A MINISTER’S MUSINGS……………………ON LIVING IN RIGHT RELATIONS
“The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.”
Sir John A. Macdonald, Prime Minister of Canada
The Indian Act was passed into legislation in 1876. Amendments were made to the Act in 1951 and 1985, but the tracks of assimilation were laid early and harshly. Here are some of the provisions in the original Act that have so significantly impacted the lives of our Aboriginal people, historically and today.
- Denied women status
- Introduced residential schools
- Renamed individuals with European names
- Restricted Aboriginal people from leaving their reserve without written permission of the Indian Agent
- Could expropriate portions of reserves for roads, railways and other public works, as well as to move an entire reserve away from a municipality, if it was deemed expedient
- Forbade Aboriginal people from forming political organizations
- Forbade Aboriginals from speaking their native language
- Forbade Aboriginals from practicing their traditional religion
- Forbade western Aboriginal people from appearing in any public dance show, exhibition, stampede or pageant wearing traditional regalia
- Declared potlatch and other cultural ceremonies illegal
- Denied Aboriginal people the right to vote
This is only a partial list of the restrictions that were placed upon Aboriginal people in an effort to fully assimilate them. Is it any wonder, then, that our Aboriginal neighbours harbour a sense of second-class citizenship in a land they have occupied for thousands of years?
I have often heard it said, “It’s time for Aboriginal people to get over it and to move forward.” It is the same thing that is said to Jewish people about the Holocaust, or to Armenians about the genocide of 1915 or to the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. That has become the stock answer to the atrocious actions of the past.
In our efforts to “make things better”, It only adds pain to the original pain of those involved to deny it ever happened or to tritely say “get over it.” Restoring a right relationship requires that we acknowledge our part in creating the pain in the first place, that we accept responsibility for it and then seek to move forward on the path to reconciliation and restoration by walking with those to whom we have caused pain. This is not an easy process. It requires lots of listening, lots of patience and lots of courage to apologize and ask forgiveness, as God would have us do. It’s a long journey that we have just begun with our Aboriginal neighbours.