Idyll Never Again

I sympathize with Idle No More, but I don’t think the goals realistic or desirable

The aboriginal peoples of Canada have gathered in common cause. Idle No More; a movement with the explicitly stated goals of environmental protection and native sovereignty. From squalid reserves to broken treaties, the indigenous people of Canada are in desperate plight and can demonstrate legitimate grievance. However, if there is a fundamental flaw in the institution that uniquely addresses Canadian aboriginals, it might be that it exists at all. Reserve life is a failed experiment, and would be in no way worthy of rehabilitation if we weren’t mired in it for the foreseeable future.

When Europeans, armed with steel and pox, came to Canada 400 years ago, they came into conflict with a people very familiar; warlike, greedy, racist, proud, prone to convenience, and not very bright. In other words, the Europeans and Canadian Aboriginals were human beings alike, and what separated them was technology. Speaking as someone who grew up in Canada, exposed to endless vignettes and culturally sensitive middle school textbooks, I was influenced by all manner of stories about “using all parts of the buffalo” and the profound spiritual connection of Native Canadians to the land. Such stories are pure invention, as buffalo jumps and the setting of massive fires to drive game strongly attest. The Native Canadians of yesteryear were a defeated people, outclassed by a European tribe with motives akin to their own.

As Canadians, we lean toward the mosaic side of the cultural mosaic versus melting pot debate, and in the case of the aboriginal people of Canada, that attitude has not served us very well. Allow me a brief aside and an analogy to illustrate my point. In a episode of Law & Order, Lt. Van Buren (a black woman, and the person in charge of her precinct) is told by a racist perp to “Go back to Nairobi, or wherever it is you came from” to which Van Buren replied “I’m from Brooklyn.” Van Buren wins the argument by the simple fact that she is an American, no matter her African heritage.

Now picture a post antebellum America, where former slaves are herded into reserves, guaranteed certain rights, and encouraged to preserve their African culture in isolation. We’d have another case of “our culture” and “their culture.” Instead, despite all the problems still facing the American black person, American culture is part black, and that subculture grows organically and influences every part of American life – from the presidency to the listening habits of suburban white kids. In Canada, in the case of our aboriginals, we have encouraged “their” identity…

It might seem easy for a white male living in a country dominated by white males to dismiss the value of another culture. To insist that “they” integrate instead of preserving their heritage. And yes, it is easy. However, cultures since the dawn of humanity of come and gone, and perhaps more importantly, mutate and change. Artificially preserving cultures despite their lack of material success results in stagnation, and as has been proven by the grotesque failure of reserve life, promotes little more than a perpetual reminder of what once was, and can never be again.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[@]gmail.com

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