No Bugles

The indigenous People Problem - Part 1

Yes problem. Indigenous people, First Nations People, Aboriginal people, Indians. Ok you get the point. The first problem is that there are lots of different names for a supposedly singular culture. So, for our purposes, let’s call these people, Indians. Everyone knows this was the original name Christopher Columbus called the natives he ran into on North American shores, Indian, because he honestly thought he had reached India. So Indians is what the vast majority of the world thinks of when they see a picture of a native North American person. Indian it is. “Indian” is what you will see on signs on the highway when you enter a Reserve i.e.: Okanagan Indian Reserve. So I think it’s safe to assume that “Indian” is a good safe name for the people we’ll be talking about here.
We do have a serious problem with our Indians here in Canada. Many call it a crisis. Not war or anything like that. More like Indian self-determination to extinguish itself. And government determination to let that happen. Let me tell you what I’m talking about. I will be touching on many aspects of the Indian problem but we’ll start with some facts about Indians here in Canada that will help set the context.
Canada has 3100 Indian Reserves housing 1,400,000 Indians. Simple math tells us that’s an average of 450 people per Reserve. There are, however, large Reserves with several thousand residents and some with just a few dozen. Most deeply isolated and cut off from modes of transportation most Canadians take for granted. Canada is 99% undeveloped. Fly across it from Vancouver to Toronto and you will see endless empty tracts of land and water and forest. Reserves, for the most part exist in those isolated areas that are only accessible by plane or ice roads or by ship, when the ice is not there. Indians inhabit the areas most people cannot imagine exist. None of these Reserves is new either. They all exist since they were created 150 years ago. And as they were created, this is where 1.4 million call home.
By a quirk of historical decision making 150 years ago, our forefathers decided to settle land disputes between the immigrating (mostly) white Europeans by assigning specific land areas spread across the country to Indian-only people.
The immigration of European settlers into North American and South America seriously disrupted the millions of Indian peoples already living here and clashes were the result. The immigration wasn’t going to stop as it hasn’t stopped since 100,000 years ago when the first people left Africa seeking new lands. The original settlers were Asians, among others, who came here first and thus became our de-facto Indian, now claiming to have the first and rightful claim to these lands. To contain clashes, governments here in Canada and also in the United States, created Reserves (aka Reservations in the US).
The Indian people, for the most part retired to their respective Reserves and Reservations and settled into a basic subsistence existence. The governments, however, did not intend this to be long term and did not expect that 150 years laters the same peoples would be inhabiting the same, more or less, Reserves. But that is what it is. The original forefathers would roll in their graves knowing this insane reality exists today.
The idea was that by granting Indians Reserves this would lend time for the whites and Indians to get used to each other and eventually merge as a single united population down the road. It obviously did not happen. Here in Canada or in the United States.
Another fact is that a big mistake was made by the governing parties of both sides, whites and Indians by allowing the Reserve concept to proceed on the basis that the Indians would not actually own the lands contained within the Reserves. That land was decreed to continue to belong to the ruling governments of Canada and the United States.
This, by nature, and legal reality made the Indians tenants on the Reserves. They would not actually own the land they lived on. They could not hold title, build, buy, sell, develop or any other right everyone else had in the country at large. The same is true here and in the US. The same mistake, and I will say, tragic and highly consequential decision effectively determined that the future of Indians in both countries was doomed to stagnation and complete and utter lack of hope of providing any sliver of ability for Indians to enjoy self-determination. Which is what every other citizen of Canada and the US enjoys as a basic right.
This might have been a deliberate plan based on the intended short-term aspect of the governments of the day, to rent out the lands for free to the Indians assuming they would soon find other places to live. Who could imagine people living two thousand kilometres from the nearest road in the 1850s would still be living there. It would have seemed logical that most people would move off Reserves and integrate into mainstream society. But that did not happen.
The other possibility is that the Reserve idea was simply not well thought out and allowing people to live on what was essentially, mostly wilderness, did not seem to matter. Considering the massive logistical problems of surveying out the land and building basic infrastructure and cities, Reserves might simply have been low priority. A nuisance.
That is not to fault either scenario. In a primitive world without cars, trains or planes or even electricity, many decisions would have been made for purely practical reasons. Deal with the big picture. Find the best solutions for problems as they arise. Reserves that Indians did not own or directly control, was the outcome.
They say, when you’re on a sinking ship, save yourself and your loved ones. Get off as best you can. That mentality does make sense. Our forefathers, had real serious political and practical issues to deal with and decisions were often not always perfect or even close.
The Reserve, as it was designed, I don’t believe is what was intended. By either the governing parties, or the Indians themselves. I don’t think anyone understood the ramifications of giving people the right to live on their own Reserve but not owning it or controlling it. Today we can see it has been a tragedy almost from the start.
Indian Reserves today have the shortest life expectancy, highest suicide rates, highest substance dependency rates and the highest poverty rates. In short, Reserves are a disaster. They are a disaster socially, culturally, economically and morally.
Who is to blame? There’s no point in blaming people now dead for a century and a half for their half-baked ideas. After all, half-baked ideas are what governments do routinely to this day. Half our lives are spent correcting idiotic ideas from brain-dead and corrupt government officials, who if you asked them, are convinced they are doing the right thing.
Next column we’ll talk about how the current system generally works (or doesn’t work). We’ll see how both sides - government and Indians - are messing things up. We’ll look at why the Reserves are a failure and why nobody seems to know why. We’ll talk about politically correct well-meaning left-winger who are helping destroy the people they are trying to save. We’ll cover all that next time.

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