In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to the native people of Canada for one hundred years of Indian residential schooling. Mr. Harper said that the Indian residential school system was the wrongful implementation of a policy of “forced assimilation”. The purpose, here, is for a former resident of one of those schools to expose Canada’s apology as a lie. The government of Canada is now trying to complete the policy of forced assimilation in the ongoing comprehensive treaty process. Furthermore, since Canada is still pursuing a policy of forced assimilation, it seeks not to reconcile with Indians but to extinguish them as a people.
The above will be covered, but first, the term forced assimilation must be understood. Politically, forced assimilation is the imposition of one aspect of self-determination to the exclusion of the other. The two possible outcomes of native internal colonialism, assimilation or sovereignty, are not mutually exclusive. Contemporary native internal colonies (in Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand) pose complex national questions. The resolution of these questions can be no less complex. Allied to the native national questions are the larger national questions posed by the existence of African-Americans and Mexican-Americans in the US. Due to the histories of slavery and annexation, these peoples also have the right of self-determination. The not necessarily conflicting objectives of Canada’s native internal colony were exemplified in the 1960s and 1970s by the seemingly opposed leadership of people such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Similarly, organizations such as the Black Panther Party and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People could be perceived as having conflicting objectives, and yet, their practices often paralleled each other. Even immigrants from the third world figure into this equation of unknown outcomes. The oppressed nations of the third world have contributed, fundamentally, to development in the imperialist nations. They, therefore, have (as yet undetermined) national rights in the oppressor nations.
Treaty-making resumed at the initiative of the federal government of Canada. The federal government saw that treaty-level agreement was required to bring about forced assimilation. Treaties are, by definition, made between nations or peoples. The “new relationship” declared by Canada involves wholesale change in the relationship between Canadian Indians, as defined by the Indian Act, and the Canadian people.
That Canadian Indians are a people is, of course, known to the government of Canada. Canadian Indians, as an internal colony, were created by the government of Canada and administrated through the Department of Indian Affairs. This started in 1867 when the settlers took control of the remaining British colonies in North America. Under the terms of the British-North America Act, they became the Dominion of Canada. That Canadian Indians, along with all the indigenous of Canada, are a people is a pivotal point of theory for understanding colonialism in Canada. That Canadian Indians are a people is also a pivotal point in determining whether modern-day treaties are bona fide or bogus. The position, here, is that the remnants of tribal nations, beautiful as they are, no longer constitute national entities. This is attested to not only by law but also by the events of history before Confederation.
British imperialism, and also French imperialism, reduced the populations of the tribal nations beyond the point whereby they could be sustained as independent entities, economically or politically. Some of the tribal nations, such as the Beothuk of Newfoundland, were completely wiped out. All this by war, disease, starvation, and murder. Treaties in the period of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 reflected a reality different from that of today. The peoples of the then-existing tribal nations vastly outnumbered the Europeans. Britain found it necessary to ally with some tribal nations in order to defeat other tribal nations, the French (1760), the Americans (1812), and to facilitate settlement.
In contemporary narrative, the existence of modern nations that were once colonies and, before that, numerous separately existing tribal nations, is also pivotal. Tribal nations, all over the world, were defeated precisely because they were tribal nations contending with competing empires of European capitalism. Today, modern nations in the third world, still oppressed, have demonstrated the capacity to expel or defeat imperialism. This spells the beginning of the end for oppressive social systems. In the vision of the native internal colony, the Inuit and Métis people figure largely. The Inuit and Métis are impacted somewhat differently by the Indian Act than Indians. All, however, have categorically the same historical experience, even in relation to residential schools and treaties, and a common relationship to Canada. All, therefore, form distinct parts of the native internal colony. So, from vulnerable entities, the concept of the native internal colony sees the existence of an exceptional national entity that, still small in relation to Canada, requires unity not only of its tribal components but also with Canadian and world peoples.
The point at which the federal government signalled a changed in the implementation of its policy of forced assimilation, and began re-directing its priorities and funding, was 1969. In 1969, the federal government proposed the White Paper Policy on Indians (WPP). The WPP was proposed to unilaterally abolish the Indian Act and nullify any distinctions between Canadian Indians and the Canadian people. Indian protest against the WPP grew. In 1971, the WPP was retracted. In 1971, also, the Core Funding Program was initiated by the Trudeau government. The Core Funding Program was the source of applied-for funding by which means social reforms could be carried out in native communities. These reforms included the building of a captive native leadership, from the band, to the tribal, to the provincial, to the national levels. In 1973, the Comprehensive Land Claims Settlement Policy (CLC) was created by the federal government to circumscribe the treaty process. Under CLC policy, two non-negotiable requirements of all treaties are the removal of the native communities from the jurisdiction of the Indian Act, and the incorporation of these communities into Canadian, municipal, or territorial jurisdictions. Not being able to achieve forced assimilation through WPP legislation, the federal government is seeking to achieve the same objectives, bilaterally, in the comprehensive treaty process. The coercion inherent in the treaty process is to be found in multi-billion-dollar resources, in money and land, earmarked for treaty payment. In reality, these resources are the long-awaited entitlements, of underprivileged native communities, that are being withheld in order to force natives into the treaty process. Treaty coercion is compounded by the fact that, in negotiations involving two opposing interests, the Canadian imperialist settler-state, in effect, pays the representatives of the native internal colony. The native leadership that is funded by the federal government has legitimacy in that integration, of some sort, is one aspect of native self-determination. In so far, however, as sovereignty is concerned, this leadership can make no determination.
For the purpose of treaty-making, the federal government has extended false national recognition to native communities or groups of native communities (i.e., First Nations). The resulting treaty process began with the James Bay Cree (1975). This treaty allowed for the development of a mega-project to produce hydro-electric power for Boston investors. From there, the native communities of northern Quebec reached agreement, followed by the native communities of the entire north (i.e., Nunavut). The treaty process, now, has on board many native communities of the south, some of whom have already signed. In BC, this includes the Nishga’a (2000), the Maa-nulth of Vancouver Island and the Tsawwassen. The Tsawwassen agreement is allowing for Robert’s Bank with, mainly, Jimmy Pattison’s investment to become the largest coal export terminal in the world. The natives of almost one-half of Canada’s land area have signed comprehensive treaties. This provides much “certainty” for investors. In comprehensive treaties, legal recognition of native, pre-contact, heritage is extinguished along with their post-Confederation identity.
If treaties are made between nations, what, then, are these agreements being made between Canada and native communities? They are, effectively, agreements forced upon parts of the native internal colony in order to secure their members’ compliance in the renunciation of Canadian Indian nationality, and the annexation of their land by Canada. Indian nationalists can see that the incorporation of native communities into a Canadian, municipal, or territorial jurisdiction is wrong. Some Indian nationalists, however, find themselves on side with the federal government in wanting to abolish the Indian Act. Strategically, it is true, the Indian Act should be done away with. Tactically, however, the Indian Act should be defended because, at this time, the federal government is trying to deprive Indians of ther identity in order to put Indians in an even weaker position than that existing in the colonial relationship. The defense of the Indian Act is a necessary tactical retreat from the massive federal government initiative that the comprehensive treaty process represents. What is important is that the identity and unity of the people be salvaged under the present political attack.
Native people are often spoken of as being socially dysfunctional. Statistics are used to bolster this negative image. In fact, the native refusal to accept the outlook of an imperialistic settler-society is the response of people who, in spite of everything, still maintain their humanity. Many horrible, racist events occur against native people in Canada, especially native women. Perpetrators at the bottom of society are afforded impunity from the top, where hateful Indian policy is created.
Ray Bobb, Seabird Island Indian band, February 2013 Email: RayBobb@shaw.ca