Canada as a nation we are known to the world for being kind, polite, and generally very accepting of all ethnicities. However, the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous population seems to suggest otherwise (Paquin, 2015). Throughout our history, we have shown undeniable amounts of discrimination towards Indigenous peoples. This, and more, has led to major negative cultural consequences, psychological and sociological effects. All these terrible consequences can be attributed to Canada’s imperialistic policies, such as the Indian Act, the British North America Act of 1867, and even the very structures of Canadian society, all of which can be seen to heavily disadvantage Indigenous peoples.
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To begin, one must examine the use of residential schools institutions created by the government of Canada to eradicate the Indigenous culture these intuitions were used for over one hundred years (1870s 1990s). They effectively separated families while creating huge cultural barriers between children and their Native communities (COHA, 2011). Children were forcibly removed from their families and taken to residential schools; if the children did not comply their parents could be sent to prison or given fines (Brown, 2011). These residential schools were a direct result of the imperialist legacy and the belief that native culture was inferior to EuroCanadian culture (COHA, 2011).
Once taken to the schools, children would be forced to become “civilized” as said by Nicholas Davin reporting to the Minister of Interior: “If anything is to be done with the Indian, we must catch him very young. The children must be kept constantly within the circle of civilized conditions” (Davin, 1876, p.12). Nicholas Davin said this as he wanted to be able to assimilate the Indigenous children into mainstream society as soon as possible and because it is far easier to influence a child than an adult. After being separated from their families and granted very little contact with them, children would be taught a completely different culture and language than their families, which caused many children to alienate their families (COHA, 2011). This was seen often when children would return to their parents in their school uniforms; these uniforms were often mocked and despised by their Aboriginal peers (Miller, 2012). One would also see this alienation in cultural foods and eating habits. When the children were with their families many would refuse to eat raw meat, which was a common practice in Aboriginal culture; the children claimed it was the basis of all illness affecting the Inuit people (Stout & Kipling, 2003).
Since children grew up in environments so unlike that of the Indigenous peoples, children oftentimes felt isolated and became strangers to their own culture. “The schools were characterized by a disciplinary regime that restricted interaction with family members, prohibited the use of Aboriginal languages and denigrated all aspects of Aboriginal life and customs (Claes and Clifton, 1998).” This quote from Aboriginal people, Resilience, and the Residential School Legacyexemplifies how isolated the students were from their families and their culture. Very strict rules were placed on the students to ensure they would be “civilized”, which by their terms meant the termination of all the student’s Indigenous culture and language. The process of making the children “civilized” included stripping them of their traditional clothes and replacing them with uniforms that were universally detested, forbidding them to speak their native language, and being forced to attend church and practice Christianity (Miller, 2012). Campbell Papequash, a survivor of the residential schools shows how the harsh rules terrorized her, “And after I was taken there they took off my clothes … And then they cut off my beautiful hair. You know and my hair, my hair represents such a spiritual significance of my life and my spirit…And I was shaved, baldheaded. And then after I had the shower they gave me these clothes that didn’t fit…”(TRC,2015, pg.32,33).
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In conclusion, it is evident that the imperialistic policies such as the assimilation policy and the Indian Act clearly sought out to assimilate Indigenous Peoples committed a near cultural genocide by attempting to eradicate all aspects of Aboriginal culture in their students (Montpetit, 2011). The effects of these policies are still felt in society today, which goes to show just how huge of an effect this dark time in our past had (Hanson, n.d.)
Secondly, after suffering through something as traumatic as residential schools which were brought on by the imperialistic policies of our own government, many of the students experienced abuses sexual and physical at alarmingly high rates, many residential school survivors have developed mental illnesses. Unfortunately, many of these mental illnesses have remained untreated as health care is widely inaccessible to many Aboriginals. Thus, many Aboriginals have been forced to self medicate with narcotics and alcohol to attempt to disassociate themselves. It was found in the Regional Health Survey of 2010 approximately 32.3% of First Nation adults smoke marijuana, an increase of almost 6% from 2002 (First Nations Regional Health Survey, 2010). The report also found that over a tenth of First Nation people used cannabis on an almost daily basis. Other than cannabis, the second most commonly used drug by First Nation’s people is crack cocaine; 7.8% of adults admitted to using it in the past year (First Nations Regional Health Survey, 2010). Furthermore, alcohol abuse is a devastating problem within Aboriginal communities, as it leads to further alcohol abuse and even narcotic abuse in successive generations. Nearly 63.5% of First Nations adults met the criteria for heavy drinking in the past twelve months (First Nations Regional Health Survey, 2010). Reports have shown that nearly four in ten child victimizers admitted having been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the abuse, among those drinkers, half reported they had been drinking for the past 6 hours (Alcohol, Drugs and Crime, 2016). This alarming statistic shows the clear connection between abuse and alcoholism which was onset by our imperialistic policies. A further study “by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that children of substance abusing parents were almost three times likelier to be abused and more than four times likelier to be neglected than children of parents who are not substance abusers” (Alcohol, Drugs and Crime, 2016).
Thus, it can be concluded that alcohol and drug abuse is a widespread issue in not only First Nations communities, but all Aboriginal communities as alike. This issue only fuels the flames for further abuse, which will indefinitely negatively affect future generations physical and mental health resulting in psychological issues that will last for further generations (National Aboriginal Health Organization, 2011). Mental illness is a rampant issue throughout First Nations communities; depression is the most common of these mental illnesses (Health Council of Canada, 2004). If not treated depression can even lead to suicide; 90% of people who decide to take their own life suffer from a mental illness (Caruso, n.d.). In a survey conducted by First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey in 2005, approximately 30% of First Nations individuals said they had felt “sad, blue, or depressed for two or more weeks” (Health Canada, n.d.). Studies have also shown suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the most prevalent cause of death in Aboriginal communities (Suicide Prevention Resource Toolkit,2013). Approximately 55% of all Aboriginal people are under the age of 25; this puts them at risk of depression and possibly suicide, usually caused by either abuse or other traumatic events which are far more prevalent in our Indigenous communities. (Suicide Prevention Resource Toolkit,2013). The suicide rates in Aboriginal communities are astonishingly high, “among the male youth (age 1524) it is 126 per 100,000 compared to 24 per 100,000 for non Aboriginal male youth”
(Suicide Prevention Resource Toolkit, 2013).For non Aboriginal female youth, it is 5 per 100,000 while for female Aboriginal youth it is seven times higher (Suicide Prevention Resource Toolkit,2013). Aside from depression, post traumatic stress disorder is yet another major mental illness plaguing Aboriginal communities (National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health, 2015). PTSD is caused by a severe traumatic event, for example, in the residential schools’ children were subjected to horrors most cannot even fathom, one survivor recalls being sexually abused constantly. “I was taken out night after night after night. And that went on until I was about twelve years old. And it was several of the male supervisors plus a female. And it was in the dorm; it was in their room; it was in the carport; it was in his car; it was in the gym; the back of the crummy that took us on road trips; the public school; the change room” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015). One can clearly see how traumatic events such as this can lead to mental illnesses such as PTSD and or depression which both lead to suicide. However, unfortunately many Aboriginals do not receive help for these mental illnesses, as there is a general lack of health care service providers in Canada and even more so in our Aboriginal communities (Health Council of Canada, 2004). Although Canada is credited for its high standard of living this standard does not extend to all, with many of the individuals with lesser benefits being Aboriginal and First Nations peoples (T.L & D.T, 2005). “Further, the complexity of the current framework has led to unequal provision of mental health services among provinces and territories, and among First Nations and Inuit communities themselves” (Kielland & Simeone, 2014). This complexity is caused mostly by disputes between the provincial and federal branches of government as until recently there was an ongoing jurisdictional tug of war as neither claimed responsibility for funding of many Indigenous services. In addition, “50% of Canada’s Aboriginal population that lives in rural and remote locations lack good means of transportation” (National Collaboration Centre For Aboriginal Health, 2011). “For example, that of the 52 communities across Inuit Nunaat that are home to most of Canada’s Inuit population, none have year-round road access and only a few have hospitals”, and most of the care they receive is extremely basic as most communities have nurses instead of doctors (National Collaboration Centre For Aboriginal Health, 2011).
In conclusion, it is evident that the imperialistic policies Canada imposed on First Nations and Aboriginal communities have led many to rely on substance abuse to take away their suffering. It is also directly responsible for the rise in mental illnesses such as depression and PTSD, and lastly, we cannot even provide sufficient care for those suffering from abuse and or mental illness all across Canada. This makes it clear that the incredibly imperialistic policies we had imposed had a major psychological effect on First Nations and Aboriginal communities even to this day which is not being solved.
Next, we must examine the sociological impacts of Canada’s imperialistic policies on our Indigenous population. To do so, we must look at the high incarceration rates and police injustice, the systemic discrimination of the government towards women and non status Indians, and gaps in funding of various essential services such as health care, child welfare, and education. One looks to the justice system and expects protection from unjust prosecution and incarceration. However, there is a clear over representation of Indigenous people in Canada’s justice system (Roberts & Doob, 1997). A study of over 1500 cases in the Youth Justice courts by Schissel (1993) found that Indigenous youths often live in areas with frequent policing (Police Discretion With Young Offenders,2015). A later UCR2 (Uniform Crime Reporting) survey provided data that suggested Indigenous youths who are arrested tend to get charged far more often than other groups (Police Discretion With Young Offenders,2015). The data collected in the survey showed that once apprehended Indigenous youths have a 12% higher chance of being charged than non Indigenous peoples do (46% vs 58%), this is also after controlling related factors such as location, age, and etc (Police Discretion With Young Offenders,2015). If these had not been accounted for the data showed a 70% chance that Indigenous peoples would be charged and only a 51% chance for non Indigenous groups (Police Discretion With Young Offenders,2015). Once being charged they would then be brought to stand trial.
It is common in many Indigenous cultures to maintain one’s integrity and to take responsibility for an individual’s actions (Williams, 2002). In essence, this means it is far more likely that an Indigenous person would plead guilty to a charge that is unjust and unfair to them (Williams, 2002). The main factors that have been assumed to attribute to the high incarceration rates were said to be education and employment; this is in part due to the massive gap in socioeconomic conditions between Indigenous and non Indigenous communities and can also be attributed to lack of educational funding on the part of our government (Perreault,2015). Thus, it is evident distrust will form between police and Indigenous peoples which will indefinitely lead to further problems in the future. Furthermore, even if an Indigenous person is arrested the police have used other methods to ‘punish’ them without having to do the paperwork, therefore avoiding formally arresting them.
The practice is called starlight tours “starlight tours is a term used to describe a police practice whereby police officers pick up individuals – usually first nation citizens – in urban settings, drive them to remote rural areas, and drop them off, regardless of freezing temperatures (Starlight Tours | Policedeviance, 2011).” This practice forces the victim to walk back to their town in whatever temperature in an intoxicated state; the practice has killed two individuals and has affected countless more. One of the victims of this systemic abuse is Greg, he claims to have gone on four starlight tours, one of which he was driven 50km out of town (Brass and Abbott, 2004). Greg recalls one of his starlight tours after he was picked up by the police: “I asked them again,’ Where am I going? Where are you guys taking me?’ They said ‘Well if you’re such a badass and you got a lot of steam, if you want to be a troublemaker,” He goes ‘Well, you can blow steam out of town.’ Once they had arrived, He says ‘You can walk home.’ … he says, ‘if we ever catch you again being a foulmouthed little asshole, next time we’ll drive you further or something else will happen,’ he says. So the cuffs were taken off and they had driven away. And I ended up walking home. And it took me about seven hours to get home,” Greg says.” (Brass and Abbott, 2004).
This blatant systemic discrimination makes many in Indigenous communities fear police officers as it is evident only Indigenous peoples are targeted for this abuse. In the quote from Greg we see the police’s attitude towards this Indigenous person and how they clearly perceive him as a criminal just because of his race. Police should be looked to for protection and safety, but even when formally charged data has clearly shown the discriminatory bias in charging of Indigenous youths as well. This is such a pressing issue because of the current structure of our justice system; laws define a society and are ever changing but Canada’s laws are placing Indigenous people at an incredible disadvantage. In a court of law, the accused is assumed innocent until proven guilty and will always be charged with the absolute highest charge possible; it would then be lowered after bargaining in court but as we already learnt an Indigenous person is far more likely to confess to being guilty. In addition to this flaw, approximately 35.3% of Indigenous peoples do not have even a high school education this means that they have very little if any knowledge of how our Justice system works and are again at another disadvantage (Drummond & Rosenbluth, 2013).
Canada has had a long past of denying the rights of Indigenous peoples a classic example of this would be when Canadian women won the right to vote in 1921, However, Indigenous women were not granted the right to vote until 1960 (Women & The Right To Vote In Canada: An Important Clarification,2013). This clearly discriminatory policy lasted for nearly 40 years, this would make any Indigenous women affected feel like a second-class citizen. More recently, Indigenous peoples have been fighting for their statuses. Daniel’s Case has been renowned as a ‘landmark case’ for Indigenous peoples across Canada (Smith, 2016 & Métis, NonStatus Indians Win Supreme Court Battle Over Rights,2016). This ruling gave over six hundred thousand non status Indians and Metis their statuses. Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling this year, hundreds of thousands of non status peoples had been fighting the government for their statuses for years (Smith, 2016 & Métis, NonStatus Indians Win Supreme Court Battle Over Rights,2016). This gave so many a feeling of identity and dignity that they did not have before, and made them not feel like second class citizens after the long legal battle that started in 1999. In addition, with this new status now Indigenous peoples now have far more access to programs and supports from the government. The Supreme Court also concluded that it is the federal government’s responsibility to deal with such issues as the funding; this now ends the long “jurisdictional tugofwar” between the federal government and provincial governments over which should be responsible for funding (Smith, 2016).
Next, we turn to funding for various sectors such as health care, child welfare, and education remain inadequate. Although there is no doubt that funding has increased over the years, the gap between funding for Indigenous communities and non Indigenous ones still remains (Milke, 2013). Starting with health care, due to the ‘jurisdictional tugofwar’ because of the BNA Act of 1867, the two branches of our government, federal and provincial, have been disputing which should have the responsibility of funding (The Aboriginal Health Legislation And Policy Framework In Canada,2011). To prove that the dispute has had an effect it was found that in a 2004 NAHO survey given to Indigenous peoples “35.9% said they had less access to health care services in comparison to their Canadian counterparts” (The Health Status Of Canada’s First Nations, Métis And Inuit Peoples,2005). This lack of funding and clear refusal to take ownership of the situation shows the government’s unwillingness to provide for its Indigenous population (Assembly of First Nations, n.d.) In addition, the 2% cap imposed by our government has only allowed the gap in funding to grow even larger (Assembly of First Nations, n.d.). This is again worsened even further by the fact that the Indigenous population is steadily increasing and that inflation is further decreasing the value of our money (Assembly of First Nations, n.d.). It was estimated that there needed to be a 6.3% annual increase in funding since 1996 to provide proper educational facilities and maintenance thereof (Assembly of First Nations, n.d.). To expose the clear systemic discrimination one must look at the funding provided to provincial and territorial schools. It was found that enrollment in these schools is consistently decreasing yet their funding is increasing by 4.1% every year when it is estimated that they should only receive a 3.2% annual increase due to the enrollment loss (Assembly of First Nations, n.d.). As clearly shown by the funding provided to provincial and territorial schools, it can be concluded that despite the greater need for funding shown by Indigenous communities, funding is still being allocated to others who don’t need it as much, which clearly disadvantages them and puts them behind the rest of Canada.
There is also a huge over representation of Indigenous youth in the childcare system, as indicated by The National Household Survey (2011): “Of the roughly 30,000 children aged fourteen and under in Canada who were in foster care, 48.1% were Aboriginal children”. In addition to the high levels of Indigenous youth in child care services, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has recently ruled that the federal government has discriminated against Indigenous children by “failing to provide the same level of child welfare services that exist elsewhere” (“Canada Must ‘Cease The Discriminatory Practice’ Of Child Welfare Services On Reserves, Tribunal Rules”,2016). As clearly shown in The National Household Survey of 2011, the child welfare needs of Indigenous peoples is far greater than those of non Indigenous groups, yet it is estimated that funding on Indigenous reserves is 2238.5% less than the amount the child welfare services at a provincial level receive through the federal government funding (Sinnema, 2016). It has also been estimated that it would require approximately 200 million dollars more each year to close the gap in childcare services for Indigenous youths.
The forerunner of this movement, Cindy Blackstock, had this to say about the issue as she questions why the fight was even necessary: “Why did we have to bring the government of Canada to court to get them to treat First Nation children fairly? Little kids,” she said. “Why would it ever be OK to give a child less than other children?” (“Canada Must ‘Cease The Discriminatory Practice’ Of Child Welfare Services On Reserves, Tribunal Rules“,2016; Sinnema, 2016). There are clear repercussions because of this major lack of funding, the most obvious being that since Indigenous children are disadvantaged they will have a far harder time persevering in life than a non-Indigenous child will, which is cruelly unfair and doesn’t allow for one to reach his greatest potential.
Finally, the issue of educational funding is very controversial as many say there are too many other factors that attribute to the lower education in Indigenous communities than just the lack of funding, some being social, economic, and health issues that can lead to a lower educational quality (Drummond & Rosenbluth, 2013). Aside from the controversy, it is still fact that the government is under funding Indigenous schools. Even our former prime minister Paul Martin spoke out against the government; “How can the government of Canada deprive a group of sixyearolds the same opportunity to learn to read and write as other sixyearolds have? It makes no sense … it’s morally wrong and it’s disgraceful.” (“Conservatives’ Aboriginal Education Policy Is Immoral, ExPM Tells AFN”,2015). In addition to all these funding gaps, the INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) has been capped at a 2% increase in funding each year; it’s believed this cap has contributed to many of the funding gaps and continues to be a major issue and a clear very act of systemic discrimination (Assembly of First Nations, n.d.). Due to the funding gap and many other structural issues, Indigenous children do not have the same educational opportunities as the average population (Drummond & Rosenbluth, 2013). For many youths, completing high school is an issue the rate of graduation for the general population of Canada is 78% while compared to the Indigenous population it is as low as 35.3% (Drummond & Rosenbluth, 2013). In 2004, it was estimated that to reach the national average of high school graduation it would take 28 years, but more recent data suggests that it may take even longer (Drummond & Rosenbluth, 2013). With a job market that is only getting increasingly harder to enter, many need higher and higher levels of education for even the simplest of jobs. This makes the lower education rates of Indigenous communities an even more alarming issue.
In conclusion, it was found that the federal government did indeed discriminate systemically through the Justice System, its refusal to allow Indigenous women to vote for nearly another 40 years, and through major gaps in funding in many essential services. The government’s systemic discrimination is built into the very structures that make our society, thus putting all Indigenous peoples affected by this at a major disadvantage from the very start of their lives to the very end. For all the pain and damage the government has caused for the Indigenous peoples of Canada, at the very least in 2008 the federal government issued a formal apology for its part in the residential school system and formally recognized the imperialistic policies used at that time were “wrong, and has no place in our country” (“Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools”, 2016). Although they state these policies have no place in our country many still stand, this goes to show that we as a nation still have to alter the system to make it fair for all.
Finally, it can also be concluded that Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples has been horrid for far too long, from the residential schools in which their reign of fear mongering and abuse lasted for over one hundred years to the systemic discrimination of the 21st century in which so many of the structures that hold our society together have been build to disadvantage those who need it the most. Although we as a nation have undoubtedly changed since the closing of the last residential school, it is evident there is still much more to be done.
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