The Canadian government’s attitude towards the First Nations has undergone multiple mutations in the 150 years since the dawn of confederation. The shift in the balance of power — from a relationship based on authority to one of dialogue and even reverence — can be viewed as part of a larger ideological shift within the West with regards to the Aboriginal Question. The ascendance of Human Rights laws, Civil Rights movements, and subsequent Indigenous Rights conventions have all, in turn, been profoundly influential in elevating the status of the so-called “natives” to the unique position it occupies today.
This paradigm shift is reflected by the successive changes in nomenclature; the “Indian tribes” designation, with its primitive undertones, was supplanted by the more regal title of “First Nations,” which suggests both a fully-autonomous polity and a clear allusion to a sort of primordial — and thus inalienable — ownership.
Predictably, the image of the aborigines as sole proprietors of the New World has been instrumentalized on more than one occasion in order to justify 3rd world immigration on the grounds that, as immigrants themselves, European-Canadians had no legitimate right to deny entry to others. Of course, the idea of the First Nations as a monolithic entity whose presence on the American continent dates back to — in their words — time immemorial is not supported by the fossil record. For instance, we know that the current indigenous population is actually made up of three ethnically distinct groups — the Amerind, Athapaskan, and Inuit — whose presence is a result of at least three separate waves of immigration from Siberia to America. According to many historians, the Inuit of Nunavik — i.e. the northern tip of Quebec — would have settled there as late as the 13th or 14th centuries, as a result of the genocide or assimilation of the previous inhabitants.
Political scientist Tom Flanagan, in his book First Nations, Second Thoughts, lists a number of cases of tribes acquiring territory from one another through violent displacement and extermination, far too many to mention here. In any case, this contradicts the romanticized view of pre-Columbian native cooperation and raises the question as to why European settlers’ displacement of natives is perceived differently than their displacement of each other.
The dominance of the cultural relativist school of anthropology, relentlessly promoted by the Boasian cabal in the early decades of the 20th century and beyond, was a determining factor in redefining the terms of the debate. Specifically, Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa (1961), despite the fact that is was soon discredited as a piece of ethnographical fiction, was instrumental in perpetuating the idyllic image of native society that is still firmly embedded in the Canadian unconscious. The paradox of the noble savages of Samoa as separate yet equal yet somehow better, living in an Eden untainted by class distinctions, violence and repressed sexuality — the tripartite mark of Cain of the West according to neo-Freudians — echoes the Canadian liberal hagiography of pre-contact aboriginal society.
As is the case for most hapless minorities, like the American blacks for instance, Canadian First Nations people are more valuable to the left as abstractions than as individuals. Feminists point to the Iroquois as an example of a functioning matriarchy; environmentalists: as a model of Man-Nature harmony; and socialists: as an egalitarian utopia. These idealized visions mutually reinforce each other to form the symbolic content of the First Nations presence in Canada.
In his 2008 book A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada, John Ralston Saul suggests that the “single greatest failure of the Canadian experiment, so far, has been our inability to normalize — that is, to internalize consciously — the First Nations as the senior founding pillar of our civilization.” Of course, he bases this dubious statement on the same romanticized views of Aboriginal society mentioned above. By attributing all the elements that liberals view as the core of Canadian greatness — the welfare State, peace-keeping as opposed to war, tolerance for diversity — to an internalization of aboriginal values, Saul’s book mirrors the contemporary model of the Canadian-Indian relationship as one of a reciprocal process of civilization. It suggests that it is only by shedding the residual traces of our malignant European-ness and embracing our “aboriginal soul” that Canada can truly move forward.
The noble savage as a benevolent alter-ego, ideal self, or spirit animal hints at the notion, in ethnological literature, of the totem. Speaking of Australian aborigines, Freud defined the totem as follows:
As a rule it is an animal…[or] more rarely…a plant or a force of nature…which stands in a peculiar relation to the whole clan. The totem is first of all the tribal ancestor of the clan, as well as its tutelary spirit and protector…The members of a [clan] are therefore under a sacred obligation not to kill (destroy) their totem…The attachment to a totem is the foundation of all the social obligations of an Australian.1
The deference of Canadian liberals towards the First Nations — both on the real and symbolic levels — seems to parallel the mystical relationship between the indigenous and their totem. How else to explain the Royal Commission’s statement that the Indian treaties are “sacred and enduring,” and that their “fullfilment…is fundamental to Canada’s honour”?2 This is the language of prophecy, not of your run-of-the-mill legal document.
|What they teach White children in our schools|
The previous interpretation, however evocative, is not in itself sufficient to explain the First Nations’ sacrosanct status in Canada. In order for White guilt to truly permeate the narrative, every country needs its own version of the holocaust myth. To effectively serve as an allegory, it has to involve the oppression of a minority by the majority, ideally within the not-too-distant past. This historic fall from grace provides the rationale for collective prostration and the loss of the White majority’s moral legitimacy.
Multiple examples immediately come to mind; slavery and segregation in the American south, apartheid, colonial rule or, in Canada’s case, the residential school system. Indeed, a whole reparations industry has emerged in the past decades to provide financial restitution to the victims of these federally-operated boarding schools for aboriginal children, which operated roughly from 1884 to the mid-1990s.
Apologizing to the First Nations seems to be a prerequisite for holding public office in 21st Century Canada, a fact that is not lost on aboriginal groups. This culminated in the nationwide penitence tour known as the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” Since 1998, over $5 billion has been offered in compensation in various class action settlements, notably 2006’s Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement which was the largest of its kind in Canadian history.
Some have presented the legacy of the residential schools as a cautionary tale about the dangers of mono-culturalism; Jack Jedwab, the Jewish Chair of the National Metropolis Conference on Immigration and Integration, suggests that “recent revelations regarding residential schools in Canada offer shocking evidence of how destructive assimilation can be” and that “looking back on Canadian history the proponents of assimilation have generally found themselves on its wrong side. The future won’t vindicate them.”
There is certainly no shortage of issues plaguing First Nations communities today; substance abuse, poverty and welfare dependency, higher than average incarceration rates, the so-called “Highway of Tears” in British Columbia — yet all the above are united by a common thread. Due in no small part to the tireless efforts of the CBC, the recurring theme is one of systemic discrimination at the hands of the White majority. The manner in which the Aboriginal Question is framed in Canada serves to perpetuate the fiction of a History steeped in racism and oppression; and a country barely able to contain its White supremacist impulses. The continued narrative of aboriginal victimhood is an invaluable asset to the enemies of our race; it enables the left to present the acceptance of multiculturalism as an act of atonement, a fulfillment of our sacred obligations.
 Tom Flanagan, First Nations? Second Thoughts, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000, p. 152