17:53, august 9th, 2021
Historically, the law in Canada was used extensively to subjugate Indigenous people. Initially, upon arriving in Canada, European settlers claimed that they had "discovered" the land, despite the Indigenous population already living on it and utilizing it. They claimed that Indigenous people were using the land incorrectly, and enforced the belief that if the land was not being used for Eurocentric purposes, it was not being used properly. The European settlers seized the land from the Indigenous people, withholding food and resources and using violence as a means of coercion to move the Indigenous population into reserves. These reserves have lasting impacts today, often being placed on areas with poor or rocky soil. On reserves, infrastructure is often poor, and overcrowding and underfunding is a large problem. Children on reserves attend poorly constructed schools with few resources, and unemployment rates on reserves are high.
In the mid-1800s, the Canadian officials implemented the Gradual Civilization Act to assimilate Indigenous people into acting like the Eurocentric model of a "good Indian". In order to be able to vote, Indigenous people had to fall into a certain criteria, including being a man, over 21, debt free, and educated in English or French. If this didn't apply to the person in question, they could be enfranchised, and recognized as a British citizen. This, however, would force them to give up their legal status as an Indian, and would lose all rights associated with it. Because not many Indigenous people were willing to disenfranchise themselves, the government implemented the Gradual Enfranchisement Act, which defined someones legal status as an "Indian" based on a "blood quantum". This meant that people were granted or denied status based on "what percentage of Indian" they were. Any Indigenous person that had "less than a quarter of Indian blood" would lose their status. This has the lasting effect of dividing Indigenous populations based on whether or not they are "Indian enough". Mixed or Metis people were discriminated against based on heritage, and are now still separated from the community.
The Indian Act in the late 1800s restricted the communities of Indigenous people, and confined the legal definition of "Indian", barring Metis and mixed individuals from claiming status or benefits, but still treating them as other. This had the lasting effect of dividing large portions of communities. Indigenous women who married non-indigenous men would lose their status and all benefits or claims associated with it, like reserve property or residence, or participation in politics on reserves. Indigenous men, however, who married non-indigenous women, would keep their status and even be able to pass it onto his wife and any future children.
Residential schools were constructed, where the main idea was to "kill the Indian to save the child". Indigenous children were taken from their reserves and homes, sometimes by force, and put into these boarding schools. Here, children were banned from speaking their home languages, and siblings were separated. Children were taught to speak English exclusively, and taught to read from the Bible. Parents were not often allowed to see their children, only through rarely permitted visits, and children were only allowed to write home in English, a language that the parents often couldn't understand. Children in residential schools also suffered through sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and violence. These children were forced to do difficult manual and emotional labour, and often suffered injuries that weren't properly treated. Instructors at the schools were harsh and violent, and corporal punishment was used as a means of punishment. When these children returned home from the residential schools, they found that they felt detached from their communities and cultures. They were alienated from their own communities, and still not welcomed in the typical Eurocentric communities they had been taught to conform to. Many survivors of residential schools turned to substance abuse and alcoholism to cope with their difficult and painful childhoods. The children of survivors suffer through absent or emotionally distant parents, and suffer from intergenerational trauma. Having to see their parents suffer so heavily and having parents that may be abusive or absent in turn hurts them, and if they turn to alcoholism or substances like their parents, the cycle may continue onto their children as well.
The past is not so far away, with residential schools, as the last one closed in the mid 90s, less than thirty years ago, and the impacts still resonate heavily.