Aboriginal Communities

Forced Closures, Suicide & Discrimination; Paige.S HSB4U1

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"The term ‘First Nations’ refers to persons who identify as such and who may or may not be registered under that title in the Indian Act (Peters 1998). According to the Assembly of First Nations (2013), the First Nations population represents over 50 distinct nations and language groups and is made up of 634 First Nations communities (or ‘reserves’)." (Patrick, 2014).

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The Problem

  • Although in 2008, Prime Minister Steven Harper apologized for the severe impact of the residential schools and pledged for a fresh profound affair rooted in respect and honour. This act was simply not enough to heal the damage and ongoing discrimination of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children across the globe.

  • Evidence indicates that, as a population, Aboriginal Peoples are the most materially, socially and spatially deprived ethno-cultural group in Canada. (Patrick, 2014).

  • The lack of proper funding, government recognition, European culture and land disputes has created a trap of social, physical and spiritual destruction.


The eradication of culture, loss of language, erosion of traditional values, and the disintegration of traditional family structure are all long-term results of the ongoing policies enforced to Aboriginal communities and tradition. They have passed down through the decades like colonial heirlooms. This effect is often referred to as intergenerational trauma, and it has left many communities once proud cultural traditions buried deep and nearly smothered from years of shame and persecution. Some traditions, for example the speaking of distinct languages in certain areas, have been irretrievably lost forever (Kirmayer, 2007; Elias, 2012).

  • Traditional ways of living, were quickly diminishing and lack of organization within the reserves led to a wide spread of impoverishment for many. Hundreds of Aboriginal people died due to lack of shelter, food, health care and money. To make things worse, the Canadian government put tight restrictions on relief efforts to reserves, resulting in an even higher level of poverty.

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Suicide tide in Canadian indigenous community, ‘third world conditions’ blamed
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This dislocation has historically created a psychological and social breakdown in many communities, causing feelings of marginalization, isolation, and hopelessness.

Psychologist Bruce Alexander posits a theory of dislocation which states that those who are marginalized and “dislocated” will be more prone to states of despair and serious afflictions such as addiction. Additionally, states of “severe, prolonged dislocation regularly lead to suicide”. And this dislocation need not only be geographical in nature -- it can also result from the suppression of one culture by a dominating one. Obviously, this is applicable to any displaced or alienated group of people. Oppressed and marginalized peoples, whether they be in New Zealand, the United States, or in Canada, will react in predictable ways. High rates of depression and mental illness, feelings of hopelessness, high incidence of substance abuse, sexual abuse and violence, are just a few of the behavioural predictors that result from oppression.

Ultimately, the manifestations of such a dispiriting environment may also result in suicide (Alexander, 2008; Elias, 2012).

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Conflict Theory

The Conflict theory states that tensions and conflicts arise when resources, status, and power are unevenly distributed between groups in society, and that these conflicts become the engine for social change. In this context, power can be understood as control of material resources and accumulated wealth, control of politics and the institutions that make up society, and one's social status relative to others(determined not just by class but by race, gender, sexuality, culture, and religion, among other things).

(Crossman, 2016).

Aboriginals vs. Everyone

The Aboriginals faced crisis with those of much higher power like the Government and the Europeans . These higher institutions did not respect the Aboriginals and their historic culture resulting in many land disputes and disagreements.

The government has used their power over these communities to change their ways of life in order to make them conform to a non-Aboriginal way of life.

"Conflict between indigenous people and settlers often revolves around two interlocking economic issues: access to natural resources and control of territory. Both groups need natural resources and land to achieve their definition of economic success. The loss of their food supply and land threatened both Aboriginal society and their physical survival."

"conflict was the result of competition for land which settlers required for crops and the grazing of sheep and cattle; Aboriginal people relied upon the same land for food and water (Kidd 1997:14). The initial response by the Administration was to dispatch troops to police the frontier, but the expanding area of land to be covered made this an increasingly difficult task. A lawless frontier environment soon existed where it was impossible to control the conflict between settlers and Aboriginal people. In response to this challenge the Administration ordered settlers to defend themselves and ordered Aboriginal people to stay away from European habitation. There is no evidence that Aboriginal people understood and agreed with these orders to stay away from European settlement as the conflict on the frontier continued."

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Aboriginal Issues in Canada

Poverty & Oppression

The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) noted that: Aboriginal people are at the bottom of almost every available index of socioeconomic wellbeing, whether [they] are measuring educational levels, employment opportunities, housing conditions, per capita incomes or any of the other conditions that give non-Aboriginal Canadians one of the highest standards of living in the world.


. One in four First Nations children live in poverty as compared to one in six for non-Aboriginal children.

· Approximately 40% of off-reserve Aboriginal children live in poverty

· Aboriginal people living in urban areas are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than non-Aboriginal people. In 2000 for example, 55.6% of urban Aboriginal people lived below the poverty line compared with 24.5% of Canada’s non-Aboriginal urban residents.

Rates of poverty for Aboriginal women are double that of non-Aboriginal women.

As a result of living under conditions of poverty:

More than 100 First Nations communities are currently under boil water advisories and have little or no access to clean water for drinking and sanitation.

Nearly one in four First Nations adults live in crowded homes and 23% of Aboriginal people live in houses in need of major repairs.

· First Nations suffer from ‘third world’ diseases such as tuberculosis at eight to ten times the rate of Canadians in general.

Aboriginal people in Canada were found to be four times more likely to experience hunger as a direct result of poverty.

· More than one quarter of Aboriginal people off reserve and 30% of Inuit children have experienced food insecurity at some point.

(National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health, 2010).

Trauma Theory

The “trauma theory” has been the main explanation adopted by researchers for the high rates of Aboriginal victimization. The theory posits that the relatively recent victimization of Aboriginal peoples has occurred not only to Aboriginal people as individuals but to Aboriginal people as a society, as a result of the colonization process which saw communities losing control over family and culture. It is the preferred theory in many studies examining family violence in Aboriginal communities, but it can easily be applied to a broader theory of Aboriginal victimization (Ursel 2001). Its effects are often explained as the root causes of social disorder in Aboriginal societies where alcohol, suicide, abuse, and victims of violence are symptoms of this underlying traumatization.

The impacts of forced removal of children from their families and communities and the abuse many endured in residential schools have been passed down generationally. Ontario Assistant Crown Attorney Rupert Ross (in Brant Castellano et al. 2008) describes how the residential school experienceset in motion an intergenerational transfer of trauma that continues to cause significant downstream damage to Aboriginal families, their children, and their grandchildren.” Survivors of residential schools and their descendents alike report difficulty forming trusting relationships with their spouses and family members. Children growing up without such trusting relationships often develop an inability to respond to stress without resorting to external stimuli such as destructive addictions (Chansonneuve 2007).

(Scrim, 2016).

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Funding & Support

Through the Indian Act the federal government provides funds for social programs on reserves to First Nations band administrations — bodies that are either elected or chosen through traditional means and are responsible for the operation of reserves. In 2013, Aboriginal peoples and their communities were allocated approximately 70 per cent of AAND’s investment in Aboriginal and Northern communities; funding of $617 million covering basic services like education, social services, public infrastructure, and local government, housing and economic development.

The Inuit were not recognized as a federal responsibility until a 1939 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. AAND is responsible for funding health care, some economic development, post-secondary education, and negotiating and implementing self-government agreements.

National, provincial and territorial Aboriginal representative organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami often have mandates that include the improvement of social conditions, both on and off reserves, and represent or advocate for the interests of their members. Many of these organizations receive funding from AAND.

Non-status Aboriginal peoples and Métis have received funding since 2003 through the Office of the Federal Interlocutor (OFI) within AAND to assist with economic, social and political development. Currently, federal and provincial Métis and non-status Aboriginal organizations receive funding from various departments of the federal government, such as the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), to provide social services such as housing.

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Canada Officially Recognizes Historical Abuse To First Nations

What Can You Do?

Changes to school curriculum, coupled with the educational work of Indigenous communities, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, church groups, social justice organizations and others, has led to increased knowledge about Canada’s colonial history and the systemic disadvantages faced by Indigenous children and communities. There is a growing push toward meaningful reconciliation grounded in systemic change, equity, self-determination and respect.

Ending Indigenous child poverty requires a fundamental shift in public understanding and engagement. It is often said that Indigenous issues are “complicated” or that the problems are so big that it is hard to know where to start. This discourse is used by the Federal government and others to justify inaction, and overlooks the hundreds of strong, viable recommendations issued by independent bodies like the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Auditor General of Canada. It is not a question of solutions, but rather of political will. As citizens, we have a responsibility to press for action and demand better. Discrimination and poverty should never be easier than equality and justice.

Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada

“Become aware of the issues indigenous Canadians face, such as indigenous children being deprived of the education opportunities that for other Canadians are a right. If Canadians show that they understand the discrimination faced by the country’s First Peoples, it would be the greatest step forward in terms of progress.”

Jeffrey Cyr, executive director of the National Association of Friendship Centres

“Build healthy communities and relationships that foster reconciliation. Recognize the contributions of your Aboriginal neighbours, get involved in aboriginal community events, and ensure that aboriginal peoples are included in broader community conversations and events.”

Sean McCormick, CEO and founder of Manitobah Mukluks

“Buying aboriginal is a great way for Canadians to help correct the course of history – and the future. For instance, instead of buying from companies that appropriate aboriginal designs, vote with your dollars to support aboriginal-owned businesses that share their success and build capacity in the aboriginal community, while creating a new class of entrepreneurs who provide aboriginal youth with new visions for the future.”

(Kielburger, 2014).