Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pen Meets Paper June 21'10

Opinion by Helge Nome
Here in Canada we celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21. It coincides with the Summer Solstice which is celebrated across the world. When I say “we” celebrate, a qualification should be made. For the vast majority of Canada’s population the natives of this land do not even register on the radar other than as an occasional news item in the main stream media. And that usually happens when something goes wrong, as is the case with most cultural minorities.
National Aboriginal Day is usually celebrated by a show of native culture in individual communities, where local natives put on their traditional festive garbs, display arts and crafts and perform traditional dances. It is an attempt to reach out to the mainstream culture and say: “We are here!”.
Canada is a cultural melting pot and early settlement meant the meeting of male travelers/traders/settlers with native groups resulting in the emergence of the Metis culture, because of the lack of acceptance by either the European or Native culture of the progeny of this mixing of people.
Because of friction between these groups over time, the result here in Alberta was the establishment of designated areas, or reserves, where the various groups had exclusive use of the land. Looking at a map of Alberta, one will see a landscape dotted with “Indian” and “Metis” settlements, most of which are in the north of the province.
Some one hundred years ago, unnamed “bright sparks” in the western academic community decided to solve the problem of integrating native people into the mainstream culture. Based on prevailing psychological theories of the day, they came to the conclusion that if you started with a clean slate, you could turn aboriginal children into little Europeans by removing them from their parents and raise them in residential schools where any reference to their traditional culture would be strictly forbidden, including the use of their own language amongst themselves. From academia, this idea found its way into government circles, was turned into policy, and handed over to the various church organizations to implement with a nice packet of dollars attached.
We now know what the sorry result of this futile attempt at cultural genocide is.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission into that catastrophe is currently conducting hearings across the land in order to try and mend fences.
The problem is, most people don’t even know that there is a fence to mend and feel in no way responsible for what happened. The very existence of the commission is ignored. So, what hope is there for Canada’s aboriginal people? Let me tell you, they are very patient people and their numbers are increasing. Ours are not. Go figure out the math.

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