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2015 Indigenous Studies Reflection Essay

Indigenous Studies Reflective Essay

When I reflect on my knowledge of First Nations people before starting Indigenous Studies, I can’t help but acknowledge my ignorance. I reflect on my ignorance of not knowing exactly why everything regarding the First Nations society is the way it is today. I have always known deep down in my heart that the struggles and stereotypes placed upon First Nations are misinterpreted. For that reason, I have always voiced my awareness of the right and wrong of these harmful accusations. I was once told that my ways of thinking about Aboriginals could be compared to that of the movie “Avatar”. As odd as that comparison seemed at first, in a way it is quite accurate. I believe that Indigenous people had it all right. Live from the land and use only what you need. To honor that every rock, every animal, and every person has a spirit that shapes the world around us. This was their way until everything they knew was taken away from them and reshaped by imposing forces. Today we are killing Mother Earth for profitable gain but at whose expense? What will our children and grandchildren be left with if our ignorance continues? We all have something we can learn from the First Nations people but the stereotypes that exist blur the truth. My eyes have truly been opened and I am amazed to gain insight into the lives of First Nations People. Historical events such as the influence of colonialism, the Indian Act, and the residential school system have had devastating effects on First Nation culture. In this essay, I will elaborate on these topics and reflect on the insights I have gained on them throughout the past weeks.

First, I would like to elaborate on the history of Indigenous people and how colonialism has had such a huge part in shaping the First Nations of today. As I thought about my understanding of Aboriginal people, I realized that the history taught in school seems to skip over the importance of First Nations before European contact. This omission is a contributing factor to the state of ignorance in society today. The lack of First Nations’ perspective makes it difficult to interpret our history and encourages closed-mindedness about Aboriginals in general. During the pre-colonial era “An estimated 500,000 First Nations people occupied what is now Canada during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries” (Frideres 4). Of these 500,000 people, there were seven major cultures occupying North America and an estimated 50 different languages. The First Nations “in each culture developed their own political, economic, and social structure that allowed them to fit into their ecological niche. For well over 10,000 years, these units were self-sustaining and prospered (Helen, 2006)” (Frideres 5-6). This evidence suggests that First Nations were a well-organized society of their own before European contact in 1534. As time and history unveils, colonialism diminished the social organization these people had thrived on for thousands of years. Referring to First Nations as “savages” and “uncivilized” people who were to be saved by the European settlers is a common theme in Canadian history. Yet, we are unaware of their success as a society on their own. Europeans invaded physically and socially as they declared the Indigenous way the ignorant way and imposed their colonial lifestyle upon them. European settlers would not have been able to survive here in Canada without the help of the First Nations. Without Aboriginal knowledge of the land and ways of North America, many settlers would not be here today. The facts contradict themselves. In the eyes of the Europeans, the First Nations were labeled ignorant savages, yet without their knowledge; the settlers may not have been able to endure life in Canada.

Many people my age tend to put harsh stereotypes on First Nations people. I hear lots of people refer to First Nations in derogatory ways, labeling them as “lazy”, “alcoholics” and “freeloaders” to name a few. Since taking this course and learning more about the history of First Nations I am now able to use historical evidence as an arguable approach to enlighten them on their ignorance. I like to say “If you don’t know the facts, then you don’t get to judge”. A large number of the population is clueless about what colonialism and the government have put First Nations people through. I truly believe that if there were greater awareness people would stop treating First Nations so poorly and there wouldn’t be such a disconnection. After colonialism introduced the patriarchal family and forced it upon First Nations, tensions between the First Nations communities heightened. Previously, women were well represented in First Nations groups, and after the nuclear family was established many First Nations women relinquished their influence among their communities. When the Indian Act was introduced in 1876 it allowed men to gain “recognition under European law in exchange for dispossessing Indigenous women of their power” (Frideres 7). From here on out the Indian Act did nothing but chip away at the once strong and thriving Native communities. Meanwhile, European Epidemics wiped out much of the Indigenous population decreasing it from 500,000 to 100,000 by the nineteenth century. The Indian Act did everything it could to relinquish the First Nations of their status to phase out the entire population.

One of the most harmful influences the government had was the introduction of residential schools. “The Federal Government was responsible for funding and setting general policy for the school system, while the churches oversaw the day-to-day operations of the institutions” (Llewllyn, 2002) (Frideres 58). It is unbelievable to me that religious institutions carried out the horrendous acts that appear to have been commonplace in these schools. Using religion as a justification to rid innocent children of their culture doesn’t make me think of God but of hell. The impact of these schools was detrimental to First Nation culture, aiding in coping behaviors such as alcoholism that stereotype First Nations today. Students of residential schools were denied life skills, and love, and stripped of their innocence and culture. The nuns and priests claiming to do the work of God did their part to kill the Indian inside the child. In many cases, the students were robbed of their childhood, tortured, beaten, and raped. “A kind of military authority was forced onto the behavior of children and they were subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.” (Frideres 59-60). The government agreed to fund residential schools for First Nations to “learn English and adopt Christianity and white settler customs. In addition, it was assumed that, within a generation or two, First Nation cultures would be dead” (Frideres 58). This was yet another attempt by the government to rid the First Nations communities. While the goal was to assimilate First Nations, instead the residential school system created a generation of First Nations physiologically wounded and without the confidence or skillset to raise their children. As a result of the psychological damage passed down from generations, a large number of the First Nation population has turned to coping behaviors and abuses including drug addiction, alcoholism, and rape. Sadly, when people see the stereotypical “Indian” walking out of the liquor store they don’t think of the history of abuse the First Nations population has endured from our country’s European settlers and government.

Lastly, I would like to comment on the false assumptions relating to the tax breaks “free-loading Indians” receive. As taxpayers, we deserve the right to know where our money is allocated, however, many of us have no idea and simply make assumptions. There is a theme of placing blame on First Nations for consuming our taxes without truly knowing how much they are receiving. I believe that this false belief contributes to the lack of respect our society has for Indigenous people in Canada. Interestingly enough, First Nations health care, education, and housing costs are routinely underfunded by the government. First Nations Education is underfunded by thirty percent in comparison to the majority of Canadian Education. The health care that is set in place by the government has not played a leading role in helping to increase the well-being of Indigenous people. “While the health capacity of Health Canada is quite comprehensive, it remains ironic that First Nations people have the poorest health in Canada” (Frideres 122). Housing that the government funds for First Nations to “benefit” from the free land haven’t shown much more promise. Indian Reserves have the lowest quality of water and have been noted to have a 13- year, boil water advisory in some communities. “This situation is the conation of years of neglect and the absence of effective programs to provide safe drinking water for First Nations communities” (Frideres 122). During the Treaty of Niagara in 1764, the Metis and British founded Canada and put forth agreements for assistance in education, medicine, and housing, amongst other things. The Indigenous People were granted these rights when the Europeans began taking land, and to my understanding, they have done a half-ass job taking up their side of the bargain. First Nations communities have a poorer quality of life in almost every aspect when compared to non-Aboriginals of Canada. I don’t understand how the term “freeloading Indians” can even be referenced. First Nations are underfunded in every aspect of “free” funding they receive. And what most people don’t know is that First Nations living off reserves, pay taxes just like everybody else. Yes, First Nations have the choice to live tax-free, but on land reserves with poorly funded housing and neglected freshwater sources. It could be argued that First Nations who live off reserves and pay taxes like every other Canadian has access to a greater quality of life than what is offered to live on reserves.

In conclusion, understanding how our history has influenced and shaped Canada today has made me realize that educating ourselves on the mistakes of our past can encourage us to build a better future. The lack of knowledge regarding First Nations history and the resulting negative impact on Aboriginal communities has created a divide between Indigenous and Non- Indigenous People of Canada. I fear that future generations will continue to be denied the information needed to raise awareness about First Nations people and their role in Canadian history. As a mother, I feel strongly about the importance of passing this information on to my children in the hope to eliminate harmful stereotypes placed upon Indigenous communities. I feel motivated in my studies to further educate myself on Indigenous history to teach them in a classroom of my own one day. In all of that, I have learned the thing that has impacted me the most is my willingness to create change. I want to not only see, but be a part of the change by sharing stories, information, and lessons learned. I am convinced that talking about the misinterpreted stereotypes and understanding the past is a step towards moving forward to heal our country. With any change, we have to start somewhere, and our society’s willingness to be educated about the past is the first step. To reflect on all that I have gained in this class I would say that my eagerness to learn and share my developing knowledge with others has been ignited. I am so grateful for the teachings and hope to promote and observe more awareness and understanding of First Nations people in the future.

Works Cited

Frideres, James S. First Nations in the Twenty-First Century. Canada: Oxford University Press, 2011

Works Cited

Frideres, James S. First Nations in the Twenty-First Century. Canada: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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