First Nations

This essay will discuss the historical social aspects of Aboriginal peoples
in
Canada. Some topics include self-government of aboriginal, Health Care,
Education,
Native Organizations, and the way of life for an aboriginal person. These are
all very
important factors in the life of a status Indian, or native person. Every
native person has
to deal with these situations and institutions every day. Some living on the
reserve, and
others off, they all need health care and education, but some of the
institutions,
organizations, and government are not the same as a white Canadians. Their
social
conditions on and off the reserve, are completely different from our own.


In the days before European domination, aboriginal peoples chose their own
leaders according to their own traditions. This gave them rules that defined
their unique
institutions, or bands. Since then, aboriginal have had their own government.

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This is
called self-government and means that the aboriginal peoples have a right to
govern
themselves as they decide, sharing power with the provinces. Although their
pattern of
government is somewhat different from our own, it is quite the same in the
fact that
todays negotiations are very similar to those that took place over 130
years ago.


Controlling the land and its resources is a main point to the vision of
Indian
self-government. From the years 1980 and 1993, constitutional recognition of
aboriginal
self-government was the main goal of Indian band leaders. With this
recognition from
Canada, Aboriginal peoples would know that Canada has acknowledged them, and
their
right to govern themselves without the involvement of the provinces, along
with Ottawa.


Between 1970 and 1994 Ottawa spent more than $40 billion on a variety of
Indian
programs. Some of these include education, housing, and social assistance and
later on,
adding child welfare and policing.


In 1961, the life expectancy of Canadas aboriginal people stood at
sixty-one
years. That is ten years less than the average Canadian life. In the 1960s,
health studies
showed that infant mortality rates stood at more than double the national
average.


Sexually transmitted diseases, accidental and violent deaths, alcohol abuse,
and teenage
pregnancies were all serious problems in aboriginal communities that the
government
had targeted for special attention. Although we dont see this happening,
not much has
changed since the sixties. The incidence of diseases such as tuberculosis,
which is linked
to substandard living conditions, have improved somewhat, but even these
rates remain
well above national averages. The rate for tuberculosis in 1993 was 60.8 per
100,000 for
aboriginal people, but for non-aboriginal born in Canada, the rate was 7.4
per 100,000.


By 1990, cancer and cardiovascular disease had become second most common
killers.


Diabetes, once unheard of among Indians, had reached epidemic proportions in
many
communities. As terrible as these facts sound, also a very high killer among
aboriginal
peoples is sexually transmitted diseases. The statistics are out of control
with some
estimates putting their incidence at ten times the Canadian average. Studies
presented
that eight out of ten aboriginal women had experienced some form of sexual
abuse.


Furthermore, death rates among the registered Indian population in 1991 were
two to four
times the Canadian average. Violence, including suicides and accidents,
remain number
one killer of Canadas aboriginal people, and is closely linked to alcohol
and drug abuse.


Frustrated health officials throughout the country are speaking about native
people dying
from diseases linked to self-destructive lifestyles, poverty-stricken
environments, and the
legacy of intervention by non-native society. Therefore, it is because the
aboriginal
peoples are not helping themselves as much as they should be. Health care
officials say
that it is their own self-destruction, and unemployment rates that cause the
illnesses, and
the health care officials cannot do anything about that.


The big stump for native education hit in 1989 when the Indian Affairs
Minister
Pierre Cadieux placed a cap on the departments post-secondary education
budget. This
limited the spending to $130 million annually. With this decision, Indian
Affairs violated
its own objectives of increasing the number of Indian students attending
post-secondary
institutions. The Indian communities struggled with Ottawa, taking 30 day
hunger
strikes, this was the largest peaceful Indian demonstration in more than
twenty years.


Hundreds of protesters were arrested in offices in Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.

Hundreds
more gathered at Parliament Hill beating drums and bearing placards. After
that
incident, the Catholic bishops announced their support for the native
demonstrators.


Although the communities came together and all protested, Cadieux
rationalized the cap
as a prudent budget measure, and it remains in place today. Aside from the
cap that
Pierre Cadieux placed on the education budget, in the past 25 years, Ottawa
has spent
more than $7.6 billion on native education with minimal results. Indian
students
continue to show higher drop-out rates, poorer test scores, and greater
number of grade
failures compared to national and provincial averages.


Native organizations are the machines of action in their society. They target
issues, orchestrate lobby efforts, and force change in a complex world. In
the past
generation, native leaders and their organizations have emerged from near
obscurity to
become the increasingly effective voices of Canadas native people. In
1969, there were
fourteen fledgling native political organizations across the country. Two
national
organizations, the NIB and the Canadian Metis Society, made up the National
Indian
Council, which had been formed in 1954. In 1968, the two groups went their
separate
ways. By the 1990s, both had once again shed their skins and emerged as new
organizations with different names and mandates. This pattern of tearing down
and
rebuilding organizations has been repeated since the time of the earliest
recorded native
political body. Now the NIB has been replaced with the AFN, an association of
633
chiefs across Canada, and in 1995 was the largest predominantly political
native body in
existence. It is estimated that the Native organizations have spent over $4.5
million
fighting the constitutional battle about the aboriginal rights in the
Constitution.


For the way of life of an Indian, the best way to start explaining it would
be their
language. Firstly, in southeastern Ontario, the main aboriginal languages
were Algonkian
and Iroquoian, mainly spoken by the Blackfoot, Blood, Piegan and the Cree.

The Tlinkit
language of southern Alaska, Tsimshian of the Nass and Skeena rivers, and the
Haida of
the Queen Charlotte islands. Vancouver island, hove of the Wakahan tongue,
the Nootka
of the West Coast, and the Kwakiutl on the Fraser river near Alexandria used
the
Salishan language. From then on, tribes from across the mountains of British
Columbia
possessed their own languages, such as Athapaskan. But between the different
tribes, the
Chinookan language became spoken as the medium of communication.


The second most important aspect of the way of life is their food. Fish,
Caribou,
Arctic hare, moose, bear, buffalo, wheat, barley, beans, squashes, corn and
growing vines
were the main sources of food for an aboriginal community. Hunting and
fishing for
different communities all meant the same thing. They would only kill what
they needed
to survive. To survive, this means for clothing, food, and shelter. This
could not have
been easy for the Indian cultures due to the fact that they did not have any
sophisticated
tools, or weapons. Although they did not have the tools, few Europeans have
equaled
them in these pursuits except when superior equipment has given them an
initial
advantage. Most Indian tribes employed dogs for bringing to bay their game,
especially
moose, bear, and caribou. Although they would perform these tasks for the
tribes, the
dogs were regularly small and ill-nourished.


Now this brings me to Dress and Adornment of native peoples. Nowhere in
Canada would one survive without proper insulated clothing. This means the
Indian
tribes would have to hunt for fur-bearing animals to provide. Some of these
animals
include the buffalo, musk-ox, wild sheep, or the wild goat of the Rock
mountains. The
eastern Indians commonly dressed in moose skin, the northern Indians and the
Eskimo in
caribou fur, the prairie tribes in antelope hide, and the Indians of the
Cordillera region in
the skins of all three animals, according to the locality. For hunting, the
hunters would
wear the skins of an animal on their back, such as a wolf or bear skin. They
would also
attach bear teeth and claws onto their clothing. Several Indian tribes wore
bear-claw
necklaces, and some Pacific Coast natives used bear-claw head-dresses on
ceremonial
occasions. Ceremonial clothing consists of feathered hats that stretch down
to their hips,
or even the ground. The length depends on what your position is in the tribe.


With the ceremonial dress, this leads me to religion. The aboriginal peoples
thought that power was a great thing, and the more power they had, than the
greater
chance they would have of surviving. It wasnt the quietly running stream
that got their
attention, it was more the roaring thunder, or the mighty buffalo. This is
why aboriginal
peoples are named after animals while in their youth. Above them rose higher
beings
such as the plains thunder-god who perpetually warred against the
water-spirit, the
Eskimo sea-goddess Sedna who presided over the supply of seals, and the sun
or sky-god,
recognized under different names by many different tribes, who looked down
upon all
that happened here on earth. Every tribe had several such deities, generally
more or less
coordinate. Like others have their religions, i.e. Christianity, Catholics,
etc. Indians have
their religion of praising these gods of the earth. They worship them
on a regular basis,
but they beg for rain to the water-spirit when they have had a drought for
more than a
week.


Now, in my opinion, native peoples are the greatest, and most knowledgeable
groups of societies in Canada. I respect them, and everything that they stand
for, so if
there may be some racist comments in my essay, I did not intend for that
meaning.


About their Education, I dont think it is fair for Mr. Pierre Cadieux to
make the decision
to cut their funding for post-secondary education. The constitution is based
upon treating
everyone equally, so why didnt the ministers of education for the
provinces place a cap
in their funding also? I mean, its only fair.


Category: Social Issues