The Aboriginal People in Canada

The name “Canada”, is likely derived from the Huron-Iroquois word “Kanata”, which means “village” or “settlement”. In 1535, French explorer Jacques Cartier came across two Aboriginal youth, who told him the way to “Kanata”, referring to their village. Consequently, Cartier used this name to describe the country we now call Canada.

Like most countries conquered by Europeans, Canada shares a rough history with their Aboriginal people. One of the most prominent examples of their mistreatment began in the late 18th century when European Canadians made an effort to integrate Aboriginal Canadians into their modern culture and life. This effort resulted in residential schools; religious schools that were supposed to teach Native children how to integrate into Western society. Conditions were deplorable: food was limited and unappetizing; the education was of poor quality, often taught in French or English, a language that many didn’t understand; during church, Aboriginal traditions and beliefs were denigrated and ridiculed; and, worst of all, residential schools became notorious for its sexual predators, who harassed many students without consequence. The last residential school closed in 1996, twenty years ago. Since there have been muted efforts to aid those affected. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology on behalf of all Canadians to the Aboriginal children and their families who were mistreated in the process of a residential school.

Unfortunately for the Canadian reputation, our government did more than create residential schools. The Canadian government infamously pushed tribes off of their rightful land to build cities, airports, and develop industries. After much protest from the Native people, the government, to remedy their headache, signed Canada’s first land treaties. For the most part, treaties seemed to be the ideal situation. However, more recently, the government has come under fire for their conflict of interests. Oil pipelines and tar sands are often built near the rightful land of the indigenous people. Contamination of lakes, rivers, and forests has given these people a very good reason to be angry; not only does this destroy the environment they rely on to survive, but in many cases, the contamination results in cancerous disease in these people.

Canada shares a long and complex history with its Aboriginal people. In modern day Canada, indigenous people comprise around 4.3% of the population and fall under three overarching tribes: The Métis, Inuit, and First Nations. Much progress is still to be made by the Canadian government because of this issue of Aboriginal rights, is far from resolved. Most who live in isolated Aboriginal communities live in poverty, without access to any useful resources ranging from schools to things like fruit. Canada is in need of a major reform when it comes to the rights and responsibilities of its Aboriginal people. We must not forget that they were here first, meaning that they actually have “dibs” on Kanata.

-by Luise S.