‘Aboriginals Must Join Canadian Mosaic’

“Not that long ago, it was a common belief that people from aboriginal communities would, over time, merge with the general population. As employment skills were acquired, people would leave reserves and compete for jobs and other benefits with other Canadians.

“That was certainly the belief of the men who wrote the ‘Indian Act’. Reserves, and the demeaning classification of aboriginal people as wards, were to come to a natural end when aboriginal people became a part of the modern community.  

“That kind of thinking is now considered passé — almost quaint. It is now widely believed {at least in our universities} that aboriginal people should remain separate from the general population in self-governing tribal ‘nations’, where they are subject to a separate set of rights and benefits determined at birth by the race of their parents. These tribal ‘nations’ are envisioned as having their own economies. The Indian Act, or something similar, would forever treat aboriginal people differently from other Canadians. 

“Aboriginal {race} activists passionately support this “separateness” model. The last federal government chose to ignore it, but the current government appears to enthusiastically support ‘separateness’. In fact, this model has become so fashionable that to even question it is considered an affront.

“But does separateness make sense in today’s world? Could it be the quaint assumption that ‘integration is both desirable and inevitable’ has been right all along?

“I suggest separateness is the wrong way to go and has already proven itself to be a failure. My reasons for making this statement, and my argument that integration is the road Canadians should travel together, are as follows:

“First, where does the idea of separateness come from?

“I think the answer to this question is clear. Keeping a distance between cultures was a natural response by {some} aboriginal people to past assaults on their culture and traditions. Voices came at them from government, churches and the general population, telling them their culture was inferior and they must learn to be just like ‘white’ people. This continued unabated, but aboriginal people refused to succumb. They simply would not let their culture die…

“They won the battle. Aboriginal people now take pride in their identity. Their culture is strong. Prominent aboriginal people have proven an aboriginal person can be successful and proudly retain his or her identity.

“So the idea behind maintaining a degree of separateness was absolutely necessary to preserve a culture. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, a good idea was distorted. The determination to hang on to a cultural identity morphed into the destructive concept of a permanent apartheid-type of system, with separate laws and separate economies based on racial lines.

“This bad idea was formalized in the {segregationist} ‘Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples’ (RCAP) in 1996. According to this plan, individual reserves, or ‘First Nations’, should be self-governing — meaning that the money coming to these communities from Ottawa to keep them functioning would go into the hands of the local elected leaders, and not federal appointees. 

“The communities would, by some unexplained process, develop separate economies, and residents would find decent jobs without having to move from their communities. Although Ottawa did not accept all of the legal changes the RCAP report demanded, it has transferred massive sums of money to ‘First Nations’ during the last 20 years with this model in mind.

“The RCAP report said this money from Ottawa would be needed initially but tribal ‘nation’ self-government would result in the ‘First Nations’ becoming financially independent of Ottawa in time. In fact, RCAP set out the exact number of years this would take: 20. That was in 1996; it is now 2016. The 20 years is up, but the reserves are no closer to being self-sustaining than they were in 1996. In fact, they are even more dependent. RCAP“The RCAP plan was not realistic. The reality is most of Manitoba’s reserves will never be economically viable. Welfare has become a way of life on most of Manitoba’s reserves. Although people hunt and fish to supplement their food supply, what actually pays the bills is too often a welfare cheque. “Government money”, in one form or another, sustains these communities.

“This is not to say there aren’t many good people in these communities. There are. But the communities are not able to produce all of the good jobs their growing populations need, and never will.

“Many people in these communities are trapped in a cycle of dependency. Calvin Helin, an aboriginal lawyer from the West Coast, discusses the debilitating effects of the welfare trap and chronic dependency in aboriginal communities in his book “Dances With Dependency”. He describes how dependency inevitably leads to social disintegration, and how it sucks the life out of communities. The massive government subsidies needed to finance separateness further entrench dependency.

“The federal government and the aboriginal leaders should be truthful with people, and tell them the notion of separate aboriginal economies with good jobs for everyone is a fairy tale. They cannot buy people the lives they want. There is but one economy — one is either in it, or on the margins.

“Education and entry into the job market hold the answer. In other words, aboriginal youth face the same challenges as every young person: to prepare themselves to succeed, and then to move to where the jobs are. It is a fact of life in rural Manitoba that a young person will probably not find the job he or she wants in their home community. This applies whether that person lives in Gretna or Berens River. There is no separate path to success for aboriginal youth.

“The good news is that a growing number of successful aboriginal people have shown their young people the path to follow. They have become fully integrated into the Canadian economy, and have done so without losing their cultural identity.

“The question of separateness or integration is of vital importance to our future. Do we really want a Canada that officially separates races by means of concepts such as “blood quantum” and “status Indian” — a Canada of subsidized, racially segregated mini-nations? Or shall we finally rid ourselves of these outdated vestiges of yesterday and recognize we are all part of one Canadian mosaic?”

–‘One path to success’,
Brian Giesbrecht, Winnipeg Free Press, 04/8/2016
(Brian Giesbrecht was a provincial court judge from 1976 until 2007. He is now retired.)

COMMENT: “As a rural resident, I am familiar with young people having to leave to find schooling and work. These young people don’t lose their identity; cultural or otherwise. They do however, gain self-esteem and pride in what they have accomplished.”
“This article explains quite well why the reserve system must be overhauled. I know the aboriginal leaders fight tooth and nail against integration, but that’s simply for selfish reasons. The poverty of their people is what gives them their power. They don’t seem to understand that you can have integration AND preserve their culture/language. Their concept of self government is nothing more than concentration camp wardens.”
“A very interesting article with a lot to think about. When trying to understand the plight of ‘first nations’ people living in poverty on reserves, I hadn’t really seen it in the light of “subsidized, racially segregated mini-nations”. And the concept of these communities being “trapped in a cycle of dependency” is the starting point for looking at solutions. Instead of the continuous blame game, Chiefs like Terrance Nelson, who has recently blamed the tragedy on the Dakota Tipi ‘First Nation’ on “the unbelievable amount of poverty in our communities”, need to be more solution focused. We all know the system is hopelessly broken. Now, what to do about it.”
“Justice lies with equality. Of course, very substantial numbers of people who make large sums of money off things as they are will do everything they can to prevent change. If we let them deny a real future for indigenous people, we have failed yet again.”
“Fantastic article!!!! I was a youth from a small town in the Interlake and I had to move away to pursue a career and education, as the jobs and opportunities I desired were not available to me in my home town.”
“Thank you so much for this article.”
“The amount of money made by the aboriginal elite off the plight of their poor peers is large. So large that they want nothing more than to keep the wheel spinning right round. One country is the only long term answer.”
“The indian act should be put to rest and let the people be integrated. With all the immigrants coming to our country and working hard for what they can accomplish, I guarantee as they fill in the spots of gov’t offices and control, they will see no need to support the system as we see it today. They will simply quit paying them and tell them to get on with life, integrate and work like everyone else. Schooling is available, abolish the reserves where the selfish ones are holding everyone hostage with all their talk of culture etc. My great great grandparents immigrated and have kept the culture alive all these years later. Great article.”
“Thank you, Mr. Giesbrecht, for some rational and intelligent input into a topic that is typically the realm of rhetoric and lies. One doesn’t have to look far for examples of maintaining culture while being part of the mainstream of society. The Irish, Scots and Filipinos are great examples of preserving cultural identity. Jews and Mennonites have managed to achieve the same while adding religious complications into the mix. Our ‘First Nations’ can do the same but it will require the will within themselves first, such as removing the culture of entitlement of their own leadership. I believe the will exists within the general population of Canada. If leadership at any level is the impediment then we must all work to changing that; federal, provincial or ‘First nations’. Power to the People!”
“This article nails it. I was lucky and found work in Winnipeg, but many of my friend ended up moving to other cities like Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. My brother ended up moving to Denver to get good work. It doesn’t matter what your back ground is, if there is no work where you are, you have to leave, it’s that simple. This constant throwing of money at this problem is not going to change it, it is just going to prolong it.” Integration-handsFrom Peter Best: 

“…a State which has drawn a colour line may not suddenly assert that it is colour blind.” 

—quoted by journalist I.F.Stone in “In a Time of Torment”, Vintage Books, 1968

“Canadians pay lip service to the ideal that our society should always be striving for equality of social, economic and political opportunity for all our citizens. But for some inexplicable reason, we except Canadian Indians from this fine aspiration.

“For them, our collective official aspiration is they have separate but equal social, economic and political opportunities, somewhat like the situation of American blacks before the United States Supreme Court in 1954 declared unconstitutional the “separate but equal” doctrine which had oppressed them for decades…

“Kick-started by that court decision, Americans have been able to find the courage and resolve for the achievement of the higher purpose of full integration of blacks and whites, to discard the old separate but equal model and, as a nation, to at least try to achieve that higher purpose.

“Canada needs to find this same courage and resolve to try to achieve our version of this higher purpose — namely, full integration of Canadian ‘Indians’ into Canadian society. To do this we must, over time, in a planned and lawful manner, slowly but surely end this now-archaic, wrong-headed and dysfunctional “separate but equal” legal strait-jacket that Canada and Canadian Indians have become bound and oppressed by — a strait-jacket characterized by antiquated laws, institutions and arrangements that are totally incapable of addressing, much less solving, the real and serious problems facing Indian-Canadians in the 21st century.

“We need to find the courage and resolve to end the reservation system and race-based special status for Indians. The situation of ordinary Indians in Canada, because of their special, race-based status and the reserve system, is dismal and inferior. The only way for this situation to improve is by gradually eliminating both of them.

“Ancient pre-contact Indian cultures are extinct. Indians can’t go back to them. Completing the process of assimilation with non-Indian Canadians is the only serious and realistic way forward. All the expensive efforts we see now being undertaken to maintain or improve the present condition of Indians in Canada — all the new rights and privileges being granted to them by our higher courts, all based on the maintenance and enhancement of the legal status quo — may benefit a few Indians at the top, but they only result in more anomie, dependence, poverty and social ruination for the vast majority of them. And they ill-serve Canada’s best interests as a whole.

“It’s acknowledged that Canada proposed in 1969 that the Indian Act be repealed, that Indian reservations be abolished and that Indians be legally brought into a state of equality with all other Canadians. Unfortunately, the idea was too quickly dropped, a victim of the then culturally-ascendant counterculture movement, characterized by, amongst other things, a great cultural and historical forgetting, and by identity politics, both of which phenomena are key causes and features of the present harmful and dysfunctional situation in which Canadian Indians find themselves today.

“It’s time to consider the idea again.

“The counterculture movement…luxurious offshoot of our now-vanishing middle class prosperity — is now generally recognized as the intellectually bankrupt movement it always was, so anything arising out of it, including the myth-based identity politics engaged in by our grievance-obsessed Indian and non-Indian elites, is deservedly suspect. But more importantly, the present circumstances of Canada and Canada’s Indians demand it.”

–‘The ‘Separate But Equal’ Doctrine’,
Peter Best

Main IMAGE: Tim Van Horn (2010)
See also:
‘Say NO To Segregation’ {November 2, 2015}: https://www.facebook.com/ENDRACEBASEDLAW/photos/pb.332982123470694.-2207520000.1448486333./689107664524803/?type=3

‘Moving Beyond Race’ (Peter Best) {September 27, 2015}: https://www.facebook.com/ENDRACEBASEDLAW/photos/a.336196793149227.59519.332982123470694/678000715635498/?type=3
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