Alcoholics, drug addicts, tax exemptions, free education, obese, depressed, suicidal, and violent against women — these images are the shared public memory of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The problem is that most settler-Canadians do not have access to the truth to see beyond these deeply damaging myths.
Myth #1: Aboriginals receive free post-secondary education. This myth comes from successive generations of settler-Canadians. Some institutions do have scholarships for Aboriginals, but on the whole, free education is not provided. Minimal funding is set aside for Aboriginal post-secondary education. Only status Indians are eligible to receive funding; non-status Indians and Metis do not. Inadequate funding discourages Aboriginals from pursuing a university education.
Myth #2: The missing and murdered Aboriginal women is due to domestic violence by Aboriginal men. The 2014 R.C.M.P report Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview states overwhelmingly, that Aboriginal men are the cause of such tragedies. To imply this suggests that the matrilineal cultural traditions of Aboriginal people in Canada are now non-existent, which is entirely false. In fact, the problem is settler-Canadians. Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be murdered than settler-Canadians; the statistics are extremely high for Aboriginal men as well. For Aboriginal cases, due process and investigation by police do not occur. Our Federal government, under Section 35 of The Constitution Act, 1982 is responsible to uphold the Indian Act and other Treaty Rights. It has failed in all instances to take constructive action to thwart this evil.
Myth #3: Residential Schools happened hundreds of years ago. The truth is, the last Residential School closed in 1996 and the trauma suffered in them has resulted in what is known as Residential School Syndrome, a combination of historical trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.
What does it say then of Aboriginal peoples in Canada if these myths are seen as truths and the Federal government is content to replicate them? Unfortunately, Canada’s policy for many years was to “kill the Indian, and save the child” which was, for all intents and purposes, contrary to Treaty Rights signed in good faith between Aboriginals and the Crown. What has resulted is ignorance on the part of settler-Canadians. In fact, during our past election more time was spent debating the niqab than Aboriginal issues.
A total disregard for Treaty Rights, sovereignty, self-determinism, and quality of life has established a system of a negative public memory towards Aboriginals.
What is needed is a heightened awareness on the part of settler-Canadians to ensure that an accurate portrayal of Aboriginals in Canada is established.
John Ralston Saul, in his book The Comeback, wrote that “When it comes to Aboriginal peoples, sympathy from outsiders is the new form of racism … sympathy is a way to deny our shared reality. Our shared responsibly. Sympathy obscures the central importance of rights.” Making assumptions without access to the truth has oppressed Aboriginal peoples for centuries. In the 2009 G20 summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that Canada had “no history of colonialism.” This arrogance has led to oppression; let us create a new approach.
Michael Anagaran is the marketing coordinator for the Brock University Historical Society.