Thursday, July 2, 2009

The First Nations: Apologies and Reconciliation

Recognition would be easier if what are now called First Nations wanted to be recognized the way the rest of us would like. 1

The “native problem” is one which has no easy solution. The problem is not simply that a group of people have been unjustly displaced from their lands. It is not simply a dispute about who owns what land. It is not simply about keeping alive a culture. The native issue is one which is, ultimately, the white man’s fault. The previous statement does not give one the right to demonize every white man in existence. The sins of Canadian’s fathers do not rest on the heads of their posterity – at least not entirely. Some responsibility should be taken; apologies and restitution made if possible. However, such restitution is not a simple matter; it may be impossible. In order to appraise such restitution an evaluation must be done.

What injustices have been done to the Native people of Canada? First of all, they were harmed and killed by the invading white man. Granted, cooperation and agreements were made. Yet, there were fights between Europeans and Natives. Furthermore, bands could more easily attack each other (or anyone) due to the influx of “modern” weaponry from Europe.

Secondly their land was taken by the white man. The agreement for land use was not mutually understood. According to native culture, land was not a commodity to be given away. Furthermore, settlers agreed to compensate the natives for land – land they believed that they had “bought.” The natives, believed those agreements meant peace. A lack of understanding caused conflict – past and present. These crimes happened long ago. One of the demands of some Natives is that the government restores lands to them which they claim were given to them. Yet, the legalities involved are far from simple. For one, if land is (or was) not a commodity to be divvied up, then the Natives claim for their land back is ludicrous. Granted, it was, according to modern belief of ownership, Native land which the Europeans took. Whether this “theft” was intentional or not is a question that cannot be accurately answered. In any case, it was a series of misunderstandings to which restitution is nearly impossible. Whose land it was, and who stole from who cannot be accurately verified. Even if ownership could be arbitrarily assigned and agreed upon, could it be given back?

The final question is how to preserve the First Nations culture. But, what is the Native culture? Some, like Samuel Hearne described he natives as wild and exotically primitive: in essence your “savage” stereotype. The other popular image is that of the Spiritual Native. It is described as:

the mythic Noble Savage. Elevated to a sphere of goodness unreachable by those in contaminated white society and usually possessing some spiritual connection to the land, the Noble Savage (who American academic Rennard Strickland calls "the first ecologist") communes in a cloud of mysticism and places no value on material possessions.

There is also the “loyal sidekick,” the sexual Native woman and many other portrayals of the First Nations people. Were Natives great spiritual leaders in harmony with nature and themselves? Where Natives wild, savage and (the woman) sexually uncontrollable? Both options are equally unlikely. The idea that the First Nations culture has been lost is likely. The White Man’s romancing, demonetization and misunderstanding of Native culture has caused a least a partial bastardization of the true Native culture. In effect, it has been lost.

Thus, how these crimes can be paid for when one cannot return knowledge that was lost, nor lives that were lost. Or, even, return land which did not belong to the Natives (according to their traditions) but was everyone’s land to use. What was lost is (redundantly) lost. It cannot be regained. I would argue that the government cannot pay restitution. What then should be done? The question may not have an easy answer. I do not have an answer. Throwing money at the Natives or even throwing land does no good. Would programs and grants for Native research and historical preservation help? It is possible. Might I suggest a simple solution: a sincere apology from the government on behalf of all Canadians (or, rather our ancestors) and an acceptance of the apology by the Native people. After all, there are two sides to the coin. An apology needs acceptance in order to be valid. If the Natives wish to move past their history and work towards bettering their future they need to forgive and forget past wrongdoings. Forgetting does not mean that society must turn a blind eye to the atrocities which occurred. Rather, the misdeeds must be recognized as something that happened, and the Natives must forgive those who harmed them (and their ancestors).

In over eight hundred words I have not laid out a clear plan for any governing body. I neglected to address what should be done with reservations, with funding and what not. Those questions are not easy. I doubt that all Natives would quickly give up their reservations and fully integrate themselves into society. I also question whether that is a good solution. I also wonder what purpose the reservations serve – or more accurately what they were designed to serve. In essence I have spent 800 and some words purposing nothing more than an apology. Is the solution really so simple? I’ll leave that up to you to figure out.

1. Hunter, Ian. 06 June 2009. Many Questions Remain about Reconciliation.

2. Media Awareness Network. 2009. Common Portrayals of Aboriginal People.

(see also)

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate the effort put forth in this blog and see that no one has commented, which leads me to believe no one besides, us two, have made an effort to ameliorate this ongoing wound. After watching 500 Nations produced by Kevin Cosner, I was compelled to do something, but in my frustration I had to realize that the only real thing I can do is to offer an online forum where white people can post their "apologies" to the First Nation peoples. What else can we really do as individuals? Please post the link whenever and whereever possible to get the word out to the white populace. Thank you for taking time herein to post your ideas to help.

    White Morningstar


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