Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Our Land

It is American Thanksgiving soon, and about a month ago Canadian Thanksgiving past. Thanksgiving never struck me as a particularly important holiday, but it has gained importance in my life and the lives of my peers because it is the first major holiday on the academic calendar that allows most students to venture home. This has also led to the infamous "Turkey Dump," a phenomenon where college students grow weary of their long distance relationships and break up over Thanksgiving.

I have very much moved off the topic I wanted to discuss. Thanksgiving is about really one thing, the colonization of North America by Europeans, obviously at the expense of Native North Americans. The policies enacted under a variety of governments over a string of centuries has really only made matters worse. Policies ranged from war to active genocide, starvation, exploitation, deportation, and social engineering schemes. The legacy of our provincial and federal governments are deeply marred by our treatment toward Native peoples. It is a mark that should shame Canadians.

While I'm deeply troubled by our historic relations to the Aboriginals I have a greater concern about our contemporary relationship with Native issues. At the moment Natives live on these horrible social arrangements called reserves where according to their original intention they are supposed to eek out a living as their ancestors had in the 17th century. This is backwards. In countries across the world it is not the goal of government policy to keep aboriginal groups tied to a time and a place that is outside the modern world.

Instead of integrating Native people into our society, we've excluded them, and our attempts to integrate them have done more harm than good. If we place people in the relative wilderness and expect them to govern themselves can we really be surprised when E. coli breaks out, or there is corrupt governance.

I don't have a solution, not really, but my feeling is that the reserves are not it. How are Natives suppose to end up anywhere but the bottom of society unless they relinquish ideas about maintaining a standard of living contemporaneous with European contact? Maybe it would be best for the Canadian government to repeal the Indian Act, abolish the reserve system, divide the land between the tribe, over them the same tax benefits, and pay each Native a hefty sum, and wish them luck.

How long do we compensate Aboriginals for their land? If Canada survives that long, in 500 years do we still make noise about how we took their land, how this is theirs by rights. How long before their land is our land, Natives and new Canadians included? I think it may be time to change things and for us to acknowledge the reality of what the 21st century looks like.

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