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|Written by Kendall R. Giberson|
|Monday, 30 June 2008 19:00|
It has been recognized that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's official apology to Indian Residential School survivors, delivered on June 11 in the House of Commons, is a very significant gesture. This official recognition of the error of the government's ways, after years of simply ignoring the lingering effects of policies based on outdated ethnic stereotypes, signifies a willingness on behalf of the current government to begin a new dialogue with First Nations of Canada. In response to Harper's speech, all opposition leaders acknowledged that the systemic cultural genocide designed to “kill the Indian in the child” should not have happened and would never happen again in Canada. It is conceivable that many Aboriginal Canadians accepted the apology, but even those who said it was “too little, too late” had to agree that the olive branch extended by the current political leaders is an unprecedented step taken in improving relations between Aboriginal peoples and the government. The question now is: what are they going to do next? Commemorating the legacy of residential school survivors is one thing, but how are the unique problems experienced by First Nation communities going to be addressed in the future?
The attitudes that inspired the creation of Aboriginal policies such as the old Indian Residential School system were based on the colonial notion of European superiority over Aboriginals. And the effects of these policies still linger. Canadian Aboriginal politics have a tendency to view the plight of Aboriginals as “us against the rest of Canada,” as opposed to being a part of Canada. The responsibility for this outlook rests within certain pieces of legislation like the Indian Act, which legally separates Aboriginals from other Canadians by giving them a different set of rights and governing them with a different set of laws based on their ancestry. The next logical step for the government in making amends should be to phase out and eventually eliminate the outdated and racist Indian Act that contains the assumptions that Aboriginals cannot look after themselves or thrive within a Canadian society without the federal government overseeing every aspect of their lives. The Act created the problems experienced by Aboriginals today, including health, education, and poverty issues, particularly on reserves.
The issue at stake here is that federal policies marginalized these individuals and left them out of the decision-making processes. In an advanced democracy such as Canada, this should not happen. The Aboriginal population in Canada is too significant to not be involved in the policy-making process regarding its issues. Another step towards increasing the ability to have Aboriginal voices heard would be to create new Senate seats for representatives of Aboriginal organizations. For example, three could be created for the Assembly of First Nations, one for the Inuit Tapiriit, and one for the Métis Council. Adding five seats initially seems insignificant, but could potentially go a long way in ensuring the participation of First Nations in the larger government.
The issues raised by the official apology that Wednesday afternoon in Ottawa definitely have inspired debates as to Canada's Aboriginal question. The problems created by policies that stripped First Nations peoples of their language, culture and identity will not be solved by a simple apology, nor will great inroads be made within a short time. However, the apology does serve as a springboard from which the Aboriginal population of Canada can be more appreciated as a part of the greater society rather than as a separate people with separate political rights.
© 2008 Kendall Giberson; licensee (Cult)ure Magazine.