John Ralston Saul writes that scientific experiments to starve our aboriginal peoples should come as no surprise:
When Canadians learn that malnourished aboriginal children were used for nutritional experiments, they cannot really be surprised. Shock is a more plausible reaction. We should never be beyond shock. But not surprised. That would be to feign innocence, when we all know that for more than a century, Canadian authorities of all sorts continually acted badly when it came to indigenous peoples. Many Canadians knew this when it was happening. The standard public discourse made these actions possible. These were our governments, our authorities. Our responsibility cannot be denied.
And Canadians are deluded if they think that matters will return to what they have been:
Those days are long past. That is, the aboriginal position has changed radically. And that was the underlying message of last winter’s protests and fasts, of Idle No More.
Those who were forbidden the right to hire lawyers as recently as the Indian Act of 1927 now have more than 1,000 lawyers of their own. They are in an increasingly strong legal position, having won case after case at the Supreme Court over the past 40 years. Having been forbidden the practice of their own spiritual beliefs, an increasing number of their young are embracing them. Forty years ago, there were virtually no aboriginals in colleges and universities. Now, there are more than 30,000 and the number is growing. There are thousands of indigenous corporations and businesses. And when National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo stands up to give the 11th LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture on Saturday, he will be the third indigenous lecturer in the series.
The central point is that we are witnessing a remarkable comeback. A century ago, we were convinced that aboriginal peoples would disappear. Today, those same aboriginal peoples are central players in Canada’s future.
If Stephen Harper thought that a public apology for the horrors of residential schools would be enough to keep Canada's native peoples quiet, he was sadly mistaken. First Nations want more than an apology. They want respect -- and they want a seat at the table:
The simple truth is that we are all witnesses to the remarkable comeback of the aboriginal peoples. This will mean fundamental shifts in power, in financing and in how we all live together. We can pretend this is not happening; we can manoeuvre in order to delay it. But it is going to happen. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by embracing this comeback as living proof of the strength of these cultures and peoples. We are witnessing how central they are to the future of this country.
Canada's First Nations refuse to live on the margins. They will be front and centre from now on.