Trudeau’s words about aboriginals resonate
CalgaryHerald.com – news
January 3, 2012. By Robert Head, Calgary Herald
As one who has had the good fortune of visiting the majority of First Nations Indian Reserves in Canada and also having spent some time on the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, Ariz., while doing a year-long study into policing, I find the recent media frenzy concerning the Attawapiskat housing situation overblown and rather frustrating.
To begin, please bear with me while I record an excerpt from a speech given by a prominent Canadian, to an assembly of aboriginal people many years ago:
“So this year we came up with a proposal. It’s a policy paper on the Indian problem. It proposes a set of solutions. It doesn’t impose them on anybody. It proposes them – not only to the Indians, but to all Canadians – not only to their federal representatives, but to the provincial representatives, too, and it says we’re at the crossroads. We can go on treating the Indians as having a special status. We can go on adding bricks of discrimination around the ghetto in which they live and at the same time perhaps helping them preserve certain cultural traits and certain ancestral rights. Or we can say you’re at a crossroad – the time is now to decide whether the Indians will be a race apart in Canada or whether it will be Canadians of full status.”
Those words were spoken back on Aug. 8, 1969, by then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau at the Aboriginal and Treaty Rights meeting in Vancouver.
Trudeau continued: “And this is a difficult choice. It must be a very agonizing choice to the Indian peoples themselves because, on the one hand, they realize that if they come into the society as total citizens, they will be equal under the law, but they risk losing certain of their traditions, certain aspect of a culture and perhaps even certain of their basic rights, and this is a very difficult choice for them to make and I don’t think we want to try to force the pace on them any more than we can force it on the rest of Canadians. (But) here again is a choice which is, in our minds, whether outside, a group of Canadians with (whom) we have treaties, a group of Canadians who have …many of them claim, aboriginal rights or whether we will say we’ll forget the past and begin today and this is a tremendously difficult choice because, if – well one of the things the Indian bands often refer to are their aboriginal rights,” Trudeau said.
“We will recognize treaty rights,” continued Trudeau, those 42 years ago. “We will recognize forms of contract which have been made with the Indian people by the Crown and we will try to bring justice in that area and this will mean that perhaps the treaties shouldn’t go on forever. It’s inconceivable, I think, that in a given society one section of the society have a treaty with the other section of the society. We must be all equal under the laws and we must not sign treaties among ourselves. And many of these treaties, indeed, would have less and less significance in the future anyhow, but things that in the past were covered by the treaties…things like so much twine, or so much gun powder and which haven’t been paid, this must be paid. But I don’t think that we should encourage the Indians to feel that their treaties should last forever within Canada so that they be able to receive their twine or their gun powder.
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