from "Socialist Voice"
Friday, 22 August 2008
A Movement for Land and Self-Determination
The indigenous question is one of the most political issues in Canada today – perhaps the most important. There are indigenous struggles going on in many different levels across Canada. There are struggles over land and resources such as that happening up north with the Tahltan nation, who are opposing the mining developments happening on their territory against their wishes. There is the similar situation with the Six Nations, who are opposing the theft of the Haldimand Tract in southwestern Ontario and the development that is going on there.
There are also indigenous people fighting poverty in indigenous communities both on and off reserve. The mainstream media carry many articles exposing what people do or should already know about, which is the horrible conditions that indigenous people are forced to live under in the Canadian colonial society.
Another major issue that indigenous people are dealing with and fighting, is the way that the lives of indigenous women are devalued in the colonial society, and how this leads to such widespread instances of indigenous women disappearing and being killed. This has been an issue in Vancouver with women going missing from the Downtown Eastside and up north along the Highway of Tears, the highway that runs between Prince Rupert and Prince George. This also happens in cities all across the Prairies, especially in Saskatoon. It is an urgent question.
The indigenous struggle for self-determination is a revolutionary struggle. Yet it receives little recognition from leftist activists, currents, parties, and organizations in Canada.
Many groups talk about indigenous struggles or cover them in their publications, but generally reframe these struggles in a way that does not address their revolutionary content. One example of this is the tendency of some left groups to frame the indigenous struggle in Canada as one of an oppressed minority, without taking up the question of land and the question of indigenous people as nations. This approach unscientifically separates the discrimination that indigenous people face from its material base.
The reality is that indigenous people are repeatedly finding themselves on opposing ends from leftists when it comes to leftist theory and practice.
Living standards of indigenous people in Canada
As a starting place for looking at indigenous struggles in Canada, it is important to outline the current conditions that indigenous people are forced to live under. One of the ways to do this is look at some basic statistics. Here are a few that are taken from a report published by the Canadian Population Health Collective in 2004 called “Improving the Health of Canadians.” This is of course only one way to understand the kind of conditions indigenous people live under, but it gives a general idea:
- More than one-third of indigenous people live in homes that do not meet the most basic government standards of acceptability.
- Average life expectancy for indigenous people is ten years less than the Canadian average.
- Indigenous children die at three times the rate of non-indigenous children, and are more likely to be born with severe birth defects and conditions like fetal alcohol syndrome.
- The suicide rate of indigenous people is six times higher than the Canada-wide average.
- Tuberculosis rates are 16 times higher in indigenous communities than the rest of the population, and HIV and AIDS infection is growing fastest among indigenous people.
We could go on and add to this the high rates of unemployment; the higher rates of being subjected to violence, whether it’s domestic or at the hands of police; the higher rates of incarceration, victimization by sexual assault, child apprehension and the lower level of access to formal education.
None of these statistics should be a surprise to anyone even remotely familiar with the conditions of indigenous people in Canada. These statistics are produced, repeated and exposed over and over again. Indigenous people don’t need to read these numbers to understand our situation, because this is just a basic description of day-to-day life, and this is only touching the surface.
But what’s really important to understand is why indigenous people face these conditions. Without the “why” of things, these statistics are meaningless towards understanding what they are portraying.
The true history of the development of Canada is significant, because the conditions that indigenous people live under today are the result of hundreds of years of the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their lands and resources. They are the result of a genocidal campaign against indigenous people at the hands of Canadian colonialism, and hundreds of years of suppression of the development of indigenous nations.
This process of colonization involved many stages, across Canada and the Americas, and it manifested itself in different ways. Here we are only looking at the general picture.