Demasduit was 23 when she saw her husband die. In 1819, Newfoundland colonists raided her village and took her captive. They shot her husband before her eyes, leaving her newborn child to die. Eventually the colonists tried to return Demasduit to her people, but could not find them. She died a captive.
This story doesn’t sound like the Canada we know. We know only of a Canada that is supposedly awesome: a premium version of the United States that mixes northeastern liberalism with southern friendliness and a pseudo-European multicultural twist. But when it comes to the issue of aboriginal rights, Canada is far from awesome.
Canada has screwed aboriginals royally. First we stole their land, and then tried to kill them. Next, we gave them blankets with smallpox. Eventually we decided not to kill them, and tried to forcibly assimilate them. We outlawed their customs and forced them into residential schools, where they were physically and sexually abused.
Why should you care about all this? You didn’t steal their land or crush their culture. How are you responsible for the misdeeds of the past? You aren’t. But the point is that their plight is not only in the past.
We are responsible for the fact that the average aboriginal gets 2.5 times less funds from the government than other Canadians. We receive services from three levels of government. They receive services from only the federal government.
We are responsible for the fact that they get less resources for healthcare and less for education. We are responsible for the staggering levels of disease, poverty and social ills on reserves and among urbanized Native communities. We are responsible for the fact that Canadian aboriginals live in Third World conditions in a First World country.
But we can stop screwing them over. We can correct a great historical injustice. Canada needs to reconstitute aboriginal sovereignty within the federalist structure. Give them jurisdiction over relevant policies: health, education, and wildlife, among others. Canadian aboriginals I’ve spoken to reject the idea of a paternalistic state trying to solve their problems. They want the freedom to address their own issues, which can only happen through the reconstitution of Aboriginal sovereignty.
Social ills like suicide, alcoholism, and endemic school dropout rates are inextricably linked to national self-esteem. Sovereignty is the only way to boost aboriginals’ collective self-worth.
Many would tell you that it can’t be done or that it’s too complicated. Not only can it be done, but such solutions have already been designed. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples advocated creating a third order of government, that gives Aboriginals powers similar to those of the provinces.
As a large federalist country, we already include competing sovereignties in one system. We can successfully add one more without damaging our national fabric.
None of this should make any Canadianss gloomy about our country. As I said, Canada is great. We have the chance to be even greater.
Let’s embolden the Canadian values of justice and federalism. Let’s reconstitute aboriginal sovereignty. Let’s free Demasduit from her endless captivity
Michael Morgenthau is a U1 Political Science student. He can be reached at [email protected]