National Aboriginal Day in Canada

is every June 21, the Summer Solstice (“Midsummer” for those of you with more British influence).  Canada salutes Indians (First Nations), Inuit (“Eskimos”), and Métis* who live and have lived in its territory, made many contributions… and often gotten the shaft just the same, though generally not as bad as those on United States-claimed territory.

Interestingly, in Canada there wasn’t the “ethnic cleansing” of Indians and Inuit in the eastern and central part of the country (from Ontario eastward) that there was mostly in the States, so most Canadians still live within a reasonable drive of a Reserve with centuries of open, clear, continuous history, and “visible” Indians have a bigger presence even in these eastern cities than in those of the U.S.

The two big ongoing Native issues in Canada lately have been financial damages for children kidnapped, persecuted, and abused in “residential schools” into the 1970s, and self-governance for Reserves – one way in which perhaps things are a little further advanced in the States.  There’s also the glaring omission of First Nations Treaties legitimizing non-Native presence in British Columbia, and the “falling through the cracks” of officially “Non-Status Indians” and “Off-Reserve Indians.”  There are occasional heated conflicts between Indian groups and governments over land claims and alleged police brutality.  And Natives in Canada also suffer from cultural losses, bad European diets, underemployment, and substance abuse issues, similar to those of Indigenous Peoples around the world actually.

In 1999 Ottawa settled a large Inuit land claim in Northern Canada in part by creating the new Territory of Nunavut from about half of the Northwest Territories, mostly populated by Inuit, and governed in part according to their traditional cultural practices.  In 2005 Inuit in northern Labrador received limited self-government and recognition of traditional rights over much of that part of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, called Nunatsiavut.  And by 2010 Northern Quebec – the mostly-Inuit region called Nunavik – is expected to receive significant self-government; meanwhile the Nunavik Inuit – most of whom live on the shore – have negotiated a land-claims agreement recognizing their traditional rights with regard to waters, islands, and resources surrounding today’s Nunavik, including cooperation with neighboring Aboriginal groups, all awaiting implementation by Ottawa.

(*–Métis are of blended Native and European [primarily French, English, Scottish, and/or Irish] ancestry and blended culture, at least by heritage, excluded from both their communities of origin historically, but often maintaining Aboriginal Rights now once again being recognized by law as they should always have been under Common Law precedents and “the honour of The Crown” – not always “honoured” by Their Historical Majesties’ Canadian or Provincial ministries.  The closest U.S. comparison would be to Native Mixed-blood communities like my Nanticoke Indians of southern Delaware and vicinity, although the peculiar American “racial” politics of Black, White, and Red, often ‘spun’ – and continues to ‘spin’ – their identities and perceived identities in all directions, and doesn’t know what to do with a “Mixed” identity or culture like in Canada.  Also, Métis is the same word as the Spanish Mestizo – meaning Mixed – though I don’t know how big the Mestizo, ie, Spanish/Indian, profile is north of the Rio Grande.  In Russian Alaska they called Russian/Aleuts Kreol… but also Aleuts who merely learned to read, moved into town, etc., and in fact most Aleuts with Russian surnames have no Russian ancestry, just maybe a Russian godfather when their ancestor converted to Orthodox Christianity.  Back to Canada, some scholars assert that most French Canadians are in fact Métis, and though most French Canadians downplay any Native heritage, the numbers of Canadians claiming Métis identity on Censuses have increased at far above the birth rate in the last generation!  Sadly, the national Métis community is sharply divided between those whose European identity is mainly French and are rooted in the Prairie Provinces, and “The Other Métis” – an excellent website on Mixed-blood persons, cultures, and communities/nations throughout North America… whose author informs me he’s in the process of updating and revising it.  BTW, Métis are categorized as “Aboriginal” – “Indigenous” might be more accurate, but “Aboriginal” is the term in the Constitution Act 1982 – because, hey, they were created here as something new, nowhere else!  This is nothing like the Afrikaners claiming to be “Africa’s White Tribe;” South Africa’s mixed-race persons have traditionally been called “Coloured,” quite distinct from the all-European [largely Dutch] Afrikaners.  In fact, New France had a policy of promoting intermarriage between White trappers and Indian women, as good for the fur business!  Of interest to the U.S. would be the fact that many cities in the Midwest, Northern Plains, and Inland Northwest were founded by French/Indian Métis, of New France or Canada.)

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