quality of membership in a society.” (Elizabeth Comack, p.79).

Social exclusion characterized by processes of a group or individual isolation within and from Canadian societal institutions such as the school stem, criminal justice system, health care system, as well as spatial isolation or neighbourhood segregation”. By isolating marginalised groups into despicable living conditions, of crowded homes, and contaminated resources. Resulting in a higher risk of substance abuse, due to not only past but present traumatic experiences, of not solely their residential living conditions but also heightened stress levels of worry, stress, and fear. Of struggling to find a stable job to support their families, to the heightened crime rate, of missing/murdered indigenous people. Not only do they have to worry about supporting their families but protecting them from the dangers within their communities.

Statistics show that “the incarceration rates for Aboriginal adults aged 20 to 34 still remain higher than for their non-Aboriginal counterparts even when high school graduation and employment are considered” (Elizabeth Comack, p. 87). Which is more likely a result of the past and present treatment of the indigenous community. A study by the Ontario Native Women’s Association (1989) found that eight out of ten Aboriginal women had experienced violence, many of them as young children, due to the intergenerational trauma within the community leaving them exposed and more likely to experience continued abuse, from family, friends, spouses, and even strangers. As a result of systemic inequalities which reproduce racism, sexism, classism, and colonialism. Aboriginal people or more specifically women are left with the short end of the stick, with more than 500 aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada since 1980 (Kristen Gilchrist, 2010, p. 373) but yet aboriginal women receive 31/2 times less coverage, due to the press and news deeming it as un-newsworthy.

Unfortunately, there was not only a great emphasize on race, and gender in residential schools but in the Canadian law as well. Take the Indian Act, for instance, defined in law who was an “Indian” and specified how someone could lose status as an Indian. An Indian was legally defined as “any male person of Indian blood reputed to belong to a particular band, and any child of such person and any woman who is lawfully married to such a person”. Not only was it targeted toward discrediting indigenous people of their status, but there was an unfairness between males and females. Where an Indian female who married a non-Indian man ceased to be an Indian in legal terms, and both she and her children lost all claims associated with that status, such as residence on a reserve, use of reserve property, and participation in band affairs.

While in contrast, a non-Indian woman who married an Indian man would gain legal status as an Indian, as would the children from that union. Aboriginal females were not only seized of their Indian status after the marriage of a European spouse but unable to retain it after possible divorce, leaving them vulnerable and powerless. A disadvantage compared to the men, who retained everything they always and already had, losing nothing. Colonizers used gender identity to determine policy, refusing to acknowledge women or two-spirit chiefs, demining ownership of property. Power was based on race and ultimately gender. Not only were white people inferior but white men specifically, the rule makers and superior to all. Using their leadership and power to sway society, shielding light only on what they think should be shown. Take modern Canadian political governors Sir John McDonald and Stephen Harper, both denied aboriginal mistreatment, while shyly supporting it through overt racism and ignorance.

In addition to that, the colonial representations of aboriginal women were tainted, seeing them as “squaw”, demeaning and inferior to European women. Who were in contrast seen as the ideal women, the ultimate beauty, nurturer, providing selfless, gentle, benign and humane” support for her family. Characterized by the virtues of piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. Aboriginal women were the most dehumanized and degraded, seen more as objects as opposed to people. Evidently seen predominantly through fur trade, of marriages between French and aboriginal women as trading agreements.

In conclusion despite what most people might think colonization is still very much present in today’s society and will continue to be unless we as a whole put an end to it. Our ancestors have played a part in the destroying the indigenous community, and because of them, it is our job to help rebuild it. Implicating a plan on decolonization, by eliminating marginalization and isolation of indigenous people. Decolonization involves refraining from the past systematic concepts of indigenous people and governance and re-creating, and claiming new traditional roles. In view of what Courtney Dakin (2012) stated, “Decolonization is vital to our well-being” (30) unless we undo what has been done nothing will change, and therefore continue to crumble. Educating both urban and reserved communities, ensuring that nobody is left in the dark and clueless to what is truly occurring in our society because it is only through our knowledge of the past can we correct the future.

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