The way the Nehiyawak (aka Cree) granted authority to certain individuals resonates with me. It’s a system that makes sense and is simple: If an individual shows skill in specific activities (ie: hunting), they are given the authority to lead and direct tasks. What a great way to honour someone’s natural talents and experience.
Unfortunately, when the Indian Act was designed in 1876, all pre-existing Indigenous governance systems were dismissed. Imagine how far advanced Canada would be if we had adopted the Nehiyawak’s system and elevated those into power that had previously shown that they had the skills to lead?
The dismissal of systems that were (obviously) highly advanced clearly shows the arrogance and ignorance of the colonists. Looking back at their actions through the eyes of intercultural competency, they would be classified as being at the polarization: defense stage. In the Intercultural Development Inventory created by Mitchell R. Hammer, Ph.D. IDI, LLC, this stage is defined as “a judgemental orientation that views cultural differences in terms of “us” and “them,” with an “uncritical view towards one’s own cultural values and practices and an overly critical view toward other cultural values and practices.”
People at the polarization: defense level of competency tend to see cultural differences as divisive and threatening to one’s own way of doing things. This would explain why the colonists felt the urgent need to assimilate the Indigenous peoples as quickly and efficiently as possible. Fortunately, they were not successful, in spite of the brutality of their methods, which included:
- ensuring Indigenous trappers became dependent upon the colonists (see Indigenous Canada – Week 2).
- literally stealing land right from under the feet of Indigenous peoples (see Indigenous Canada – Week 3 and Indigenous Canada – Week 4).
- kidnapping children as young as three years, forcing them into manual labour disguised as “education,” and performing unethical scientific experimentations on them (see Indigenous Canada – Week 5).
- forcing Indigenous peoples to live as the colonists did, then denying Indigenous peoples the same rights to ensure the colonists were more successful (see Indigenous Canada – Week 6).
Further attempts at assimilation and colonization included:
- denying Indigenous peoples the right to Canadian citizenship and the right to vote
- ensuring Indigenous peoples could not regain the rights of citizenship by establishing conditions around enfranchisement that were difficult for even non-Indigenous peoples
- enfranchising Indigenous peoples against their will (which would result in their losing Indian status and, therefore, losing any government supports)
Still, after all that, Indigenous peoples not only withstood against these attempts but also pushed back. The 1970’s was the decade for grassroots Indigenous activism. From the Red Paper to the Native People’s Caravan, Indigenous peoples, particularly the youth, mobilized and worked together to get their messages out to the greater Canadian public, a need that is still ongoing.
Week 8’s lesson: Sovereign Lands
For more information on the IDI, go to the website:
You can access the MOOC through: https://www.coursera.org/learn/indigenous-canada#faq