I always enjoyed The Christmas Carol. The story of a cruel arrogant old miser changing for the better touches something in all of us. It is the hope that people with this type of ingrained behaviour can change for the better, but this story is just fiction. In real life this is a rare occurrence that we all never count on or expect.
For Native Peoples in Canada our Scrooge has always been the continuing actions, practices and policies of colonization. It is the fundamental core of a government that cannot and will not accept that past behavioural tendencies were wrong and thus is committed to the continuation of them.
Prime Minister Jean Cretian in 1969, as the Minister of Indian Affairs, attempted to overhaul the Indian Act through the infamous “White Paper’ but was met with such an outcry by Natives and the general population that this approach was abandoned. It was an attempt to end Federal responsibility for First Nations and end “Indian” status within Canada.
It wasn’t even a new idea back then. In 1946-48 a joint FHouse and Senate committee held hearings to consider changing Indian Act. Native leaders came out against it decrying the arbitrary stripping of Indian status, poor education, health and living standards of reserves. Those hearings, though, revealed that 8,000 native children had no access to schooling.
In 1951 a new and improved Indian Act was introduced. There weren’t many changes.
Now it’s 2001 and Minister Nault of Indian Affairs has decided that he will go ahead with his Governance Act even though Native leaders are overwhelmingly against it. The vote was 146-26 to reject.
Nault’s reply was predictable saying he would go ahead with or without the AFN. It is amazing that an elected official can so readily and easily dismiss the desires of other elected officials.
This, of course, was also done on a regular basis in the past. We used to have Indian Agents who would regulate every aspect of the First Nations lives. It was discriminatory in that one people were deciding the future of another without regard for their ways or wishes. It was something that we had thought was to be a part of the past. Other countries such as Australia, have come out as condemning these types of colonial practices, but Canada continues to hold on to them and is supporting them wholeheartedly it seems.
One can sympathize with Quebec when they talk about the arrogance of English Canada and what they did to the French, if this is any indication of Canada’s mentality.
In his actions Nault has proved to one and all that the Indian Agent is alive and well. He also proved that the genocidal (one people changing or absorbing another people against their will) practices continue to be a part of the Canadian political will. And lastly he has proved that Canada is still racist in it’s attitudes towards Native Peoples as he is in effect stating that First Nation’s leaders are not his equals in any way and consideration for the wishes of First Nations do not enter into Canadian political realities. It is a paternalistic leftover of colonization and a rather poor Christmas present for a people whose living, social and economic conditions do not even come close to the Canadian norm.
But still as Tiny Tim said “God bless us everyone.” We’re going to need it.