May 17, 1996 Halifax Herald

Paternalistic "solutions" underlie natives' plight

Contrary to an opinion held by many non-natives, governmental paternalism as applied to "Registered Indians" is not an ancient practice but only came into fashion during the late 1940s.

It was then, probably because of a guilt complex, that federal governments began to implement programs to replace ones which had previously kept our people poverty stricken amid plenty. The cost of imposing these non self-help paternalistic programs, which assumed we were incapable of tying our own shoelaces, soon got expensive. This is how Trudeau's government proposed to solve the cost problem.

In 1969, its Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien, presented to parliament a White Paper on Indian Affairs. The policy advocated the complete and immediate integration of First Nations' citizens into Canadian society, which would have assured for government the realization of the goal set in colonial times for the extinction of First Nations by assimilation.

The authors of the paper blamed the sorry plight of the "Registered Indian" on the Indians themselves, the provinces, the Indian Act, and everything but the biggest culprit of all: the racism practised by federal governments since Confederation.

The definition of the "Indian" in the policy exemplifies the patronizing bureaucratic mentality which did and still bedevils First Nations Peoples:

"To be an Indian is to be a man, with all a man's needs and abilities. To be an Indian is also to be different. It is to speak different languages, draw different pictures, tell different tales and to rely on a set of values developed in a different world...

“...But to be a Canadian Indian today is to be someone different in another way. It is to be someone apart-apart in law, apart in the provision of Government Services and, too often, apart in social contacts.

‘To be an Indian is to lack power-the power to act as owner of your lands, the power to spend your own money and, too often, the power to change your own condition.

‘Not always, but too often, to be an Indian is to be without, without a job, a good house, or running water; without knowledge, training or technical skill and, above all, without those feelings of dignity and self-confidence that a man must have if he is to walk with his head held high.

“All these conditions of the Indians are the product of history and have nothing to do with their abilities and capacities. Indian relations with other Canadians began with special treatment by government and society, and special treatment has been the rule since Europeans first settled in Canada. Special treatment has made of the Indian a community disadvantaged and apart..."

The first four paragraphs are patronizing but truthful in many respects. However, the last paragraph attempts to blame a mythical "special treatment" for the disadvantaged conditions of Natives.

Whoever wrote this statement either did not know, or chose to ignore, Canadian history. It reads like a fairy tale! The "special treatment" it mentions includes patronizing programs, it does not include the genocide that was practised in eastern Canada by the colonials, or the fact that First Nations' citizen were all but denied schooling until recent times, or that they were denied jobs and food amid plenty, or the "special treatment" of being denied full citizenship and the right to vote in elections for almost a century after Confederation.

The authors discuss the lack of power of First Nations Peoples but they did not articulate why. They didn't mention that the dominant society would not permit the Natives to have any power. The authors didn’t mention that the drive to strip the First Nations Peoples of their dignity, self-respect, independence, pride, freedom and property was promoted by governments for at least 256 years.

If the writers of the White Paper had been taught the country's history, while attending school, they would have been aware that the "special treatment" enjoyed by First Nations' citizens under both Colonial and Canadian governments was mostly a treatment of being racially oppressed and persecuted. For instance, Canada only dropped its goal for the extinction by assimilation of First Nations Peoples in the late 1980s.

Racist paternalism, nothing else, is the root cause of the disadvantaged state "enjoyed" by First Nations citizens today. The cost of this racism for Canada is horrendous - 5 billion to 6 billion in direct costs annually - and God only knows how many billions more in indirect costs!

Now here is the magic formula the federal government was prepared to use in 1969 to solve its self-created cost problem: "Propose to the governments of the provinces that they take over the same responsibility for Indians that they have for other citizens in their provinces..."

Sound like a typical buck passing solution for costly problems created by the feds? Next column I'll explain why.

Daniel N. Paul


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