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Indigenous History: Linking the Past to the Present
Transcript of Indigenous History: Linking the Past to the Present
Indigenous resistance against modern-day settler society is a long and complex history. It dates as far back as the arrival of settlers, with resistance against surveyors as they pushed forward onto Indigenous land.
It includes confrontational approaches like the Northwest Rebellion and the Patriotes, and more diplomatic approaches like the Six Nations' appeal to the League of Nations for sovereignty.
What follows is an examination of some of the layers involved in resistance, with a focus primarily on the modern push for recognition of rights and nation-to-nation relations.
Impact of Colonization on the Indigenous Peoples of Canada
Intergenerational Effects of Residential School Systems
Racism & Oppression
Impact of Colonialism
Erasmus and Sanders (1999) state that native people have the enormous job of tapping people on the shoulder and saying, “this is not the way it’s supposed to be.This is not the way we are supposed to be coexisting. We aren’t supposed to be the poorest of the poor in our land” (p. 6)
The following are some of the consequences of the legacy of colonialism on the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
Underdeveloped Reserves & Indiscriminate Environmental Deterioration of Traditional Territories
According to the cedar project (2007), the 1998 British Columbia children’s commission Annual report, stated that the rate of child maltreatment within Aboriginal families are related to inter generational trauma (p.2186).
Many descendents of residential school survivors share the same burdens as their ancestors even if they did not attend the schools themselves.
Most reserves are geographically isolated and in addition to this, there is perpetual confusion on the jurisdictional responsibility between the federal government and provincial government. Thus most social services are underfunded and under served as a result of intergovernmental disagreements on responsibilities.
The Yellow Quill First Nation reserve water supply was so poor that until 2004, when a new water treatment system began operating, residents lived under a boil-water alert that lasted fully eight years. Would any community in Canada—but for one on a reserve—have had to endure such an alert for eight years?
Christie Blatchford, Globe and Mail (2008)
The Canadian government in the past two centuries has systematically enacted legislation that expropriated the Indigenous peoples land without their consent for the purpose of construction of infrastructures such as highways, railways or major pipelines.
This has resulted in the fragmentation of reserves and in the disruption of traditional territories that are of cultural and economic value.
Reserves are held in trust by the Crown, thus this renders it difficult for those living on reserves to be able to use their properties as collateral in obtaining mortgages, small business loans, or lines of credit. They also face more restrictions than private owners when it comes to developing their land (UBC analysis of the Indian Act)
The colonization legacy and consequent neo-colonial process has hindered the Indigenous peoples of Canada from being able to effectively re-establish social networks; and from effectively implementing strategies for the development of stable communities.
In the 60s and 70s as the residential schools began to close there was a disproportionate increase in child welfare agencies, yet again taking control of Indigenous children (Sinclair et al. P.206); subsequently, Indigenous children were taken into non-Indigenous families and away from their communities.
As indicated by Murray et al, for well over one hundred years, the policies of Canadian governments towards Aboriginal children were a major factor in the deterioration of Aboriginal cultures in Canada, and often resulted in the suffering and abuse of Aboriginal children (p. 100).
The characterization of the Canadian settler as a benevolent peacemaker and not perpetrator of violence in Canadian history has overshadowed this colonial history of injustices done to the Indigenous peoples of Canada and thus has consequently justified the Canadian government's perpetration of marginalization and oppression of the Indigenous people.
still controls every facet of our lives. It allows a certain amount of local self-government, but there is no single thing on which we can make a law that does not have to go to a department official (Sander and Erasmus 1999)
A May 2008 report from the Auditor General of Canada found that Aboriginal children are still vastly overrepresented in care, citing that 51 % of all children in care in B.C. are Aboriginal, even though Aboriginal people comprise 8 % of B.C.’s population.
The report further stated that an Aboriginal child in British Columbia is “six times more likely to be taken into care than a non-Aboriginal child.” All a consequence of policies and legislation implemented for the Indegenous people without their involvement.
Child apprehension became viewed as successor to the residential school system and as a new form of “cultural genocide.” Under article 2(e) of the U.N. Convention on Genocide (1948), “forcibly transferring children of one group to another group” constitutes genocide when the intent is to destroy a culture.
In 1985, Justice Edwin Kimelman released a highly critical review of Aboriginal child apprehension entitled No Quiet Place: Review Committee on Indian and Métis Adoptions and Placements. In this report, popularly known as The Kimelman Report, Kimelman and his committee, after holding hearings and listening to oral testimony, concluded that “cultural genocide has taken place within Canada in a systematic, routine manner.”
Disintegration of Indigenous Peoples' Cultures & Communities
Sinclair et al, indicate that assimilation was reflected in the policies initiated in the nineteenth century by the Canadian government in collaboration with the Christian missionaries to ‘educate’ Aboriginal children in the ways of the white man. (Sinclair et al.p. 202).
It is widely accepted that prior to European contact and the residential school system, sexual abuse within Aboriginal communities was relatively rare.
However, in the aftermath of European colonization, Aboriginal cultural principles that fostered a sacredness of sexuality were dismantled in conjunction with preventive values and tradition.
Thus students who attended residential schools often brought back to their communities what they had learned about control and abuse, and inflicted this upon their own children.
in 1884 potlatches along with ceremonies such as the sun dance were banned. Though such customs and traditions went underground, the mere act of abolishing them further hampered the Aboriginal peoples ability to maintaining their identity.
As a consequence the generations that have come after this injustice are in communities that have been damaged by the loss of a cultural identity and poverty.
Gender Discrimination & Oppression
Prior to the passing of Bill C31, the Indian Act legislated that an Indigenous woman married out of her tribe would lose her identity. This affected many generations of the descedents of the Indigenous women that had been married out of their tribe. Thus, the amendment may have been done but the damage left has not been corrected through the amendment of the constitution.
As a consequence of legislating away the identity of Indigenous women in response to the matrimonial choices they made in marrying non-Indigenous men they would lose; treaty benefits, health benefits, the right to live on the reserves, the right to inherit their family property, and even the right to be buried on the reserve with their ancestors.
Through making it legally admissible to strip off the Indigenous woman’s identity, the colonial government had paved the way to making it admissible to overlook and undermine the rights of Aboriginal women as mothers. Their intrinsic right as mothers, as care givers and primary decision makers in raising their children were stripped away.
The impacts of the reserve system have a gendered dimension where Aboriginal women on reserves face additional challenges with property.
Historically a woman has had to leave the reserve community she married into if her husband abandons her or passes away. In these cases, lack of regulation regarding on-reserve matrimonial property has forced many women to leave their homes and belongings behind as they leave the reserves
High Rate of Susceptibility to Spread Infectious Diseases & Prevalence of Mental Illness
While the indigenous communities suffered poverty and lost a say in the ways of determining their autonomy; while their children were being forcefully led into residential schools without any care; the social and physical conditions both at the schools and in the reserves were deteriorating. This led to creating a conducive environment for the spread of disease among the communities in residential schools and in the reserves.
Richardson et al indicate that colonization is a particularly important historical consideration, as are neo-colonial policies because they perpetuate discrimination and social exclusion, even into the twenty-first century. These processes hinder the development of healthy identities and self-esteem, and ultimately are responsible for poor mental and physical health. (Richardson et al. p3)
The public conflict between the indigenous people and the Canadian government have in the recent past been displayed in Oka, Ipperwash Park, Burnt Church and more recently Caledonia as indicated by Regan. Public mobilization and display of solidarity is a clear message by the Indigenous people who have through history resisted colonialism and its consequent damage to their society and way of being. Such public and sometimes violent encounters with the government are clear outcry by the Aboriginal communities as to the extent of injustice they have had to endure.
In 2007, the AFN filed a complaint with the Canada Human Rights Commission claiming that INAC’s funding provisions created inequality between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. In May 2008, Canada’s Auditor General confirmed that “current funding practices do not lead to equitable funding among Aboriginal and First Nations communities.
"the road to hell was paved with good intentions and the child welfare system was the paving contractor"
Judge Edwin Kimelman
As a process of re-examining the assumptions and biases held towards the Indigenous peoples, we as social workers should critically re-examine how and why we have acquired the knowledge we have regarding the problems manifested within Indigenous communities and what role social work has played to contribute to the injustices committed.
Therefore, for social workers it is imperative to be able to understand that whether directly or indirectly all factor that impede the process of development and all manifested social pathologies within the Indigenous communities are a consequence of colonialism and neo-colonialism.
A Decolonizing Process
The Oppressive Tool of Language
Early settler-Indigenous interactions were dominated by inequality due to language. For instance, the Indian Act was written in English and was never translated into any Indigenous dialect; however, this document dictated virtually every aspect of the First Peoples’ lives (DeeJayAllah, 2011)
In addition, language made the first treaties between the colonizers and the Indigenous very confusing for the Indigenous peoples. From their worldview, they could not understand how the colonizers could go back on their word or “own” land (Erasmus & Sanders, 1999, p.4-5)
Residential schools forbade the use of Indigenous language and, subsequently, many Indigenous peoples lost their native language
Traditional ceremonies are ways of connecting the self with the world around; “ceremony is the physical embodiment of Self-in-Relation” (Graveline, 1998, p.61)
The European settlers considered such ceremonies (potlatch, sundance, etc.) to be the work of the devil and they were banned during the late 1800s (DeeJayAllah, 2011)
At residential schools, the Indigenous children were taught Christian beliefs and prayer. They were severely punished for practicing their own spiritual traditions (Partridge, 2010, p.49)
Indigenous peoples highly value their connection with the earth. These connections were first altered when settlers forced the native people onto reserves and are still being destroyed due to land disputes, pipelines, forestry and other devastating measures (Graveline, 1998)
As examined earlier, the educational changes, in the form of residential schools, devalued traditional teaching methodologies such as storytelling and the importance of elders as teachers (Graveline, 1998)
Likewise, traditional ways of knowing were challenged by settlers and missionaries alike and were replaced by European, male-oriented values (Shantz, 2010, p.230)
The history of abuse and familial separation (residential schools & the 60s scoop) has left its mark emotionally as well as mentally with higher Indigenous drop-out rates, unemployment and illiteracy (bigsisters, 2011)
The daily external oppression that Indigenous people face can lead to internalized oppression and mental health issues. Ironically, these mental health concerns are generally treated under a colonial paradigm rather than traditional healing methods (Nelson, 2012)
"No educational system is perfect, yet few have been as destructive to human potential as Canada’s, with its obsession with paternalism and assimilation and racialized discourses”- Marie Battiste (Schwartz, 2013)
What is Neo-Colonization?
Many people speak of colonization as though it were something of the past- something to move on from and forget. However, the unforgiving reality for Canadian Indigenous peoples is that the colonizers have made no apology or attempt at atonement. Thus, the process of colonization lives on within Canadian societal institutions, culture, and language; this is neo-colonization.
Traditional Indigenous education centers on holistic teaching methods with family and community acting as guides in the learning process (Graveline, 1998, p. 60)
There were no formal education institutions in pre-colonial society- instead “everyday lived experience”, as in-relation to the world, was thought to be the most powerful teaching environment (Graveline, 1998, p.60-61)
However, with the arrival of European missionaries during the 17th century, came a new, authoritarian form of education: the residential school (Kirkness, 1999)
The residential schools aimed at obliterating the traditional culture, worldview, teachings, and language. The maltreatment of children and separation of families continues to be felt throughout the Indigenous communities.
In the 1950’s many residential schools began to shut down and the Canadian government, without consulting the Indigenous leaders, began the process of integrating Indigenous children into, mainly white, public schools.
Although children were able to remain with their families, many students
felt alienated due to societal racism and because the school system did not include traditional education or language (Kirkness, 1999)
The current Canadian education system, in keeping with colonial practices, does not provide traditional education to Indigenous students, severely underfunds reservation schools, and the newly proposed First Nations Education Act (FNEA) resumes the master-slave paradigm that the Canadian government holds over Indigenous peoples in regards to their right to self-education and governance (Roman, 2013 & Schwartz, 2013)
Traditional healing focuses on interconnectedness and holistic well-being (mental, spiritual, emotional and physical) with medical leaders, or shamans, ensuring the connectedness between community and environment (Graveline, 1998)
Medicines and remedies are given from the earth with the expectation that, “if we look after our earth, it will look after us; if we destroy it, we destroy ourselves”- Sophie Thomas (Jacks, 2000)
Settlement of European powers brought many diseases and, simultaneously, began to ban traditional healing and ceremonies in an effort to both exterminate and assimilate the Indigenous population (Kelm, 1998)
Only when the widespread disease throughout Indigenous communities began to threaten the health of the white settlers was aid offered. Moreover, this aid was irregular and costly (Kelm, 1998)
Currently, through the process of biopiracy and bioprospecting, pharmacological companies, scientists, and universities are able to steal traditional Indigenous plants, medicines and knowledge and patent them. In turn, these biopirates do not give any credit or monetary compensation to the Indigenous peoples (Yellow Bird, 2008, p.280-281)
In healthcare settings, such as clinics and hospitals, many workers are biased towards Indigenous clients and many Indigenous people have felt the sting of stereotyping
Furthermore, many healthcare professionals do not accept or allow traditional practices of medicine (such as respectful disposal of the placenta) to occur (Kielburger, 2013)
The original contact with European settlers did not have too great an effect upon Indigenous governance as they originally acted as allies. In fact, the British Royal Proclamation of 1763 protected Indigenous land rights yet this began to change after the defeat of the French when the British no longer had use for the native people as allies (National Centre for First Nations Governance, 2013)
Until 1960 Indigenous people were not allowed to vote, unless they gave up their Indian status. This was despite the fact that they had been allowed to vote in 1885 (only granted to Indigenous men who owned land outside of the reserve) but this was later repealed due to an outcry by white settlers (DeeJayAllah, 2011; Moss & O’Toole, 1987)
In 1927 the Indian Act was modified to disallow
Indigenous political groups from forming, or from receiving monetary backing, without government approval (bigsisters, 2011)
With this history of political oppression, it is not surprising that Indigenous peoples still face stereotyping by Canadian police forces and there has been a growing number of allegations of police brutality and sexual assault against Indigenous women (Commisso-Georgee, 2013)
Additionally, police forces have failed to adequately look into the murders/disappearances of nearly 600 (maybe more) Indigenous women (NWAC, 2013)
The statistics say that Indigenous women are more than 3 times as likely to be killed (by a stranger) than non-Indigenous women. Furthermore, a little over half (53%) of murders involving Indigenous women have been taken to court. This is significantly lower than the national average of 84% (NWAC, 2013)
Early Canadian news accounts (during the 1860s) followed familiar themes: us vs. them, Indigenous as inferior and “uncivilized” and white men as scientific vs. emotional Indigenous (Harding, 2006)
One 1863 editorial reads, “it would be manifestly impolitic and productive of harm to put the uncivilized and unchristianized Indians of this country in possession of all the rights and privileges of citizenship” (Harding, 2006, p. 208)
Modern mass media perpetuates a history of the “us vs. the native other” mindset through inaccurate portrayals of Indigenous peoples as being a threat to the larger population. This has been seen in media coverage of situations such as the Oka crisis (1990) and the Caledonia reclamation protest (2006-2007), in which the Indigenous population has been portrayed as “lawless” and “stubborn negotiators” (Knopf, 2010, p.91)
One study, which analyzed media accounts from the 1860s and 1990s, discussed how little these reports about Indigenous relations have changed- the only difference was that the racist accounts gradually become more subtle over the time span (Harding, 2006, p.224)
Movies and television shows often portray Indigenous characters as one-dimensional stereotypes- whether it be the wise elder or the drunk native (Knopf, 2010, p. 91-92)
Furthermore, there is an obvious lack of representation of Indigenous peoples in all forms of Canadian media
When the Indigenous peoples were forced onto reserves, not only were European diseases (such as smallpox and tuberculosis) widespread, but the lands that they had been given were not agriculturally prosperous and the government controlled many resources (BC commons, n.d.)
Furthermore, Indigenous dislocation meant that they could no longer find the wide variety of nutritious foods available for consumption and medication. This, combined with the introduction of saturated fats, sugars, refined salts, etc. has contributed to many health problems for the Indigenous peoples (BC commons, n.d.)
Residential schools, in an effort to force assimilation, demanded that Indigenous children wear westernized clothing and hairstyles
Additionally, residential schools removed children from their families and damaged the community. The communal way of living was also altered in favour of nuclear residences (Cherrington, 2007)
The damaging of the interconnectedness between family, community and earth, that the First Peoples value so greatly, has left an emotional wound that is still felt today
Moreover, policies, residential schools, the 60s scoop, and other assimilation tactics have further harmed the traditional worldview of Indigenous peoples so that many feel a sense of disconnection to their roots
Since the time of contact, the Indigenous have been thought of as inferior by white settlers. This racist legacy continues today through institutional (as discussed previously) and societal oppression and marginalization
As Wesley-Esquimaux and Smolewski contend, “… the Aboriginal past must be fully acknowledged in order to fully experience the Aboriginal present and to realize the Aboriginal future” (2004, p.93)
The Canadian education system has always failed to include Indigenous language. Instead it focuses upon Canada’s two official languages- English and French- which are the languages of the colonizers (Leitch, n.d.)
Language has also preserved colonialism through racial slurs/incorrect labels of Indigenous peoples and the use of English place names
As social workers, it is vital that we learn the meanings of common social work terminology as understood by the First Peoples. After all, “Indigenous peoples and the social work profession have not developed a compatible language and thus, often, do not find the same meanings in words” (Yellow Bird, 2008, p.83)
How Neo-Colonization Relates to
Decolonizing Social Work Practice
It is crucial that social workers explore Canada’s true history and accept the genocide that was colonization. Furthermore, we must understand that colonization has not ended; we continue to oppress, marginalize and bully the Indigenous peoples upon whose land Canada was founded. The evaluation of colonial history permits us, as practitioners, to acknowledge the past, to ally with the Indigenous peoples in the present, and to change the future.
Residential school students and nuns, ca. 1890 (Collections Canada, 2011)
Shaman at Kitwanga, ca. 1915 (Canadian Heritage, 1999)
Blood First Nation pow-wow, ca. 1910
A permit to leave the reserve granted by an Indian Agent, ca. 1932 (âpihtawikosisân, n.d.)
Stereotypical "Indian Council" in the 1953 film Peter Pan (Fanpop, 2013)
Rights & Resistance
Much of post-settler Indigenous history has been bound up in federal policy and treaty-making. Political resistance has frequently helped shape this history.
Resistance can at times lead to hope, and the dream of a new direction in Indigenous-settler relations lives on.
When people think of Indigenous resistance, they primarily think of direct action.
As settlers swept westward, the Crown and Indigenous nations became involved in a series of treaties.
For the Indigenous, these treaties were meant to secure annuities, rights, and education.
Before the completion of all the 'Numbered Treaties,' some nations were already protesting the government's failure to comply, while others took lessons from their predecessors and fought for a greater preservation of land and rights (Miller, 2009).
The White Paper
In 1969, the Trudeau government aimed to repeal the
and to end paternalism by fully integrating Indigenous peoples.
There had been no Indigenous consultation, however, and leaders came together to fight for their rights and special status.
The response was so strong and scathing that Trudeau was forced to backpedal, eventually leading to the inclusion of Indigenous rights in the 1982
The Mohawk community of Kanesatake objected to the development of a golf course on traditional territory, including a burial ground.
A blockade became a standoff on July 11, 1990, when the police intervened (Peach, 2011).
The Six Nations of Grand River protested the development of a new subdivision on land they claim was never relinquished.
The protest began February 28, 2006, and led to clashes with police and public over the ensuing months (Dobrota, 2006).
The Mi'kmaq of Elsipogtog protested a gas-shale project throughout the summer of 2013.
Police moved in to enforce an injunction against the blockade on October 17 (Jaques and Clarke, 2013), but the protest continues.
And that's just a few of many. These confrontations with police and public are easily picked up by the media, and often used to depict Indigenous peoples as lawless, reckless, or subversive.
However, direct action is only a small piece of a much larger story, with resistance also occurring in the political arena and in the courtroom.
Meech Lake Accord
The Meech Lake Accord was put together in 1987 to amend the constitution, but failed to include Indigenous peoples in consultation or in substance (Peach, 2011).
Elijah Harper, a Cree Manitoba MLA, rejected the Accord, giving voice to Indigenous peoples across the country.
Indigenous opposition and leadership ensured that they would be included in the next constitutional talks (Peach, 2011).
Charlottetown & RCAP
The Charlottetown Accord, another attempt at constitutional reform in 1992, recognized an inherent right of self-government.
The Accord was widely supported by Indigenous groups, but failed on referendum (Isaac, 1992).
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) was established in 1991, largely in response to Oka and Meech Lake (Peach, 2011).
The final report, published in 1996, is generally
as positive and progressive as it is ignored.
Political battles have long been set in legal parameters that continue to evolve and shape relations. Where political negotiations have not clarified Indigenous rights, legal tests have been created.
The Royal Proclamation
Issued in 1763, the Royal Proclamation is widely viewed as the bedrock of Indigenous treaty rights.
The Proclamation recognized Indigenous right to land, and promised to protect that land from settlers until treaties were in place (Woods, 2013).
The Proclamation is used as evidence and justification by Indigenous leaders for nation-to-nation relationships with the federal government.
Calder (1973) and Delgamuukw (1997) respectively established land rights as a legal reality, and found that those rights had not been extinguished (Miller, 2009).
Earlier this month, the Tsilhqot'in had their case heard in the Supreme Court, hoping for clarification and specificity regarding their land rights. A decision is expected in 6-8 months.
Section 35 of the Constitution Act states:
"The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed" (s 35.1)
With negotiations for greater clarity having failed, the Courts have had to step in (gov.bc). For instance, they have ruled:
Indigenous rights cannot be restricted by government regulations (Sparrow, 1990); and
It is the Crown's duty to consult and accommodate (Taku Tlingit, 2004)
Land Claims Agreements
Indigenous rights have also been explored through talks closer to a nation-to-nation basis. Comprehensive land claims agreements can take decades to negotiate, frequently hitting dead ends or ending in controversy.
James Bay Cree
In the 1970's, the James Bay Cree and Quebec Inuit earned a court injunction to stop hydroelectric development in Northern Quebec.
Negotiations led to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which provided $225 million as well as some protection of traditional rights through land rights and income security (Miller, 2009).
The Agreement was essentially the first 'modern treaty' and shaped future agreements and negotiations.
A 1998 agreement gave the Nisga'a Lissims government jurisdiction over education, public order and safety, and child and family social and health services.
In exchange, the Nisga'a are now liable to taxation, are removed from the Indian Act, and have extinguished all rights not covered in the agreement. The Nisga'a also only 'received' 8% of their traditional territory.
A backlash from the public prompted the new provincial government to challenge the agreement in court--but it was held up as constitutional (Miller, 2009).
After Section 35 affirmed Indigenous rights, the government has sought extinguishment clauses in negotiations. Indigenous nations are left to decide on agreements without fully knowing what they might be giving up.
Where agreements are made, they are rarely the end of negotiations. As examples, James Bay has had to make amendments while Nunavut has had to fight for full implementation (Wall, 1998).
Land claims frequently overlap with other claims, which complicate other negotiations. Nunavut, for example, overlaps with Metis-Dene claims on one side, and Innu on the other.
Oka and Meech Lake
These two 'crises' brought Indigenous issues into many Canadian homes for the first time, solidifying Indigenous leadership that had built up since the White Paper and the
This resulted in RCAP, but follow-through has been lacking. The Nisga'a agreement didn't restructure the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, nor of course did a simple renaming of the Department of Indian Affairs.
A land claims agreement in 1993 paved the way for the formation of Nunavut in 1999, and a $1.14 billion settlement with ongoing royalties (Dewar, 2009).
Nunavut is only an expression of self-government. In reality, the government is public and relies on an Inuit majority to inform its practices.
The government's powers are also limited with respect to land and resources, but it does still hold territorial powers, with jurisdiction over areas such as culture, education, and health care.
Idle No More
Idle No More therefore represents a move against these stalled efforts: court battles and land claims negotiations in many cases stretched on for decades with no results and no fundamental change.
The movement is intriguing in part because it has not relied on economic disruption to gain Canadians' attention, but has been built off a resurgence of traditional culture and practices.
Nonetheless, the movement was still born out of its political (Bill C-45), legal (Tsilhqot'in), and direct action (Elsipogtog, Northern Gateway) contexts.
Contemporary resistance movements can serve as a reminder of the righteous anger felt by Indigenous people, and to the long history of colonization and resistance.
It can remind us that we must look for a new way forward, but one that does not ignore the past.
But we must also remember that this is a small portion of Indigenous resistance.
We must remember the parents who resisted sending their children to residential schools, and the children who tried to escape.
We must remember how nations fought to preserve culture and language through efforts of creation and resurgence, and not simply through resistance to change.
Zamudio and Rios (2006) discuss how stereotypes can erase individuals. When looking at the public backlash against the Nisga'a or James Bay Cree, or the confrontations at Caledonia or Oka, it's not hard to lose sight of the complexity of the history involved and resistance practiced. They too are erased.
But if we remember this history, we can begin to see resistance in everyday life, and the strength in every individual. We can begin to let Indigenous people tell their own stories, and write their own futures. We can begin to decolonize.
Progress in Indigenous-settler relations has come in many different ways. The James Bay Cree Agreement would not have occurred without Quebec's thirst for hydroelectricity. Section 35 would not have been written without the White Paper. RCAP would not have been commissioned without OKA.
Linking the Past to the Present
Indigenous History Pre-Settlement
Political Structure, Governance & Way of Life
“Subarctic Aboriginal people typically lived in communities of 25-30 people. Each group moved frequently within a well-defined territory as game supplies changed from season to season and from year to year. A group's size and the nature of its annual economic cycle were strongly influenced by the availability of local resources... A single band rarely had exclusive access to its territory since adjacent bands frequently shared hunting resources, especially if they faced food scarcity. Sharing resources rather than the accumulation of wealth was emphasized among individuals and communities because it provided collective insurance against natural fluctuations in the availability” (“Aboriginal People: Subarctic,” 2012, para. 11&12).
Mythology & Spirituality
“Many Subarctic people told stories about a ‘culture hero,’ the first person to become powerful. For them, power and knowledge were one, and a powerful individual was one who ‘knows something.’ The culture hero demonstrated the personal knowledge and self-reliance that were recognized as important survival skills, could outwit individuals with knowledge of evil medicine, possessed the ability to overcome dangerous animals of the myth time, and thus make the world a safer place in which humans could live... Beliefs about the interdependence of people and nature embodied in myth helped Subarctic Aboriginal people interpret their environment” (“Aboriginal People: Subarctic,” 2012, para. 21).
Political Structure, Governance & Way of Life
The Indigenous peoples in the arctic region organized themselves into bands, each band had somewhere between 500-1000 people. Bands would reduce in size when resources in the environment became low. They would separate and form smaller groups (2-5 families), by doing this it increased their chances for survival (“Aboriginal People: Arctic,” 2012). “Many economic and social activities involved inter-household co-operation, and widespread sharing was...a fundamental characteristic of Inuit social life. Most families who chose to live together were closely related, with leadership of the group generally assumed by the oldest active member” (“Aboriginal People: Arctic,” 2012, para. 6).
Among the Arctic people the birth of a newborn was a time for celebration and rituals to take place, each band had slightly different rituals and ceremonies for the event (“Aboriginal People: Arctic,” 2012). “Among some groups, in addition to an attending midwife, there was another adult who served as the child's ritual sponsor, assuming responsibilities for the child's moral upbringing. Throughout life, special terms of address were used, and in the case of a boy, his first killed game animals, and in the case of a girl, her first sewn items, were presented to this adult. Naming occurred at birth and had special significance, as Inuit names included part of the identity and character of the name bearer” (“Aboriginal People: Arctic,” 2012, para. 16).
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Indigenous Peoples lived throughout the land. “Canada's First Nations have been in the country we now call Canada for at least 12,000 years, perhaps much longer” (“Canada’s First Peoples”, 2007, para.1).
“All the land was being used by the First Nations... They had a wide variety and diversity of governmental systems, almost all of them regulating their activities and the relations among their members...” (Erasmus & Sanders, 1999, p. 3). From the East Coast to the West Coast of Canada, Indigenous peoples developed different political, social, and cultural systems reflective of their geographical location in order to help organize their way of life.
The six main geographical Indigenous groups were: The Arctic, Subarctic, Eastern Woodlands, Plains, Plateau, and North West Coast.
Canada's History Before European Settlement
Political Structure, Governance & Way of Life
“Eastern Woodland indigenous people belong to two unrelated language families, Iroquoian and Algonquian” (“Aboriginal People: Eastern,” 2012, para. 1).
The Iroquoians “...typical village contained a large number of elm- or cedar-bark longhouses. Each LONGHOUSE sheltered several related families. Residence in these households was matrilocal; ie, upon marriage a man would move into his wife's longhouse. As well, descent, inheritance and succession followed the female line. One or more households formed a matrilineage. Several lineages composed an exogamous CLAN designated by a particular totem emblem (crest). Nations were composed of three to ten clans whose members were scattered in several villages. Among some groups, clans were divided into two categories or moieties. Clan mates, regardless of village...considered themselves to be siblings” (“Aboriginal People: Eastern,” 2012, para. 17).
“...[T]he largest political unit among most Woodland Algonquian appeared to be the band-village. Each BAND or band-village possessed at least one chief or headman, whose position was usually hereditary within the male line. Patrilineal groups designated by an animal totem seem to have been characteristic of all peoples. Village-band territories were not strictly demarcated, and all members had equal access to basic subsistence resources. While intertribal feuds may have occurred, it is doubtful that warfare was conducted on the same scale as that which characterized the early historic period” ("Aboriginal People: Eastern,” 2012, para. 25).
Aboriginal People: Northwest Coast
Political Structure, Governance & Way of Life
The West Coast peoples formed larger groups which consisted of relatives/close family connections (“Aboriginal People: Northwest,” 2012). “Among northern peoples, membership in the kin group was passed down through women, but in the south membership could be claimed through either the male or the female lines. In both areas the result was a core of close kin with in-married spouses living together ... under the direction and guidance of capable leaders. These leaders held formal titles or prominent names hereditary within the family line and acted as managers of family property, including nonmaterial possessions such as names, ritual performances, special songs or secret knowledge” (“Aboriginal People: Northwest,” 2012, para. 16).
Religious & Spiritual Life
“Native groups conducted serious religious rites in winter and viewed summer as more appropriate for games, feasts and naming activities... Belief in potent spirits identified with animate objects and forms was fundamental. Spirits could interfere in human affairs, but by self-purification an individual might induce them to become personal helpers. They were a source of power for religious practitioners or SHAMANS, but also endowed ordinary folk with special competence or good fortune, and in some areas became hereditary privileges” (“Aboriginal People: Northwest,” 2012, para. 20).
Political Structure, Governance & Way of Life
“In this region groups of related people worked and travelled together in the spring, summer and fall, then joined with other such groups to winter in relatively permanent winter villages. Plateau society was egalitarian and communal in most respects, although men were the major decision makers. Within each village there were a number of chiefs or headmen who organized economic activities; eg, there was a salmon chief for fishing, and so on. The advice of these men was taken seriously, but every adult male took part in gatherings to discuss the general concerns of the group. In some areas of the Plateau a council of elders was drawn from the community at large; when confronted with an issue affecting the band, a head-man invited other males to discuss it. Often it was the advice of the elders or the most experienced that was accepted” (“Aboriginal People: Plateau,” 2012, para. 9).
Songs & Art
"Songs were important in traditional Plateau life, and were used by individuals to summon religious and magical powers. Singing was sometimes accompanied by bird-bone flutes, rattles of deer hooves, and sticks being struck on boards, but mainly by hide-covered wooden-frame drums. One type of song still known and widely performed today is the stick-game song, sung while playing an indigenous gambling game involving two opposing teams” (“Aboriginal People: Plateau,” 2012, para. 21).
Aboriginal People: Plains
Political Structure, Governance & Way of Life
The Plains people were nomadic; they relied on nature’s carrying capacity when it came to the food they collected. When the food became scarce they would move again, geography influenced the political structure of the tribes (“Aboriginal People: Plains,” 2012). “Most tribes consisted of loosely organized and independent bands. Band chiefs had the respect and support of their followers as long as they were successful in the quest for food and in defence against enemy attacks. Chiefs were advisers rather than rulers; their decisions were based on unanimous approval reached in the council of elders. Public shame and ridicule were the principal means of social discipline” (“Aboriginal People: Plains,” 2012, para. 12).
Different tribes within the region would gather once a year “...when the buffalo were concentrated in large herds ...for a few weeks in one large tribal encampment” (“Aboriginal People: Plains,” 2012, para. 13). The coming together on this occasion was a good way to reconnect, “... which were the principal means of tribal cohesion. After the performance of the SUN DANCE and possibly a tribal buffalo drive, the bands separated again; in the fall they moved to well-protected campsites in river valleys, foothills and parklands, where they spent the winter” (“Aboriginal People: Plains,” 2012, para. 13).
The map below can help give reference to the different geographical regions of Canada's Indigenous peoples pre-settlement (Canadian Encyclopedia, 2012):
Canada’s history began long before the written record; Indigenous peoples passed on historical knowledge and cultural ways of knowing from generation to generation through oral traditions. “...[O]ral traditions are ‘the means by which knowledge is reproduced, preserved and conveyed...’" (“Oral Traditions,” 2009, para. 2).
There is a belief that the written record is fact based and objective without any bias when in fact it reflects the biases of the observer/writer. “In Western contexts, authors of written documents tend to be received automatically as authorities on their subjects and what is written down is taken as fact. Such assumptions ignore the fact that authors of written documents bring their own experiences, agendas and biases to their work—that is, they are subjective” (“Oral Traditions,” 2009, para. 4).
“...Westerners have generally considered oral societies to be peoples without history. This could not be further from the truth. Oral societies record and document their histories in complex and sophisticated ways, including performative practices such as dancing and drumming” (“Oral Traditions,” 2009, para. 3).
“Some stories are told only during certain seasons, at a particular time of day, or in specific places. In the same vein, some stories are meant to be heard only by specific people. Such stories often teach important lessons about a given society’s culture, the land, and the ways in which members are expected to interact with each other and their environment. The passing on of these stories from generation to generation keeps the social order intact. As such, oral histories must be told carefully and accurately, often by a designated person who is recognized as holding this knowledge. This person is responsible for keeping the knowledge and eventually passing it on in order to preserve the historical record” (“Oral Traditions,” 2009, para. 7).
“Narrators will also ‘document’ the histories they tell by citing the source of their knowledge, such as a great grandparent or an elder. This is sometimes referred to as ‘oral footnoting.’ Such collective responsibility and input maintains the accuracy of the historical record” (“Oral Traditions,” 2009, para. 10).
“Place names are never just meaningless sounds. Rather, they embody stories about the places to which they are attached. They give us valuable insights into history and provide clues about the country’s cultural and social development” (“Aboriginal Place Names,” 2010, para. 5).
Below is a brief list of some of the names of Canada's provinces, larger towns and cities whose names originated with Indigenous peoples. This can help give a level of depth and meaning to why and how these names originated.
“Canada: is from the Kanata, meaning “settlement” or “village” in the language of the Huron."
"Manitoba: the likeliest source is the Cree maniot-wapow, "the strait of the spirit or manitobau." This name refers to the roaring sound produced by pebbles on a beach on Manitoba Island in Lake Manitoba. The Cree believed the noise sounded like a manito, a spirit, beating a drum. It has also been suggested that the name comes from the Assiniboine words mini and tobow, meaning "Lake of the Prairie."
"Coquitlam (British Columbia) -derived from the Salish tribal name Kawayquitlam, this word can be translated as "small red salmon." The name refers to the sockeye salmon common to the area."
"Penticton (British Columbia) - the name comes from an Okanagan word meaning "the always place," in the sense of a permanent dwelling place."
"Ottawa (Ontario) - the word comes from the Algonquin term adawe, "to trade." This was the name given to the people who controlled the trade of the river."
"Shubenacadie (Nova Scotia) - is a name of Mi'kmaq origin that comes from the word segubunakadik, meaning "the place where groundnuts (Indian potatoes) grow.”
(Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, “Aboriginal Place Names,” 2010).
To begin the transition toward decolonization we must begin to incorporate, acknowledge, accept and understand the whole history of Canada and look at it through a new set of eyes. Acknowledgement of the past is vital in the decolonization process, just as our childhood influences who we are to become as a person, our history in Canada affects how we are as a nation. We need to rewrite history so that both perspectives are given (Indigenous and Non-Indigenous). Also, by including Indigenous oral traditions in the education curriculum, this can enhance our learning experience and we can begin the journey of decolonizing so that one day we can be a united nation, and realize that Indigenous history is in fact Canadian history.
Aboriginal People: Arctic
Aboriginal People: Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal People: Plateau
Aboriginal People: Subarctic
What is Behind a Name?
The Importance of Decolonizing Historical Context
(CUPE 3903 First Nation’s Solidarity Working Group, 2013)
Before beginning, we would like to acknowledge that we are each visitors to this land including: the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of New Credit, the Musqueam, and the Ktunaxa Peoples. The history of Canada’s Indigenous peoples is diverse and complex. We have divided this multifaceted past into four categories: Indigenous history pre-settlement, the impact of colonization, neo-colonization, and rights/resistance. We recognize that we have only touched the surface of this history and hope that this presentation will lead to further exploration of Canada’s true past.
Class Discussion Question:
Resistance & Decolonization
Nootka (Canadian Heritage, 1999)
Drying Berries (Canada Heritage, 1999)
c.1784 (Heritage Gallery, 1999)
How has Indigenous history shaped current Indigenous-settler relations, and what can we do as social workers to decolonize these relations?
Completed by: Sheila Frayne, Cassandra Grieve,
Peter Ochs & Beatrice Sebyeza
Please see attached list on moodle