Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
August 21, 2000
Aboriginal assimilation holds hope
Federal policy of special status bears no good fruit for native people
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
In a recent CBC interview, Matthew Coon Come, newly-elected Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he had told the chiefs that "This land is our land." Asked how much of Canada that meant, he replied: "All of it." Coon Come also declares that he is an aboriginal citizen and not a Canadian citizen.
While the Chretien government's enthusiasm for political correctness on aboriginal affairs policy shows no sign of flagging, there are increasing signs of grassroots impatience and Coon Come's rhetoric is bound to stir up more resentment.
An Angus Reid poll submitted to the Department of Indian Affairs in October 1999, found that 57 per cent of respondents believed that tax exemptions for aboriginal people should be phased out, only 25 per cent agreed that aboriginal peoples have a historic right to self-government, and 40 per cent said native people have no more right to self-government than other ethnic groups in Canada.
It's possible that a couple of years down the road we could witness a showdown in this country between Coon Come and Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, who are both, interestingly, professedly devout Christians.
However, their consonant religious convictions aside, Coon Come and Day are a universe apart on aboriginal policy.
Day is an unapologetic assimilationist who believes that all Canadians, aboriginal and others alike, should have equal rights, privileges and responsibilities under the law, and that the special legal status enjoyed/suffered by native people in Canada over the past 130 plus years has been and continues to be an unmitigated disaster.
Day's views on aboriginal affairs bear some similarity to the arguments advanced in a recently published book by University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan, entitled First Nations? Second Thoughts.
Flanagan asserts that life on Canada's 625 native reserves exemplifies the classic welfare trap, where addiction to subsidy from the public purse money saps individual incentive and perpetuates poverty, weakening natives' resolve to participate in mainstream Canadian society.
Coon Come's predecessor, Phil Fontaine, dismissed Flanagan's argument that North America's indigenous peoples at the time of European conquest and colonization did not constitute sovereign nations equivalent to European nation states, as "racism."
However, Flanagan's contention that aboriginal cultures were "uncivilized" because they lacked intensive agriculture, permanent settlement, written language, organized states, and were at a Stone Age level of technological advancement, seems indisputable. His assertion that the aboriginal policies pursued by Canadian governments for the past half-century have been a tragic and ongoing failure is even more so.
The median income level for Canadian families is approximately $57,000. The correspondent figure for native families is about $12,000 - despite the fact that government transfers to native communities are reportedly around $10,000 per capita.
Native infant mortality is just shy of twice the national average, their suicide rate 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. The parallels between life on Canadian reserves and in the erstwhile black "homelands" of apartheid South Africa are unsettling.
The 1969 White Paper on Indian policy advocated that it would be better for native people, taxpayers and Canadian society if all treaties, special aboriginal rights and the Department of Indian Affairs were terminated, and aboriginal people integrated into mainstream culture. While this vision is the epitome of political incorrectness today, it's tragic that it was never implemented.
Aside from the particular distempers afflicting Canada's aboriginal people, Balkanization - the nurturing of ethno-cultural nationalism within a nation-state is a sure-fire formula for strife and conflict, woefully evident in the current tensions in Atlantic Canada over supposed ancient aboriginal treaty-rights to exploit natural resources affirmed last summer by the Supreme Court.
Ultimately there are only two workable choices - assimilation or partition. Multiculturalism, especially when expressed in the context of race-based special privilege, simply does not work.
And despite the remonstrations of Fontaine and others, saying this does not constitute racism, nor is it antagonistic toward native people. People of aboriginal heritage will never share equally in Canada's national prosperity until they become part of Canada's culture.
Romantic notions of returning to an aboriginal culture notwithstanding, real aboriginal culture no longer exists, and what has replaced it is a mutant hybrid that manifests some of the worst malaises of mainstream white society while delivering few of its benefits.
The Chretien government's aboriginal policies are like something out of Alice's looking glass world - heavy on sentimentalism, liberal guilt and multiculturalist cant, and extremely light on positive outcomes.
Coon Come wants to lay claim to all of Canada? Fine, let him try. He's living in fantasyland if he thinks that sort of rhetoric won't fan the smouldering coals of popular political reaction into open flame. It's just too bad it has to be this way.
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