Indigenous issues have been all over the news, from the Attawapiskat crisis to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There’s also the familiar calls for Indigenous people to “just get over it,” abandon their reserves and move to the cities.
This is just the latest example of a trend that repeats itself in Canadian history, of Indigenous people in Canada expected to be the only ones to take any responsibility for change, and accept all the responsibility for the problems that have come up. Apparently, it’s never the fault of the government or non-Native Canadians.
One of the most notable examples was in the Northwest Resistance of 1885. Leaders like Louis Riel, Big Bear and Poundmaker were tried and convicted for all the violence that had broken out, even when they tried to stop it. For some reason, nobody stopped to consider that Ottawa’s incompetence in living up to its treaty promises, had anything to do with inciting the resistance.
It was also apparently the fault of the Indigenous peoples that they and their communities were wracked with substance abuse, self-hate and dysfunction. Nobody stopped to think of whether generations of having every aspect of their lives controlled by government agents, being forcibly dragged off to the abuse and misery of residential school, unable to leave the reserves without permission, having reserve lands unilaterally stolen from them, or being forced to pick up their entire lives because the reserve was relocated, might have played a part.
No, it was the Indigenous peoples’ own fault that they had parenting problems that led the government to initiate the “Sixties Scoop” that took so many Indigenous children away from their families and put them with white ones. It apparently was the kids’ fault that they were confused and uncertain about their identities. The trauma resulting from being seized apparently didn’t have anything to do with the problems they experienced later.
Similarly, Indigenous confrontations like the ones at Oka, Ipperwash or Gustafsen Lake, were all apparently the fault of the Indigenous peoples, too. It apparently didn’t matter that non-Natives kept trying to ruin places that were sacred to the Indigenous communities, and that the non-Natives ignored the indigenous communities’ repeated complaints and efforts to get them to listen.
Even when Indigenous people actually move to the cities, it’s their fault that they’re murdered, like Tina Fontaine in Manitoba or Neil Stonechild in Saskatoon. The poverty that they face is apparently all their fault, too. Apparently, nothing past or present non-Native peoples do has anything to do with it.
Many non-Native Canadians are always ready to criticize the corruption and mismanagement of band council funds, but when the Parliamentary Budget Office has to take the former Harper government to court to get the information it needs to do its job (as chronicled by Brent Rathgeber in his book Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada), and says that the current Trudeau government is even less transparent in how it spends money, the critics seem to be a lot quieter.
Despite all this, many non-Native Canadians seem to think that Indigenous Canadians are the only ones who have to change at all. No one ever seems to think that these non-Native actions, which affect many people still alive today, ever have anything to do with the problems.
Could it be that maybe, just maybe, they’re wrong?