As a part of my Indigenous Peoples course my final exam was an essay outlining the relationship between Canadian Indigenous People’s and the European colonizers, including the past, present, future. As today is National Aboriginal Day, I thought it would be important to share my thoughts on how I see the relationship between two from an Indigenous perspective. There is a lot of work to be done in the present and the future to heal and move forward to a better relationship.
Canadian Indigenous People’s and the European Colonizers: Past, Present, Future
After the European “discovery” of North America and the ‘Indians’, their goal was to benefit and profit from the land’s resources. Trading was already a developed network amongst different Indigenous bands in North America and trading naturally developed between the European explorers and the Indigenous bands that they encountered (Payne, 2004). By the 1600’s trade between the Indigenous and the French became ritualized because of the demand of beaver fur that was fueling the economy of New France (Payne, 2004). These trades benefited both parties, although the French did not want to rely on the Indigenous people for trade and therefore wanted to settle within Quebec and become self-sufficient.
The French were not the only ones in the trading business, other Indigenous groups were also dependent on the fur trade for their own economy and this created tension between opposing groups (Parrott, 2006). The fur trade was not the only tension during this time – the British and French were struggling for supremacy in North America (Eccles, 2006). These conflicts resulted in war, like the 7 Years War. The opposing sides, France and Britain, depended on Indigenous allies throughout the war. It ended with the Treaty of Paris of 1763 where Canada was formally ceded to the British (Eccles, 2006). After this treaty there was no longer any need for Indigenous allies and this was shown when the Indigenous peoples were not invited to the signing of the treaty. This act led the Indigenous peoples to believe that conflict with the Europeans was unresolved. Chief Pontiac decided to lead a pan-tribal resistance against the English colonial rule. The Europeans did not take this Indigenous resistance seriously, and therefore did not prepare a defense. British General Amherst believed that the Indigenous people were ‘less evolved’ and therefore incapable of military strategy. The British security was shook because Pontiac had a lot of early success due to his strategic attack plan. This resistance led to the realization of Indigenous power, which eventually led to England recognizing Indian sovereignty. Therefore land that had not already been ceded to or purchased by England was reserved for Indigenous people.
The Europeans eventually wanted the land that the Indigenous people were living on for resource extraction, settlement, and development. There was a shifted European interest from allies to active colonizer. In order to peacefully colonize, Indian land treaties were made with the Indigenous peoples. The point of treaties was to convince the Indigenous peoples to cede their land for colonization benefits, in return for profit. In the changing times the Indigenous populations were in need of money and goods in order to support themselves. A major focus of the Canadian Government during the period of treaty making was to introduce the First Nations to agriculture so that they could develop self-supporting communities, like the colonizers. This push towards agriculture was seen in many treaties through the goods included in the agreements. This shows that even through the treaties Europeans wanted to assimilate Indigenous people into Euro-Canadian culture. As outlined in the Gradual Enfranchisement Act and the Gradual Civilization Act, two pieces of legislation that would become the consolidated Indian Acts. Although treaties were meant to benefit both sides, they were understood differently from each side, which has led to issues that are still relevant today.
A major result from the treaties are Indian Reservations, which is land that put aside specifically for First Nations, Status Indians. Many of the numbered treaties also included schools for the bands that desired them (Canada, 1978). These schools, which were built across Canada, became the Indian Residential School System. These schools were a part of the government’s plan to forcefully assimilate Indigenous children into Eurocentric culture, and to get rid of Indigenous culture altogether. This legacy has created long lasting issues, like intergenerational trauma and other negative impacts. While the relationship between the Europeans and Indigenous peoples began as mutually beneficial, colonization has led to major issues for present day Indigenous peoples.
The legacy of the Indian Residential School System is still something that affects Indigenous peoples across Canada. The attempted forced assimilation of Indigenous people has created many issues. The actions that were taken at Residential Schools including physical, mental, sexual, and spiritual abuse in attempt to eradicate the Indigenous culture has been defined as cultural genocide. The traumatic events that took place at the Residential Schools have not only hurt the survivors of the system but also their families through intergenerational trauma. Many problems associated with Indigenous peoples like chronic health issues, poverty and a lack of parenting skills can be traced back to the Residential School System. The Government of Canada has recognized their part in this history. Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Canada has begun to try to work towards changing their relationship with the Indigenous population for the better.
Although the recognition of the Residential Schools and the TRC is a step towards healing the relationship, serious action is needed to actually improve the relationship. There are 94 Calls to Action in the TRC and as a part of reconciliation the government needs to make the changes suggested (TRC, 2015). Implementing these actions will lead to a positive change in the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the government. It will also improve the livelihood of Indigenous peoples instead of harming them. Reconciliation has just begun, it will take time to actually heal and meaningfully improve the relationship, likely generations. The government has taken its first steps in reconciliation by acknowledging that the actions taken against Indigenous children and communities were wrong.
Other Indigenous issues that are relevant today because of colonization are land claims and other issues resulting from treaty agreements. Throughout the development of Canada the European settlers needed to make treaties with the Indigenous population to peacefully extract resource, settle, and develop the land. Unfortunately, the Crown and the Indigenous peoples understood these treaties differently. Whereas the Crown understood the treaties as a purchase of land, the Indigenous peoples, and their descendants, understood it as a land sharing agreement, not as complete land surrender (Luby, 2010). These misunderstandings have led to court cases involving land claim issues, or other issues involving unfulfilled treaty promises. These court cases eventually led to the understanding that land, which was not ceded to the Crown, was in fact Indigenous land. The Canadian legal system acknowledged ‘Indian Land’ and Indigenous sovereignty. Although, this did not lead to the land claim issues being resolved. In 1974 the Office for Native Claims was opened, unfortunately it did not initiate remedial action.
Even today there are many land claim and treaty issues still being dealt with in the court systems. However, the government is working on resolving these issues on a case by case basis. The goal is to improve the Indigenous social, economic, health, and political situations that they are currently facing today. This improvement can happen through Indigenous rights including land rights and culture rights. Although, for this to happen on a truly meaningful level the contemporary issues that Indigenous people are currently dealing with need to be improved. This will only be able to happen with the help of the Canadian government. Furthermore, with the help of the government and the actions they take to help Indigenous peoples the relationship between the two populations will have a chance to reconcile and change into a more positive one.
The Canadian Government’s acknowledgement and recognition of their part in the colonization of Canada and how it affected the Indigenous population is a start to fixing the problems that it has caused. The negative impacts of colonization through the Residential School System and the results of the treaties that were made between the Crown and Indigenous peoples are still relevant today. Although Stephan Harper issued a formal apology in 2008 for Canada’s part in the Residential School System, many survivors did not accept the apology. According to political scientist Matt James, an authentic political apology tends to have eight requirements: recorded officially in writing, names the wrong in question, accepts responsibility, states regret, promise non-repetition, does not demand forgiveness, is not hypocritical or arbitrary, and undertakes – through measures of publicity, ceremony, and concrete reparation – to engage morally those in whose name the apology is made to assure the wronged group that the apology is sincere (Corntassel & Holder, 2008). The first statement only explicitly apologizes to those who were sexually and physically abused, and did not mention anything about the residential school policy itself or other cultural, political, social, economic and psychological impacts brought on by the schools (Corntassel & Holder, 2008). While a majority of the eight requirements have been met since the first statement, not all of them have. In order to fully reconcile and create a positive relationship between the government and the Indigenous population the eighth requirement must be met. This could happen through acting upon the 94 Calls to Action from the TRC.
It is the actions taken after an apology that prove regret and the want for forgiveness. Justin Trudeau has taken steps to acknowledge the contemporary Indigenous issues like the underdevelopment of reserves, water issues on reserves, and missing and murdered Indigenous women. However, there has yet to be solid actions taken in order to alleviate these issues. From now and into the future, serious actions must be taken by the government in order to fix the wrongs that colonization has created for the Indigenous people. A more dynamic and undivided attention to these issues will need to happen so that they can be resolved. Although this has currently proved to be a challenge, the continuation of working on these issues may lead to a better future. Resolving the Indigenous issues will lead to a better life for Indigenous people and hopefully generations to come. It will also lead to a better life for all Canadians and the generations that will follow.
The TRC has outlined what the Indigenous population needs from the government in order to help their social, economic, and political situation. Sections of the Calls to Action include child welfare, education, language and culture, health, settlement agreements, missing children and burial information, and more. Everything included in the Calls to Action have been affected by colonization and the Residential Schools. Implementing the Calls to Action will lead to a positive future for Indigenous peoples, the government, Canadians and their relationship. It will also lead to a future of reconciliation, which is what the Indigenous people want. What wrong was done to their people during colonization will be remembered in Canadian history. It does not need to impact the future generations and how they live their lives. Eventually the goal is for Indigenous people to not face problems that are a direct result of colonization. With the recognition and attention that Indigenous issues currently have in the government and media there is a good chance that positive change will happen. Although, a real effort must be taken by the government to ensure that this change will happen to make a better future. Underfunding and underservicing First Nations communities and children must come to an end. This will create a positive relationship between the future government and future generations of Indigenous peoples.
Canada. Department of Indian Affairs Northern Development. Treaty No. 3 between Her Majesty the Queen and the Saulteaux Tribe of the Ojibbeway Indians at the Northwest Angle on the Lake of the Woods with Adhesions. Ottawa, Ont.: Queen’s Printer and Controller of Stationery, 1978.
Corntassel, Jeff, and Cindy Holder. “Who’s Sorry Now? Government Apologies, Truth Commissions, and Indigenous Self-Determination in Australia, Canada, Guatemala, and Peru.” Human Rights Review 9, no. 4 (2008): 465-89.
Eccles, Wiliam John. “Seven Years War.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2006. Accessed April 5, 2017. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/seven-years-war/.
Luby, Brittany. “THE DEPARTMENT IS GOING BACK ON THESE PROMISES”: AN EXAMINATION OF ANISHINAABE AND CROWN UNDERSTANDINGS OF TREATY.” Canadian Journal Of Native Studies 30, no. 2 (December 2010): 203-228.
Payne, Michael. The Fur Trade in Canada. Toronto: J. Lorimer, 2004.
Parrott, Zach. “Iroquois Wars.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2006. Accessed April 5, 2017. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/iroquois-wars/
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Author, Issuing Body. “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.” Winnipeg: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015.