Then: “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question.”
– Duncan Campbell Scott, Head of the Department of Indian Affairs in the 1920s.
Now: “We also have no history of colonialism.”
– Prime Minister Stephen Harper, September 24 at the G20 meeting
If you repeat a lie often enough, people will start to believe it, they say. Another one is “A lie will go halfway around the world before truth gets its boots on.”
These sayings may well be the current Prime Minister’s philosophy or at least his spin doctors’ hopes and dreams.
Truth though has reacted strongly. “Denying the history of colonialism in Canada is like denying the Holocaust,” said Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.
Truer words than those spoken by Harper. Harper perhaps should go back to school or at the very least read the many reports previous governments, both federal and provincial, have complied on First Nations in Canada.
First Nation Peoples have and still live in poverty, have poor health (seven times the Canadian infant mortality rate, for example), high rates of incarceration (4% of the population versus over 20% of the prison population), have high rates of youth suicides, experience violence against Indigenous women, Native children are removed from their homes at higher rates than non-Natives, and basic needs, such as water and housing, are often substandard in First Nation communities.
The colonial relationship between Canada and First Nations, past and present, include: residential schools, forcible relocation including onto reservations, the Indian Act, the imposed Band Council system, institution of a pass system (Indian Affairs agents control your travel), permission to sell the fruits of your labour (Indian Affairs agents need to approve your attempts at creating an economy or making individual sales, e.g. First Nation farmers), germ warfare, sterilization of First Nations women without their knowledge or consent, outlawing of ceremonies such as drumming (Cree communities), the West Coast’s potlach and traditional activities such as fishing, broken treaty processes and other forced assimilation polices, including the Buffalo Jump Program and the Act for the Gradual Assimilation of Indian Peoples. The list goes on and is way too long for this editorial.
Jean Crowder, the NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic, said Harper’s statement “came as a surprise to many Canadians, not least of all Aboriginal Peoples.”
Crowder added as proof of Canadian colonialism that “the numbered treaties were signed with Canada, not Britain or France. Those numbered treaties took control of the resources and land that Aboriginal Peoples had lived on for millennia. The land involved is from Ontario west to the Rockies.”
She made this statement in Parliament ending with, “Mr. Speaker, Canada does have a history of colonialism. Reconciliation won’t happen until our Prime Minister admits that.”
Personally I am glad to see such openness from the Prime Minister. It lets First Nations People know exactly who and what we are dealing with.
Harper, though, is lucky that he is dealing with a very patient people. If someone like George W. Bush had made a statement that the United States had no history of slavery there would be riots in the streets.
In Canada, First Nations are not prone to taking to the streets in this manner. Perhaps that is why Harper thought he could slip in such an obvious piece of B.S. at the G20 conference. Perhaps he thought Canada’s tarnished reputation concerning its treatment of Aboriginal Peoples needed a boost of some sort.
And finally Mr. Harper, if Canada has no history of colonialism, why hasn’t Canada signed the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples? Even the Canadian Parliament has passed a motion to sign it and yet you refuse to implement it. No history of colonialism indeed.