Gary Moore, an immigrant from South Africa to Canada, finds that this country's reserve system bears more than a passing resemblance to his homeland's odious racial policies of the past: Apartheid laws rule Canada’s First Nations reserves.
Change was once in the air in Canada. In 1969 the then Indian-affairs minister Jean Chrétien issued a policy white paper which proposed repeal of the Indian Act, the winding-up of the Indian-affairs department and transfer of its functions to other government departments, equal treatment for aboriginals, interim funds for native economic development, rejection of land claims, and new measures to allow indigenous people to control and own the land. Chiefs and others objected. Mr. Chrétien’s proposals were dropped.
Mr. Chrétien’s 1969 white paper still rings true. It says that to be an indigenous person is to be someone apart in law and provision of government services and to lack power, and that special treatment has made aboriginals disadvantaged.
I am far from an expert in aboriginal affairs, but I do wonder whether our reserve system has not worsened life for our first peoples. Would they be better off under a different régime — one in which they enjoyed equality under the law with their nonaboriginal fellow citizens, and no longer suffered under special treatment? Such a change should obviously not be imposed on our first peoples without their consent, yet something just as obviously needs to be done to facilitate their taking responsibility for their own communities' welfare and to free them from their crippling dependency on Ottawa.