Friday, May 19, 2023

True Reconciliation

What do they want?  Spoken with disgust is how many a Canadian has complained.  The "Indians" are a nuisance and the cause of their own misery.  Many of us were shocked as reports of unmarked graves from residential schools became public.

Complacency was normal.  Their plight didn't concern us. For many the only awareness came from history class.  For those in closer contact they could recite drunkenness, parental neglect and laziness.  They certainly weren't like that when the first Europeans forced their presence on them.

Jody Wilson-Rabould has a background with indigenous politics, but also as a cabinet minister for the federal government.  She casts a somewhat skeptical view of our mutual past, but also some hope for the future that will benefit everyone.

When Europeans first came upon indigenous they had a technology advantage and were quick to take advantage and exploit the people and other resources.  Other factors worked to the benefit of the European.  Disease brought from the old world caused as much damage as gunfire.  The indigenous were tribal, allowing a certain amount of divide and conquer.

When reading about our European misreading of cultural differences I found one of mine going back 50 years.  In university I was part of a team effort to write a term paper.  Some of it was to do with the Potlatch.  It certainly seemed strange that people would compete in giving away things and one explanation resulted--that it was a matter of prestige.  One could understand why it was outlawed because the "Indians" were hurting themselves.  Now I realize that it was seen among other things as a way of distributing their wealth so that no one person would get too wealthy.  Also Jody explained that responsibilities were passed down through the Potlatch.  Read about hunter gatherer societies that control leaders:

Jody breaks the task of true reconciliation to three sections:  learn, understand, act.

She recounts a long list of events.  In early stages the Europeans were assured by a Doctrine of Discovery that because the natives were not Christian they could be exploited.  Their culture was easily dismissed.   Treaties were signed, but all too soon ignored.  In 1927 the Indian Act was amended to make it illegal to obtain funds or legal counsel to advance Aboriginal cases.  

In elementary school we had been taught that Louis Riel was mentally ill and his rebellion deserved to be put down.  Reading Pierre Berton about the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway we learned that railway allowed military troops to put down the rebellion.

The French were recognized as a distinct society with political efforts to placate them.  The indigenous had to struggle.  The author acknowledges that some efforts were made, but progress was very slow. 

What seems to have gained more national attention is the discovery of unmarked graves of the residental schools.  The idea behind the residential schools was to remove the Indian from the child.  Children were separated from their parents and forbidden to talk their natural language.  Sexual predators and abusive teachers gravitated to schools.

I recall that when Paul Martin finally became Prime Ministers one of his priorities was to restore fairness for the Indigenous, but after a major effort that resulted in the Kelowna Accord, his government fell and his successor Stephen Harper let much of it slide.  However in fairness it was Harper who apologized  publicly for Canada's treatment of the Indigenous.  Read about Paul Martins efforts:

When the United Nations came up with the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People, Canada was one of only four nations to vote against it.  The negative vote was reversed as well as the others; the United States, New Zealand and Australia.  It was fully adopted in 2016.

We would do well to better understand how the indigenous think.  They have no western sense of land ownership and have no equivalent to titles and deeds.  They thought of treaties as away of sharing land not a transfer.  Europeans thought the natives had no system of governance Nunavut

Symbolic actions such as pulling down statues of John A. MacDonald who helped set up residential schools or changing the name of a school named after Egerton Ryerson, an ardent champion of the schools was only of marginal significance. A big fuss has been made over sports team names such as the Edmonton Eskimos to Edmonton Elks.   Acknowledgements of indigenous history on land now occupied by Canadians.

Naomi Klein felt environmentalist would do better to align with indigenous groups.   The indigenous think holistically and environmentalist have come to a similar thinking.  She herself participated in the Standing Rock protests.

Paul Martin, out of office went back to business, but developing programs for educating the indigenous to help them be independent.  Other companies are seeing it beneficial to train natives to work on their projects.

Three Canadian states are governed by indigenous.  Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Nunatsisvut  (an autonomous section in Newfoundland and Labrador), decide by consensus and have no official opposition.  Members are elected as independents.

If we really want to help achieve true reconciliation we should become what she calls an "inbetweener."  Everyone has a past and an uncertain future.  We can link these two.  Help newcomers to Canada appreciate our indigenous past and direct to the future.

True reconciliation is slowly happening.  More Canadians are understanding and respecting the indigenous worldview.  We can all do something to make a better world.

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