Canadian First Nations not a conquered people under treaty system
One of the financial barons in the Canadian oil patch was recently venting his frustrations over the inability to get oil pipelines built.
On this business television program, he was one of a long line of oil patch people justifiably upset that Canada has not built a pipeline to move increased oil production to market.
He was listing the reasons why the pipeline is needed and the losses to industry and government royalties, when he made a comment that showed a total ignorance of Canadian history.
To paraphrase, he said no conquering nation has ever consulted the conquered nation about how to do things. He clearly implied he believed First Nations people are a conquered people. Nothing could be further from the truth, although large numbers of Canadian believe the white man and his culture was the conqueror, and the First Nations were the conquered.
The treaty process used to obtain surrender of lands from the indigenous residents, in exchange for promise of a welfare system to look after these impoverished residents who no longer had bison as a reliable food source, treated the indigenous residents as nations of their own, as all treaties do. That is where many Canadians, including this financial mogul on TV, do not understand history. The white culture and the First Nations culture agreed to share the country.
Some observers may wish the white man had conquered the indigenous residents. It might make life simpler for non-indigenous residents. But that did not happen.
If you think the white man made a bad deal, look back at the times. White leaders were certain their “superior” culture and Christian values would soon be adopted by the “inferior” people signing the treaties.
To ensure they adopted “superior” culture and Christian values, white leaders encouraged missionaries, took children from their parents and sent them to residential schools for education in white ways and Christian values, where the youngsters suffered all manner of psychological, physical and sexual abuse. The youngsters weren’t allowed to speak their language. The parents on the reserves weren’t allowed to have traditional ceremonies of their culture. Agriculture was encouraged on the reserves. In cases where indigenous farmers became too successful, pressure from local farmers ended their access to off-reserve markets.
Until the 1960s, nobody was allowed off the reserve for a visit or business, unless they had a pass from the Indian agent. The First Nations were treated like a conquered people.
In recent decades, well-educated First Nations leaders have used negotiations and the courts to seek a re-dress for wrongs, for lands taken after treaties were signed.
And they have asserted rights available to another nation within Canada as laid out in treaties.
The questions arise: Where will this end? What do the First Nations want?
No one knows where negotiations or courts will take us, especially when some politicians and supporters still view the First Nations as a conquered people. In the extreme, non-indigenous people will pay a royalty to the indigenous people for the right to use and exploit their surrendered lands. We will live in interesting times.
Ron Walter can be reached at ron[email protected]tel.net