It’s interesting that cultural groups that immigrated to Canada and moved to urban areas weren’t expected to give up their cultural traditions as they carved out a place in their new lives. When we consider groups such as the Ukrainians and the Hutterites, we clearly see how, with the encouragement and acceptance of the Canadian government, these groups created vibrant lives without giving up their traditions and cultural practices.
And yet the assumption and goal of the government were that, by encouraging and forcing Indigenous peoples to migrate to the cities, the Indigenous culture would disappear in the process. Did the government expect Indigenous peoples to adopt the Ukrainian traditions, integrate themselves into the Chinese culture, or join the Hutterites?
If we consider culture as being defined by clothing, daily activities (i.e., hunting, fishing, tanning, berry-picking, etc.), food (wild meat vs farmed meat), and accommodation (tipi vs permanent structure, log house vs community centre), then we can understand how the government assumed Indigenous peoples would assimilate into urban society.
However, since culture is far deeper than simply what we eat, where we live, and our daily habits, Indigenous peoples are able to adapt to urban life just as other cultures did. Indigenous peoples that wear jeans, work in offices, drive trucks, and/or shop at grocery stores are still Indigenous. Why would they not be?
The fact that urban Indigenous peoples are likely to be poorer than the non-Indigenous population has nothing to do with their ability or inability to adapt to urban life; rather, it is a direct result of the systematic racism and colonization that has been occurring for three centuries. Since Indigenous peoples were able to adapt and survive through changing climates, landscapes, availability of food sources, along with a myriad of other natural circumstances, it’s safe to assume they can adapt to urban living.
The density of an urban area allows Indigenous peoples to connect with not only their extended family and friends, but also with urban-based Indigenous institutions and social networks. This ability to connect widely throughout a small geographical area has provided the opportunity for Indigenous peoples to share common worldviews, common experiences of racism and marginalization, and common social movements, “making the Indigenous presence in the city more visible” (p.20, Week 10 Reading: Indigenous in the City).
Just as Indigenous peoples succeeded at farming after the bison disappeared, at trapping during the fur trade, and at contributing greatly to the commercial fisheries industry, so too have they been able to embrace urban life while maintaining their Indigenous identities.
Week 11’s lesson: Current Social Movements
You can access the MOOC through: https://www.coursera.org/learn/indigenous-canada#faq