Internship Journal XII

Learning about First Nations

At the end of February I’m teaching a section of the issues and ethics course. I had the option to unpack one of a variety of ethical issues. Materialism was my first choice but then I decided to tackle native issues. Canada has a real problem. European colonization has not served the first inhabitants of this country well. The more I read about the issues the more I realize how much I did not understand.

I once thought that First Nation’s people were to blame for their own predicament. While I could always acknowledge that Indians were cheated out of their land it wasn’t like racism didn’t exist against other ethnic groups. Asians overcame racial bias and have become well respected members of our society. When I was growing up there was a certain amount of awe given to Chinese immigrants who could come to our country, learn our language and then out perform us in school. My social circle respected these people because they were able to beat us at our own game.

Now that I’ve done some research I seem some very important differences. The Canadian government has always assumed a paternal controlling position in relationship with Indians. It is assumed that these “savages” couldn’t orchestrate their own affairs. Our education system and government policy reinforce the idea that Indian culture is inferior. When combined with racism the dominant culture stripped native people of their self-respect and pride. How can they be expected to “beat us at our own game” when they have been so terribly damaged? How can we assume that they even want to play our game?

It is common for a Canadian to say that the Indians are a conquered nation and they should just give in and be assimilated. For your average white middle class person considering the high levels of suicide, substance abuse, crime, and unemployment among native communities it is to conclude that Indians would be better off if they became just like everyone else in our society.

The First Nation’s were nations. They acted independently of the French and English in the early years of European colonization. The English crown negotiated treaties they did not declare war. No one was conquered. The First Nations were cheated.

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