Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 18, 1999
Reserve system is apartheid lite
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
When Rob Nixon first arrived in Iowa from his native South Africa as a young college professor, he was surprised and bemused to discover that North Americans consider "multiculturalism" to be a liberal term.
Writing recently in The Atlantic Monthly, Nixon noted that in South Africa, multiculturalism was "a catchphrase beloved by neo-fascist segregationists," who used it to justify the former apartheid regime's scheme to assign the country's black population to citizenship in an archipelago of 10 scattered, nominally self-governing, government subsidized, racially segregated, reservations or "bantustans," thus facilitating their claim that the rest (and best) of the country had a white majority.
The bantustan project crashed and burned, as it deserved to, but I think the National Party's racist cynicism exemplified the true implications of multicul-turalism a lot more accurately than does the sentimentalism of fuzzy-minded North Americans who embrace the term. Multiculturalism is "apartheid lite."
Which further begs the question of why is it considered liberal and commendable to have a majority of Canada's First Nations peoples living in an archipelago of scattered, nominally self-governing, government subsidized, racially-segregated reservations, when South Africa's similar system was reviled as being quintessentially evil?
There are of course significant differences between the two sets of circumstances, major ones being that native people have the right to vote in general elections and enjoy constitutional rights of full citizenship - on or off the reserve.
However the practical consequences of both systems are distressingly similar. Life in the bantustans was in general impoverished, hard and unhealthy. Eighty-five per cent of Canadian First Nations people who live on reserves have incomes below the poverty line.
Native people's average individual income is barely more than half the national median, and their infant mortality rate is just shy of twice the national average. The suicide rate among native people is 2.5 times higher than average, and 41.5 per cent of the First Nations population is on social assistance, versus 8.2 per cent of the general population.
Clearly, Canada's liberal, politically-correct, Indian Affairs policies are not working much, if any, better than the apartheid system on the South African bantustans did. Indeed, a Time magazine report notes that if Canada's on-reserve First Nations population were categorized as a separate country in UN average standard-of-living rankings, they would fall somewhere below Mexico and Thailand, and be on par with Brazil.
Canada's First Nations leaders tend to blame their plight on centuries of white oppression, and that view is substantially justified in a historical context.
The fundamental problem that has afflicted the native populations since Europeans first came ashore is de facto apartheid, more recently dressed up in liberal clothes as multiculturalism. It is hard to imagine how yet more apartheid, inevitably amounting to more alienation from mainstream Canadian society, will do anything but pour fuel on the fires of poverty and despair.
Even some liberals appear to grasp the essential reality of that dynamic, although typically, they remain lost in a fog of inconsistency and self-contradiction. Last winter, Indian Affairs minister Jane Stewart mused to Time that "It's not about difference; it's about finding a way for Indians and Inuit to really be a part of Canada."
On the other hand, Time reported in the same paragraph that the "doctrine of assimilation," which I and many other non-liberals consider to be the no-brainer long-term solution for the manifold problems afflicting native peoples, has been consigned "to the ash heap" by Stewart's own agenda.
The question has to be, do First Nations people want to "really be a part of Canada?" They can't have it both ways.
If they want to enjoy the economic benefits and social acceptance of being part of Canadian mainstream society, then they must join it, without qualification, and take the good with the bad. No more reserves. No more special rights. No more tax-free status. No more treaty rights not enjoyed by their neighbours.
On the other hand, if self-government is really what they want, then it should be real self-government as independent nation-states. No more of this fake, "bantustan"-style business with one foot on the reserve and the other off. Become real nations with real sink-or-swim responsibilities and no more subsidies from Ottawa - or join the rest of us and help build one Canada.
I think self-government could work over time, if that's what they prefer. But I'm sure the standard of living potential could never match that afforded by mainstream assimilation.
Nurturing ethno-cultural nationalism within a political nation-state is a recipe for strife and conflict, as is woefully evident in the current tensions in Atlantic Canada over ancient aboriginal "treaty-rights" to exploit natural resources recently affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Ultimately there are only two workable choices - assimilation or partition. Multiculturalism, whether based on left or right wing ideology, simply does not work.
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