What’s Behind Canada’s Troubled Relationship With Its Aboriginal Peoples –by Jake Flanagin (New York Times – July 24, 2014)




They call it “Murderpeg.” With 6,222 instances of violent crime reported in 2012, the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba consistently ranks among the most violent cities in Canada.

It’s also host to one of the highest concentrations of Aboriginal peoples (indigenous North Americans) in the country – 11.7 percent and growing faster than any other area in Canada, according to the Canadian National Household Survey.

Aboriginal Canadians – First Nations, Inuits, and the Métis (descended from mixed marriages between Europeans and indigenous peoples) – are arguably the most underserved segment of Canadian society. “One in five Aboriginal Canadians live in dilapidated and often overcrowded homes,” reports Nilo Tabrizy for Vice News. Those in Winnipeg are no exception.

Ms. Tabrizy traveled to Winnipeg to shoot a documentary for Vice, highlighting the plight of the city’s Aboriginal population, and unpacking the seedy history of Canada’s relationship with its indigenous communities.

“When I spent time in Winnipeg, Manitoba earlier this year,” Ms. Tabrizy writes in an essay accompanying the video, “I saw firsthand the racially motivated poverty that defines the urbanized Aboriginal community. And yet when I emigrated to Canada from Iran in 1995, I was amazed at how quickly and easily I was absorbed in to the ‘Canadian community.’ At that time, I was one of a handful of non-white kids in my school.”

Despite a 2012 poll which found that “Canadian-born and foreign born citizens felt about equally ‘Canadian’ – 78 percent and 75 percent, respectively,” famed Canadian multiculturalist policies have “never included the country’s own native peoples,” Ms. Tabrizy writes. “Canada systematically tried to dismantle the traditions of its Aboriginal people with Indian Residential Schools that were opened as early as 1840,” she explains.

“By 1884, attendance was mandatory for all Aboriginal kids under the age of 16. They were taken from their parents and forbidden to acknowledge or identify with their heritage amid numerous reports of physical and emotional abuse at the schools.”

Similar institutions existed in the United States, but some might be surprised to learn of their uncomfortably recent operation in Canada, a country the Aga Khan – a renowned advocate for multiculturalism – once described as “the most successful pluralist society on the face of our globe.”

“Large numbers of Aboriginal peoples’ children were forcibly seized by the government,” says Jim Silver, co-author of “Indians Wear Red,” in an interview for Ms. Tabrizy’s documentary. “We did this deliberately. Canada did this deliberately to try to eliminate Indians, to try to get rid of Indian-ness. ‘To kill the Indian in a child,’ as one Ottawa bureaucrat put it.”

At times, residential schools succeeded in killing both. Nearly 4,000 Aboriginal children died during their stay, the National Post reports. And though the schools are now closed, the psychic residue of the trauma experienced may persist.
“It helps to remember the schools were established under Canada’s first prime minister and were not abolished until the 1990s,” writesDavid Langtry, Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, for The Ottawa Citizen. “More than 150,000 children passed through them.

For the rest of this column, click here: http://op-talk.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/24/whats-behind-canadas-troubled-relationship-with-its-aboriginal-peoples/?_php=true&_type=blogs&smid=tw-share&_r=0