The Aboriginal /non-Aboriginal Fault lines in Canadian Society
There are existing tensions or fault lines in Canada amongst different regions. Fault lines according to Bone (2012) are the geological phenomenon where there are cracks on the crust of earth due to the tectonic forces. About Canada, fault lines are political, social, and economic cracks that divide people and regions and they also threaten to destabilize the integrity of Canada as a nation. According to Bone (2012), the geography of Canada is characterized by four tensional fault lines, and they include; English and French Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, centrist and decentralist forces, and the immigration forces. These are the forces that have ensured Canada remains a nation of regions. There are six regions in Canada and they include Quebec, Atlantic Canada, Western Canada, Ontario, territorial north, and British Columbia. The essay will majorly discuss the Aboriginal/ non- Aboriginal fault line by comparing and contrasting the circumstances of their current existence in certain physiographic regions in Canada.
The Aboriginal/no-Aboriginal fault line
The 1982 Constitutional Act referred to the indigenous people of Canada which includes Métis, Indians, and the Inuit as Aboriginal peoples. This means that they are the Canadian people who trace their ancestry to the native inhabitants of Canada who came from North America before the Europeans came in the 15th century. The non-Aboriginal people have no ancestry or blood relations to the Aboriginals. Status (registered) Indians have certain rights according to the 1985 Indian Act and registered and acknowledged by the federal government such as exemption from generated tax from reserves. The non-status Indians are not registered but have Indian ancestry hence have no rights according to the Indian act. Similarly, the Treaty Indians are registered Indians who can prove descent from the band that signed treaties and hence has legal rights of living in reserves. The Inuit are located mainly in the Arctic, while the Métis are individuals of North American and European Indian ancestry.
Harring & OSCLH (2013) pointed out that the Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal front line in Canada is the most complex one. Its complexity is a result of the historical relations tangled between the European settlers and the Aboriginal people. The first entanglement occurred between the Aboriginal peoples and the British crown and later Ottawa. According to Bone (2012), the class between the settlers and the natives for land, the federal governments’ forced assimilation policies added to the complexity and further solidified the distrust of the Aboriginal people to the crown and the Canadian state. The policies failed to create a big difference between the Aboriginal people and the other parts of Canada. The consequence later was a disaster to the Aboriginal people who were pushed to the Canadian society’s margin, faced racism, ended up dependant on Ottawa, and became ignored and invincible Canadian society members. An example of their isolation as observed by Harring & OSCLH (2013) is the treaty Indians got the vote to participate in federal elections only in 1960
Circumstances of the current existence of Aboriginal people in Eastern Woodlands of southern Ontario and Quebec in the Grand River Valley
- The Haldimand Grant
In 1763, the British allied with Pontiac, the chief of Odawa as well as other Indian leaders to hold the Ohio valley lands. George III strategically issued a royal proclamation in 1763 which west of the Appalachian Mountains as the lands for the Indians (Bone, 2012).
However, after the American Revolution in which the Americans won, the proclaimed Indian lands in the Ohio valley ceased existing as many settlers hungry for land spread across the Appalachian Mountains. Moreover, the defeated Indians moved to Canada where they received the first major land grant termed as the “Haldimand Grant of 1784” (Harring & OSCLH, 2013). According to Bone (2012), the main purpose of the grant was to reward the Indian Iroquois who fought alongside the British during the American Revolution. Bone (2012) highlighted that lord Haldimand, the Governor of Quebec, in his proclamation prohibited the sale or lease of the land to anybody but only the government. The said tract of land extended from the Grand River source in the present southwestern Ontario to the river’s mouth at Lake Ontario. This explains the circumstances of the existence of the Aboriginal people and nonexistence of the non-Aboriginal people around the area of the Grand River between lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario.
- Taking over of the Indian rights by Canada
The 1867 British North America Act shifted the responsibility for the Aboriginal people from Great Britain to Canada (Harring & OSCLH, 2013). Subsequently, the government of Canada enacted the restrictive Indian act. The effect of the legislation was to isolate the Indian tribes from the rest of Canadian society, in addition to stripping them of governance powers. This was based on the assumption that the Indians cannot govern themselves or manage their affairs. Therefore, the federal government through the Department of Indian Affairs was entrusted with the duty to be their guardian until they were fully integrated into Canadian society (Harring & OSCLH, 2013). This was in contrast to the Haldimand Grant which gave the aboriginal people land, allowed them to govern themselves, and did not implement restrictive laws for the Indians.
Bone (2012) indicated that the federal department consequently intervened in many issues including management of the Indian lands, band issues, money, and resources with the main aim of assimilating them into Canadian society. This promoted dependency and left the affairs of the bands in the hands of the local agents who were Indians, hence suppressing the initiatives of the Indians (Bone, 2012). The isolation of the Indians in Canada was done by denying them citizenship rights including voting rights. In contrast, the British crown did not create a dependency on the aboriginal people. Moreover, they did not manage the land on behalf of the Indians like the federal government of Canada does.
As much as the Indians were being suppressed in reserves, the Métis and the Inuit were not included in the Act but they also had to live in the Canadian society where they were not fully accepted. Currently, the Inuit have homes in Nunavut, Quebec, and even Labrador.
- Land claim treaties
With almost the whole of the British Columbia province tied up in several land treaties, the relationship between the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal communities is highly strained. According to Harring & OSCLH (2013), the Aboriginal rights are collective rights that originate from the occupation of land by the Aboriginal people before contact. These treaty rights apply mostly to the Inuit and the status Indians, unlike the Métis who are less protected by the rights. When the governance of the federal government and the British crown are compared, there are similarities in that both embraced treaties with the aboriginal communities on land and settlement issues
- Métis Rights
The less protection of the Métis by the Aboriginal rights stems back from 1870 when Ottawa accepted that the Métis has Aboriginal rights because of the Indian ancestry (Bone, 2012). The government further gave individual members of the Métis community land grants in a three-component agreement. The first component of the agreement indicated that the occupied land before 1870 by the Métis became private property, second, the Métis children had eligibility of 140 acres, and lastly, each Métis family head received in scrip 160 acres which could be sold or claimed in Manitoba. Furthermore, the federal government of the day set 1.4 million acres in Manitoba for the estimated 10,000 Métis children in 1871(Bone, 2012). However, the allocation was increased to 240 acres after the census which found there only 5000 Métis children (Bone, 2012). However, Harring & OSCLH (2013) pointed out that few Métis people claimed their land allocated to them, and the majority sold leaving them landless. Compared to the Indians of the Grand River Valley, there is similarity because both Métis and Indians were given land by the authorities of the day
As much it is a historic fact that many Métis dispersal from the Red River Valley, the reasons for their dispersal remains controversial with two interpretations. According to Ottawa, the rights were distinguished by the Manitoba Act of 1870 by giving the scrip to the Métis. This is supported by Harring & OSCLH (2013) who argued that the federal government of that time did not act in bad faith as much it was slow in settling the claims by the Métis. In contrast, Bone (2012) argued that the Métis communities were victims of the federal government’s deliberate conspiracy to prevent the land of the Métis community in Manitoba. However, the matter was settled by the Supreme Court in 2013, in a case filed by the Manitoba Métis Foundation, which ruled in favor of the Métis.
- Treaty rights
The treaties favored the Aboriginal people because they defined the reserve lands that were collectively held by the band in addition to negotiating other beneficial rights for the communities. Harring & OSCLH (2013) elaborated that there were different reasons for signing treaties and it depended on the historical contexts. For instance, late 19th century treaties were signed to remove other tribes for the settlers. To the Aboriginal people, any treaty to them was a land promise as well as shift support from hunting and nomadism to more settled farming. Therefore, this was a protection from the influx of settlers during that time and a guarantee of government protection.
Bone (2012) pointed out that the conflicting ideas from the crown authorities and the first nation, on the treaty’s significance shaped the relations between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people. For instance, the crown authorities viewed the treaties as mechanisms for extinguishing the rights of the Aboriginals and the land titles and hence opening up the lands for the settlers to do agriculture. In contrast, the Aboriginal people understood the treaties as agreements between the authorities to share resources and land. With the diverse perceptions, it was inevitable to have disagreements between the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal people.
For many years the legal meaning of the Aboriginal land title has changed until 1970 when Ottawa recognized two land rights forms, which are the reserve land and the crown land. The reserve land was a type of ownership or right where the government of Canada held land for the Indian people. In contrast, the Indians had a limitless right to use the crown land for trappings and hunting. This implies that the Indians were allowed to freely enjoy and use the crown land the crown lands without making any claims on it in form of ownership. According to (Harring & OSCLH, 2013), the crown lands included the lands where there were no settlements in Canada. However, the Aboriginals, the Métis, Inuit, and Indian families lived and used the crown lands to fish, trap, and hunt. However, Bone (2012) pointed out that the provincial governments and the federal governments could sell the crown lands to corporations or individuals or even lease them for specific purposes such as logging or even mineral exploration without compensating the Aboriginal inhabitants and users of the land.
As much as many groups among the Aboriginal people did not have treaties with the federal government and therefore no control over the lands, many events changed this situation radically. To begin, the emergence of educated leaders who understood legal and political systems who used the courts to force the provincial and federal governments to address issues o the Aboriginals concerning land claims. For instance, the Nisga’a residing in northern British Columbia took their claim for land in court in a case known as the Calder case. As much as the Supreme Court in 1973 ruled against their favor narrowly, six out of the seven judges were in agreement that the title for Aboriginal on the land existed at the confederation time in brutish Columbia. Similarly, that same year, the federal government was in agreement that the Aboriginal people who had not signed a treaty may also have a claim on the crown lands (Bone, 2012).
In conclusion, as Bone (2012) proposed, there exist fault lines in Canadian society. The current existence of the Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal fault line in Canada in some parts of Canada has been due to many circumstances. The Haldimand Grant occurrence saw the existence of the Aboriginal people around the Grand River valley. The taking over of the Indian rights by Canadian federal governments has seen suppression, restriction, and confinement of the Aboriginal people in reserves and this also explains their existence in certain parts. Moreover, the treaties signed between the Aboriginals and the crown authorities and also with the Canadian federal governments in a bid to protect their land rights have seen the existence of the Aboriginals in certain parts of the country.
Bone, R. M. (2012). The Canadian North: Issues and challenges. Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.
Harring, S. L., & Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. (2013). White man’s law: Native people in nineteenth-century Canadian jurisprudence. Toronto, Ont: Published for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History by University of Toronto Press