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Aboriginals threatened by present, not past
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally published in The Province, 13 August 2013
In a recent article published in The Province, columnist Naomi Lakritz wrote that aboriginal people need to drop “the victimization mantle” and take “individual responsibility.”
The essential idea, as Lakritz elaborated to me in an email exchange, was that aboriginal people should “move on” and stop “wallowing in the past.”
How can people “move on” from history, if history has not moved on from them? Aboriginal people point to their history so that we may learn our own. Our histories are intertwined, and have been so since the first European colonists arrived in this land.
In 1920, Duncan Campbell, Canada’s deputy Indian Affairs minister, declared: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem.” The program of “assimilation” (or “cultural genocide”) was largely undertaken through Indian “residential schools.”
Some five decades after, our government used aboriginal children as lab rats, conducting nutritional and medical experiments on them.
Aboriginal communities across the country lack access to safe drinking water at a much higher level than the rest of Canadians. They face comparably higher levels of food insecurity, unemployment, poor housing, poverty, infant mortality, substance abuse, addiction and suicide, and make up a disproportionately high percentage of the prison population.
Early this year, the Harper government announced “a huge boom in Canadian natural resource projects” over the coming decade, potentially worth $600 billion.
Most of these projects will occur “on or near” aboriginal land (as in, the land we had not previously colonized in its entirety).
Harper’s omnibus bills reduced the amount of protected lakes from 40,000 to 97 and rivers from 2.5 million to 63, paving the way for unhindered corporate extraction and environmental degradation. Whether next to a DeBeers mine in Attawapiskat, or near the tarsands in Alberta, aboriginal communities are directly exposed to the devastating environmental and health costs of our “development” projects.
It was within this context that, in late 2012, aboriginal people across Canada launched the Idle No More movement, taking responsibility not only for their own rights as indigenous people, but for the protection of the environment, linking up with indigenous groups in the United States to oppose pipelines and environmentally destructive projects, with peaceful protests, road blockades and public-awareness campaigns.
The Canadian government passes omnibus bills for the benefit of large resource-based corporations, rapidly accelerating environmental degradation, pushing not only Canada — but the human species as a whole — ever closer to the inevitable extinction faced by any self-destructive organism.
Instead of telling aboriginal people to “quit blaming the past” and take “responsibility,” perhaps the rest of Canada should stop ignoring the past and take some responsibility for the present, to ensure that we may actually have a future, not simply as a nation, but as a species. Perhaps it’s time for the rest of Canada to become Idle No More.
— Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal.