Many misconceptions about Indigenous peoples in Canada are based on stereotyping and lack of information. These misconceptions have serious consequences and are often at the root of racism and discrimination that Indigenous peoples continue to experience today. For employers, ongoing misconceptions about Indigenous peoples can adversely impact the effectiveness of their Indigenous workforce participation initiatives. Dispelling the misconceptions and myths is one step towards building relationships based on mutual respect and trust.
1. MYTH: All Indigenous peoples are the same.
- The Indigenous population is very diverse:
- It is composed of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples – each with a different history, culture and society.
- In Canada today there are 11 major language families with over 50 forms. Some Indigenous languages are as different as Spanish is from Japanese.
- British Columbia alone is home to 60% of Indigenous languages in Canada. In that Province there are 34 distinct languages involving 61 dialects.
- Indigenous peoples live in many different parts of Canada -in geographically diverse locations such as urban centres, rural communities and remote locations. As of 2016, half of Status Indians live in urban areas.
- Not all Indigenous people do pow wows, potlatches, smudges or sweats.
- Wampum belts were used as a guide by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to narrate their history while in the West coast, weaving performed the same function.
2. MYTH: Indigenous peoples have always had the same rights as others in Canada.
- Only recently have Indigenous peoples begun to obtain the same rights as other people in Canada.
- In 1880, an amendment to the Indian Act provided for automatic loss of status of any Indian who earned a university degree or any Indian woman who married a non-Indian or an unregistered Indian. Loss of status was not officially repealed until 1985.
- In 1884, an amendment to the Indian Act instituted prison sentences for anyone participating in potlatch, or other traditional Indigenous ceremonies.
- Indigenous people were denied their right to organize politically.
- Amendments to the Indian Act in 1927 made it illegal for First Nations people or communities to hire lawyers or bring about land claims against the government without the government’s consent.
- Registered First Nations peoples only obtained the right to vote in 1960.
- The Nisga’a Treaty was only ratified in 2000. It is the first modern-day treaty in B.C. and it served as a model for many First nations seeking self-government and modern treaties in Canada.
- In 2016, The Supreme Court declared that Métis (and non-status Indians) must be considered “Indians” in the Constitution and thereby fall under federal jurisdiction. This did not include remedial action, but in conjunction with agreements with provincial governments, this opens the door for Métis rights and land claims.
3. MYTH: Indigenous peoples are responsible for their current situation.
The Facts: Many factors have contributed to the situation of Indigenous peoples in Canada:
- Prior to European contact, Indigenous societies were strong and self-sufficient.
- While Indigenous peoples were never conquered, the process of colonization resulted in complete loss of control and dependency. For example:
- According to article 32 (1) of the Indian Act “a transaction of any kind whereby a band or a member thereof purported to sell, barter, exchange, give or otherwise dispose of cattle, grain, or plants or their products from a reserve to a person other than a member of that band, is void unless the superintendent approves of the transaction in writing.”
- Policies of displacement and assimilation (e.g., residential schools and banning of potlatch) deprived Indigenous peoples of their traditional, social, economic and political powers.
- Indigenous peoples are now re-establishing control through a process of healing, negotiation and partnership.
- The Pass system, in place for over 60 years until its repeal in 1941, required written permission from the Indian agent for a person to leave a reserve, to fish, hunt, sell their crops, get married, etc. The pass indicated why they were allowed to be absent, for how long and whether or not they could carry a gun.
*As stated in the “Month: January 2022 “Gathering Theme: Dispelling Misconceptions about Indigenous Peoples” by the Circles for Reconciliation. To read more, check out their webpage: http://circlesforreconciliation.ca/2022/01/
More resources: please visit Books (ictinc.ca)
June 19 -25, 2022
“Keeping the Circle Strong through
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