The Neo-Colonial Context of Canada’s Multiculturalism*
By Joseph Tavares
Come 2017, roughly one fifth of Canada’s population will belong to a visible minority – they account for almost 5% of the total population currently. This is while the Aboriginal population of Canada comprises about 4% of the population.
Doesn’t that mean Canada’s minority population is somewhere around 9%?
There’s one connotation to ‘oxymoronic’ that imbues the word with disdain. Another framing of the word defines that which refers to the outrageous.
Canada, bastion of freedom, exemplar of peace, refuge for the world’s forgotten – land of the free, home of the brave…
Home of the brave.
Is it the math, or am I missing something more here?
Home of the braves. Home of the First Peoples, the First Nations. The Aboriginals. The Inuit. The Métis, that blending of Canada’s first conquistadors, the French, with the indigenous.
Our home, and Native land.
Multiculturalism and the neo-colonial context in Canada
We sit here, on our maple porch, perched on a feigned demure of haughtiness. We preen in front of the world; show our peaceable might with odes from politicians and monarchs afar, saying, “Bring us your wretched! Rescue your dreams in our land of mixed hopes! You are wanted!”
Someone’s gotta work the cafés, right? There’s opportunity for the destitute, modern slavery with running water for the housed, eh? But that’s another article – or is it?
I can walk into any government service centre, and see signs written in ten different languages or more. We have Urdu, and Spanish, first of the line is French (behind English, of course) – we don’t forget our Latin orthographical roots. No, no. We have Sanskrit, Cyrillic, and Mandarin too!
Yet not one is an Aboriginal language. Do I see the syllabics of Inuit or Ojibwe, or unfamiliarly inflected strings of Roman orthography representing Haudenosaunee, Mohawk, or Oneida?
We settler Canadians ignore indigenous languages, the cultures they create, and the First Peoples who live them. And we teach our newcomers to do the same…
Refugees in Canada are plucked from their respective storms, are first in line for government housing and aid 2 – while First Nations communities languish in overcrowded housing conditions that rival the worst conditions for humans in the world. Immigrants and Refugees are, quite rightly to my mind, granted access to housing and one of the finest medical systems in the world, while First Nations communities, in the most ignoble irony of the ‘developed’ world, are plagued with epidemics of tuberculosis, hepatitis, and HIV.
In 2009, Canada resettled between 10 and 12 thousand refugees from 70 different countries.
I wonder how many of them were told about the First Nations in Canada.
I wonder if any were told of the sub-standard of living for the Indigenous, at the centuries long behest of the settler population.
Were any newcomers told about the residential school system that attempted to de-culturalize and assimilate Aboriginal children for over a century?
Were immigrants to Canada told about the Indian Act, that special set of rules for Canada’s underclass that imposed a euro-centric hierarchy on the First Nations, which deposed the right of the Indigenous to self-government on their own land?
I doubt that those surveying Canada as a new home have borne witness in Canadian immigration brochures to the scarred faces of Aboriginal children exposed to toxic drinking water due to lack of modern infrastructure.
Our cities are open to the First Nations, no doubt – in fact, more Aboriginals now live in Canadian urban centres than not. We are a welcoming folk – on our terms, of course. The First Nations are welcome to all the benefits of our society, as long as they assimilate, and feed the labour market as do the refugees and immigrants the world over. Aboriginal nations have a choice: the reserve, that third-world environ ensconced in euro-settler law as ‘native land’, if the land isn’t being rented (ahem) to the settlers, or the cities. Up to them… Not our problem.
It’s an age-old system. We’ve seen it at work all over the world – the version you see in Canada is in an advanced state, 400+ years of modern integration. We’ve passed the biological warfare stage of assimilation, the physical war stage, the abduction and cultural reprogramming stage, that now defunct century old policy of residential schools.
Our cultural demands over the centuries, a ‘do this our way or else’ attitude, has impacted the cultural and social structure of First Nations peoples, once matriarchal hierarchies now paternalized.
We’re now into the full on ‘join us or starve’ stage in the Great White North.
Online, one can check out reports citing a 50% death rate in the Canadian residential school system in its heyday. In some circles, that’s known as a holocaust… and yet, it isn’t as if the system of physical assimilation of youth, embodied with the residential school system in Canada, has ended: currently, more Aboriginal children are wards of the Canadian state as foster children, placed with families of European descent, than were registered with the residential school system during its entire temporal reign.
Stephen Harper has apologized for the residential schools – we in Canada do love an opportunity to show our good manners. So what! He also ignored the Kelowna Accord that the previous government had negotiated with Aboriginals in Canada, choosing instead to cancel the years of hard work, and well planned funding and infrastructures, which at least started some reparation between our peoples. Harper eschews responsibility, but not a dance up north with the locals. A choice photo-op, the tailor’s work on the Prime Ministerial ever expanding belt-line seamless!
What good is an apology without action? Why is it the nations of the world are invited to live in this country when the indigenous nations our ancestors signed treaties with wait centuries for us, the descendants of settlers, to honour their commitments?
I don’t want to hear anymore about ‘the money, it’s always about the money with them injuns. What good is money granted to First Nations when it must first sieve its way through a bloated bureaucracy, supporting first European systems of governance forced upon the Aboriginal social framework?
We need to wake up. The Aboriginal nations in Canada have an inalienable human right to self-government, the right to prosper culturally and economically – the right to determine their own future, the right to a future. In spite of the damage our settler culture has impinged upon these people for centuries, they still have their own systems, their own culture, their own means of direction and evolution. They are still here.
Aboriginal nations in Canada don’t need our help structuring or repairing their society. They have a working social structure, differing from our industrially informed culture, yet just as relevant. They need us to honour the commitments we made when our nations signed treaties with theirs. When are European Canadians going to tear themselves away from the self-righteous, thinly veiled manifest-destiny rhetoric? We cheated. And if it wasn’t us, it was our ancestors, and we perpetuate the cheating they enacted.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. What’s the opposite of neo-colonialism?
Tell me something. Have you, reading this; have you read the treaties between our peoples? Have a look at the treaties for yourself.
I know of a couple of Canadian Universities with microfiche copies, if one is interested in original documents. Some of them, and I write this wincingly, are available online – only some. Read them. Look at the year. We offered a new suit, with replacements, for the chief – as a signing bonus, I suppose, for province wide tracts of land. Ask an Aboriginal in Canada if the government honours their fiduciary treaty rights – yup: the Canadian government still pays, for those treaties which apply, each Aboriginal 5 Canadian dollars – a year. What do you think five dollars buys at a northern dispensary or food outlet? When a green pepper goes for 3.99 CAD (google it, I did), I’ll tell you, not far… and not over a year, eh?
Our ancestors had the capacity and economy to sail the great oceans around the worlds, and they offered suits, seed, and ammunition for a land they encroached upon.
Have a look around you, my fellow settler North Americans, my fellow brethren Canadians, Canadiens… I’ll tell you this – je te dirai ça: I bought the party line until I was 30 years old. The way my immigrant parents told it, there were “no more injuns – the ones that were left stayed on their reserves”. It was a heartbreaking shock to find out that the culture my first and second generation father and mother had adopted had lied to me all of my life. I was told from the time I was a child up that the Indians tried to take back the land they gave us – that this was the source of the epithet ‘Indian Giver’.
I’m not ashamed. My ignorance was not an easy blanket I pulled back over my eyes. In spite of being reared on a generational pack of lies, I had the capacity to appreciate the opportunity for truth. I did not run from that first hint that my foundations of cultural self-awareness were built around a lie.
I looked further.
I hope you will, too.
We all need to. We need to recognize that we are not different from one another. Just as the Indigenous of many colonial countries are subjugated, so have we ‘lower’ classes been – we’ve been slaves a few more thousand years, is all. We are integrated as chattel to this system, which is now finalizing the centuries long process of assimilating yet another victimized population, plundering and polluting the last pristine lands on Earth. The middling classes, and the indigenous are collectively used at the behest of the pathocratic class – one to obscure, the other to endure. We must recognize the division being driven between us for what it is: a means of conquering, using the conquered to effect the conquest. 19 In the New Canadian model, we see the late stage of neo-colonialism – the disparate now desperate, now destitute, now urban bound. Pure Canadian, our proud blending mechanism – assimilation.
In the Canadian multicultural model, all colours are the same, eh? Won’t you join us as we ‘blend ’em in’… Or would you, as I have, rather wake up to some ugly truths, and in doing so honestly, open up some promising possibilities. I know what I can live with on my rocking chair when I look back – how about you? Eh?