First Nations activists have taken a variety of approaches to finding solutions to these many challenges. For some, full equality of place within the Canadian state would ensure Aboriginal peoples the tools necessary to protect their interests. For others, Aboriginal peoples constitute sovereign nations whose interests can be protected only in the realm of international law. This growing reliance on international forums and venues helps to highlight the reality that the treatment of Indigenous peoples is emerging globally as one of the great, unresolved issue inherited from Europe's era of imperial expansion. In fact, some view the process of decolonization that accompanied the dismantling of European empires, especially after the Second World War, as only the beginning rather than the end of a more elaborate process that is needed to achieve a more genuine state of liberation. Indeed, Canada itself is only now coming to terms with its own identity in this post-colonial world.

Photo of Give the Country Back,

Give the Country Back," 1991.

The constitutional squabbling between the provinces and Ottawa gave the sense that few leaders wanted to promote national unity. More positively, Native leaders, who had been left out of the constitutional process in the past, participated in discussions during the Charlottetown debates.
Aislin - Montreal.

While Canada's constitution was patriated from Great Britain in 1982, every subsequent attempt to fulfill the process of decolonization through some sort of domestically made definition of the country has stumbled. While proponents of a "New Canada" often seek a relatively uncompromising formula for the legal "equality" of all citizens and provinces, the "founding peoples" of the original Canada, namely the so-called Québécois and the Aboriginal peoples, are frequently less willing to put aside their unique place in the Canadian federation. They tend to see their uniqueness not as some grant from on high but rather as contemporary manifestations of those pacts, covenants, and treaties that have been integral to the growth of Canada into its present shape. They are inclined to see themselves not as so many isolated individuals scattered throughout society, but as members of national groups whose unique role in the genesis of Canada entitle them to a kind of dual citizenship. This dual citizenship is unlike the unitary citizenship belonging to those whose place in the Canada is rooted ultimately in experiences of voluntary immigration to an adopted country after the Crown declared its new relationship to the Québécois and to the First Nations in the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

While the goals of those who situate themselves within the framework of Canada's oldest nationalities have often been similar, there have often been very large disagreements over strategy. Some First Nations peoples looked to compromise and accommodation, while others took a harder line on tactics. But whatever the differences, First Nations have never simply accepted the terms that European colonizers attempted to dictate to them. They have played an active role in shaping the dynamics of the relationship between Native people and newcomer and struggled consistently to mould that relationship in ways that they hoped would best protect their peoples' futures. Native activism is not something new in Canadian history but an important force that has shaped the contours of our past and laid the foundations for the nation's future.

Written By

Anthony J. Hall
Professor of Globalization Studies
University of Lethbridge

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