Here’s a statement about relations between the Canadian governments and the Indigenous people, with which I wholeheartedly agree. It comes from a group called Defenders of the Land, who encourage and organize First Nations to base their policies on Aboriginal rights.

Canada’s Indian policy in 2010

This year, the Canadian government has renewed an aggressive policy of assimilation of Indians. Despite all the apologies and high-minded words from elected officials over the last few years, this policy is the same Indian policy the government has pursued since the 1850s. From Tom Flanagan and the Fraser Institute, there is a push for privatization of reserve lands and conversion of Aboriginal title into fee simple on a small percentage of traditional territories. The comprehensive claims process and the regional treaty tables continue to push First Nations towards extinguishment of title using a range of carrot-and-stick tactics. Indigenous peoples who fight back too hard against the assimilation agenda, like the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, are targeted for special repression.

It’s important that the threats to Indigenous rights described here should be absorbed and understood by Canadians.

As the Defenders say, assimilation policies have been pursued since the 1850s, a fact that makes nonsense of most non-Indigenous commentators in the mainstream media who, when they rediscovered Aboriginal people in the last few years, almost unanimously came to the conclusion that as a nation we have a miraculous new policy available: assimilation.

These people don’t seem to know that this policy has been tried before. The fact is, assimilation forced on Indigenous people through countless Acts of Parliament, thousands of Orders-in-Council, and untold ad hoc regulations, was precisely what brought the Native people to their state of endemic poverty.

These so-called rightwing “experts” appear never to have heard of the 1850 Acts, ostensibly designed for the protection of Indian lands, which allowed the Crown to lease Indian lands, collect rents, license logging, and put the money into a fund that was spent, but over which the Indians had no say whatsoever. This policy survived so long that when David Crombie became Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs in 1984, he asked his bureaucrats “if it was still existing practice to use Indian funds to pay the cost of programs which are regularly available to the Canadian public?” This question was never answered, like the 63 others Crombie put to his civil servants before being removed from office.

These “experts” appear to have never heard of the 1857 “Act for the Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes of the Canadas”, which stated how Aboriginal people could be detached from their community, nation and even race, and become honorary whites. Have they never heard of the Establishment Acts of 1859 and 1869, which replaced traditional chiefs with elected ones, encouraged Indians to take private ownership in their lands (two policies still being pursued), and which led to the absurdity of tens of thousands of Aboriginals being defined as non-Indian although they lived as Indians, spoke Indian languages, and held to Indian beliefs and values, while thousands of European women who married Indians were defined as status Indians?

Finally, did they never read the Indian Act, passed in 1876 with 100 sections, most of them at the discretion of the Minister, the purpose being to control every aspect of Indian life in Canada? Within 30 years, the Act had 195 sections, formalizing the inferior status of Indians, so that an Indian could scarcely sneeze without authority of the Minister.

Land, assembly, movement, speech, government, production, education, health, inheritance, ceremonies, rituals, and even amusements were brought under government control. And these modern “experts” have just declared for assimilation as a bold new policy?

I have emphasized the controls exercised through legislation because they represent a measured response by Euro-Canadians to the Indigenous people they found here when the European invasions occurred. Nothing slapdash or spontaneous here, simply a calculated expression of the racism and arrogance of the government society towards its Indigenous neighbours.

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