Offer Natives A Way Forward
All nations can look to their history and see past sins. The United States has slavery, Spain has the Inquisition, France has Algeria (along with the terror of the Revolution and the vainglorious wars of a megalomaniac it sparked). For Canada, we have our history of past dealings with the Native Canadians. It is undeniable that we have done things in the past that are absolutely condemnable in this regard. Acts of aggression, broken treaties, and the residential schools are all examples of this. That being said, I do find some of the acts of contrition we inflict on ourselves to be excessive. The recent statement by Canada’s Chief Justice that we had committed “cultural genocide” against the First Nations was frankly insulting to the surviving victims of real genocide. The knee jerk reaction of certain individuals to excuse any misconduct by Native Canadians, from the state of anarchy in Caledonian to the martyrfication of Dudley George (who at best was an example of why when a protest turns into a riot you should go home and at worst was a thug), is simply the racism of lowered expectations. Too much contrition is as sinful as too little.
Nevertheless, we do owe a debt to the native population of our country, and even if we did not the rather shoddy conditions under which most natives live would warrant our attention anyway out of sheer decency. The default response of the usual suspects on this question is predictable as it is foolish: “just throw more money at it”. This has been essentially our attempt at amends for the last century, more and more accords and treaties, offering more and more money. When this fails to produce any meaningful improvement, the legions of social justice warriors, university academics, and celebrity activists wag their fingers judgingly and say “if only you’d just spent a little bit more….” and so the cycle repeats itself ever onward.
Having tried this solution again and again, I would argue what is needed now is not to keep pouring good money after bad but step back and try a fundamentally different approach. The problem with the reservations system is not lack of funding, it is the reservation system itself. The reservations don’t work, they never will work, because they were never supposed to work. It was a racist plan developed by the Canadian government as a way of tucking the First Nations out of the way and out of sight so their land could be expropriated.
It was a fundamentally flawed system from the beginning. Take a group of people, shuffle them out of the way in the middle of nowhere where there are no jobs, no opportunities, and no hope of things ever changing, and the result will inevitably be pain and misery and perpetuating cycle of abuse. Natives cannot own private property, cannot apply for loans or mortgages on their own, and are essentially prevented from participating in the most basic acts of modern interactions. Leave the reservation and you lose your status as a native, and the associated benefits that go with it. These barriers cannot be overcome by simply throwing a few million more dollars at them, or even a few billion. Restricting native life in this fashion handicaps them from the start and stifles any hope of things ever improving. Is it any wonder so many natives turn to alcohol or drugs to dim the pain?
What is needed is reform of the entire system, branch, tree and root. The time has come to end the reservation system and Indian Act entirely, with all the baggage associated with it. It could be accomplished quite simply, each reservation’s plot of land could be divided up into individually parcels and given out to each native bandmember on as equitable a basis of possible. Each native could live on their allotment, sell it, or otherwise do whatever they want with it. No longer tied to the reservation system in order to maintain their native status , Canada’s native population would be free to migrate to Canada’s urban centers where there are actual economic opportunities.
Now, I can already anticipate the howls of protest that this suggestion will incur, so pre-emptively I will address them. Of course, it’s not as simple as just dividing up the reservations. Of course, additional support will be necessary if we want to properly integrate Canada’s natives into the country’s social and economic fabric. So I would be perfectly fine with accompanying this with other measures aimed and smoothing over the pathway from the status quo to self-sufficiency for Canada’s First Nations. Personally, I would suggest offering free education, for any program or degree, for every Native Canadian alive today, along with a guarantee by the government that the salary/wages of every Native employee hired by a Canada company will be fully subsidized by the government for…say…the next twenty five years, with a gradual phase out period after that. What matters is that the end goal is the establishment of an independent, and self-sufficient generation of First Nations people, no longer dependent on government pogey to scratch out a living; a generation of native doctors, and lawyers, and property owners, and businessmen.
Oh but we can’t, the progressives will cry. We can’t do that, this will destroy native culture and native heritage, which we have a duty to preserve. So goes the mantra of liberalism. Now I have no objections to a people wanting to preserve their heritage (my apologies to liberal internationalists of all stripes, but you can kindly get lost as far as this topic goes). The problem is that is not what the reservation system is actually about. By funding the reserves we do not preserve native culture but instead a lifestyle that was practiced by native people prior to European colonization. This is a standard for culture we do not see anywhere else. When people talk of preserving South African culture, no one suggests Africans go back to their way of living before the British came to South Africa, when tribes of Africans lived through subsistence farming and cattle raising and dwelled in straw huts. When I show respect for my Russian ancestry I don’t do so by seeking to live in the manner my great-grandparents did in their peasant commune. Even Islamic State and Al-Qaeda do not wish to see the world revert technologically to the way it is in the seventh century days of the Prophet Mohammad. The Canadian reservation system doesn’t preserve native culture, it preserves a pre-industrial, communal, hunter-gatherer way of life that simple is impossible to replicate in the modern world without solely being dependant on government support. That is no way to live. By continuing to equate native culture with this pre-industrial lifestyle we are simple locking native peoples into an impractical existence that will never allow them to attain self-sufficiency.
This cycle must be broken, for the good of the First Nations and Canada as a whole. By all means native culture and history should be respected and preserved, but in the same way we seek to respect and preserve the culture and history of every other ethnic group in this country; be respectful of the past but accepting of the realities of the present. Our goal should no longer be to try and recreate something that no longer exists, but to offer the native population of Canada a helpful way forward.