Is a reconciliation with the first nations possible?

Photo by Jaron Nix on Unsplash

In the past few weeks, natives protests and rail blockades have been spreading across Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario. These protests are taking place in response to the Coastal GasLink project, a pipeline over 670 km long that would cost more than $ 6.6 million and divide Wet’su’et territory in two. Because this is an unceded territory, meaning that it was never colonized by the government, the federal government has no authority over it. Indeed, historically, the first nations are the ones who have authority over their unceded territories, so the fact that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of British Columbia (RCMP) patrols in this territory has shocked many. With this current crisis and the opposition of the Quebec provincial government to Bill C-92 which allows the first nations to have more self-determination, one may wonder if a situation of reconciliation between native Canada and non-native Canada is attainable.

Colonization still in progress?

First nations have experienced several cases of abuse, but the darkest period was the Canadian Indian residential school system, which ended in 1996. During this period, children were separated from their families and put in those residential schools. These children were forced to abandon their language and culture. Due to the lack of supervision, physical and sexual abuse of these children was strongly present. You might think that the period of colonization is over, but with the Indian law still in force, the reserve system still in place and the fact that the RCMP patrols in an unceded territory, that is not the case.

A few steps towards reconciliation

Although the situation has remained relatively stagnant, one might observe that the federal government, has given more importance to dealing with this issue and is trying to position itself on the right side of history. In 2007, the Canadian federal government made its first apology to the first nations for the Indian residential schools’ system. In 2015, the federal government invested more than 72 million dollars to set up the reconciliation and truth commission to find solutions to reconcile native Canada and non-native Canada.

Some argued that the public education system, which emphasizes the distinctions between different first nations and their respective histories, should change and showcase current issues. It would be through education and self-determination that the native people could recover. According to John Meehan, there is an “imaginary wall” between natives and non-native people that should be broken to achieve any kind of reconciliation. Meeting the natives could break that “wall”. Furthermore, a positive media coverage could help educate the population better. Currently, medias have a tendency to focus on the negative elements of native culture instead of showcasing the positive ones.

Critics of the Trudeau government indicate that an electoral promise from his previous term was to reconcile non-native Canada and native Canada, but that has still not been achieved and he is now entering his second term. However, as Martin Papillon, a professor in the political science department at the University of Montreal said, “It is not in one mandate that 100 years of colonization will be resolved.” So, is reconciliation really possible? Let us know what you think.

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