Pass system mentality harmful to Aboriginals

RICHARD JENSON — THE CARILLON (The University of Regina)

Hegemonic attitudes about Aboriginal Peoples need to change.

Hegemonic attitudes about Aboriginal Peoples need to change.

REGINA (CUP) — In the early days of the treaties, there was the pass system. While the pass system is long gone, the ideas behind it still remain a part of government policy. This needs to change.

The pass system required that anything a Treaty Indian wanted to do off-reserve be accompanied by a pass given by the local Indian Agent. Anything and everything was required to have a pass, including selling of agricultural products, buying equipment and even extended time off reserve.

While the proclaimed intent was to be able to track and monitor Indian activity for success under government programs, it was used as a means to control and hamper Indian activity.

Despite numerous reports that First Nations people are the fastest growing population in Saskatchewan, and that business and government should be looking towards creating opportunities for Aboriginal people to take advantage of the growing employment opportunities that are occurring daily in our province, the Saskatchewan Party has been negligent in providing those opportunities.

In fact, the best use the Saskatchewan Party has for Aboriginal people in their province is as a wedge issue in recent attack ads aimed at the New Democratic Party about resource sharing. The sad fact remains that it is beneficial to the government to continue its use of systemic racism to control and undermine the Aboriginal people of our province, just as they did a hundred years ago with the pass system.

If Aboriginal people are successful on reserve, it reverses hundreds of years of stereotypes and assumptions. It would provide solid proof that it is not Aboriginals who have failed to assimilate, but instead a government that has failed to live up to their end of hundreds of years of agreements and sharing. This should be obvious.

Success on reserve for Aboriginal people would undermine and destroy the entire cultural myth of Canada, of a great land misused by “savages” and settled peaceably by a benevolent white society who brought civilization and progress to backwards and uncultured beings. The destruction of the cultural myth might be a bold statement, but it is true because it seems Canada does not want Aboriginals to succeed.

Every opportunity promised by the multiple layers of Canadian government has been used to further hamper and restrict the lives of First Nations people. Every court case won ensuring the rights of Aboriginals to those promised by treaty has been spun into policies to limit what First Nations people can do. Every single promise made to First Nations people when it comes to giving a little to get a lot has been broken.

The conversion of First Nations to farmers was destroyed by using the pass system to delay equipment, seed and opportunities for sale. The Calder decision, which said that treaty rights did not flow from the largesse of the Crown but instead by the fact that First Nations were the first people of Canada, was spun into policies to restrict reserve activities to those that were only ‘traditional,’ as defined by the Canadian government.

When our families were asked to fight in Canada’s wars, they were promised that land claims would be settled, yet instead it was used as a means to try to privatize reserve land.

The government systems throughout the history of our country feel as if they have been aimed at making sure Aboriginal people would fail. When the NDP point out that the Saskatchewan Party has not met its promised obligations to provide greater employment opportunities through training and education, my first response is not to fight, but to ask, what’s new?

This may seem like a long list of complaints and excuses, but let’s remember that for every $12 dollars spent on a non-Aboriginal student, only $7 is spent on an Aboriginal student; for every small community that gets to benefit from the financial benefit of nearby resource development, reserves are kept from creating the businesses that would allow them to benefit as well.

Saskatchewan spends millions on programs like Sask Jobs to retrain and place workers, including programs in smaller communities, yet never once have these same programs been offered on reserve. Our society has placed a high value on keeping people working, as long as they are not Aboriginal.

Reserves are not looking for handouts. First Nations people do not want to watch their youth grow up poorly educated and bored, left to live a poverty-laden existence on the fringes of society.

First Nations people are only asking for the exact same opportunities that everyone else has, and that were promised in the treaties. Our government and society need to let go of their false image of who First Nations are, to discard the myriad of stereotypes and lies and to accept them as what they say they are.

Simply put: First Nations people want to do what is required to build successful communities and people, if only they’d be given the opportunity.


Photo: Emily Wright/The Carillon