On Monday January the 14th the Seneca community was lucky enough to have guest speaker Candy Palmater conduct the first part of her four part series discussing the issues faced by indigenous people living within a colonized nation.
Palmater who is a well known CBC personality has experience as a comedian, broadcaster, actor, lawyer and writer of her own television show aired on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Candy has been a long time advocate for improving the situations of indigenous communities across the country and her lectures seek to raise awareness around issues that these indigenous communities are faced with.
Born and raised in New Brunswick Palmater’s family is part of the Mi’kmaw community located along the northern shore of New Brunswick near the Quebec boarder. The Mi’kmaw people were known as the gate-keepers to North America during colonization due to the geographic location of their territory and the location of the first landing by the Europeans. Their lineage can be found on their territory through archaeological evidence dating back over 10,000 years.
To begin Candy’s speech she started with a reference to a paper she was asked to right early in her academic career. The subject of this paper was to explain her argument from a post-colonial stance. Palmater struggled to accept the idea of a post-colonial Canada, because much of the negative outcomes brought forth by colonialism are still present within Canadian society today. Further to the point regarding colonialism Palmater made reference to the ongoing struggles that face indigenous people when trying to assimilate into a colonial society. Traditional Mi’kmaw society focused on the way of the hunter/gather in order to build and sustain communities. When the colonial model of the reservation system which saw these communities constrained to a small section of land was introduced the effectiveness of this hunter/gather society vanished all together.
Even throughout all of these atrocities Candy notes that the Mi’kmaw people saw these “newcomers” as a part of their land. This means these colonial “newcomers” were welcomed and the Mi’kmaw people made every attempt to live in harmony with these individuals as they did with the rest of their environment.
After discussing the historical events in order to give some context to her story, Candy goes on to discuss three major events that negatively affected indigenous people throughout Canada. These events were the signing of Bill C-31 in 1985, the centralization policy, and the residential school system all of which were created to control and rule over the first peoples of this continent.
In 1985 Bill C-31 was signed granting native status to people who may have lost theirs due to marriage, or birth. This act in fact created a class system within the status holding indigenous populations, without granting any social services as a result of this system. Having certain levels of native status without creating benefits for claiming status further divided and disconnected indigenous peoples from their culture, community and heritage.
The second major event discussed by Palmater was the effect the centralization policy had on indigenous populations throughout the country. This policy created in 1941 by the Nova Scotian government forcing all members of the Mi’kmaw communities living in reserves across the province to consolidate and move into larger more centralized reserves. This action was designed to be a cost saving measure, but was later scrapped in 1949 due to lack of financial benefits to the province. This action led to the further loss of control by the Mi'kmaw people over such things as healthcare, education and administration seeing many of these responsibilities taken over by the provincial institution. The centralization policy was an attempt to further destroy the independence of the Migmaw people and an attempt to constrict their movements and freedoms further.
The third and final event that Candy spoke of was the effect that the residential school system had on indigenous populations throughout the country. These government run religious schools were created with the soul purpose of assimilating indigenous children into Canadian & European culture. Taken from their families against their will, children were forced to attend these institutions often exposed to traumatic physical and emotional abuse. In total 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children attended these schools between 1831 and 1996. The repercussions of this broken system are still felt by indigenous communities throughout Canada today.
All three of these events played a large role in attempting to destroy indigenous culture, but Candy continued to stress that acknowledging these wrong doings is simply not enough. It is essential to accept that all Canadians are responsible to right the wrong doings brought forth by colonialism. And in order to live in a truly post-colonial society many actions must be taken in order to right the inequalities and injustices that still exist within Canadian society today.
Candy will be returning to Senecas Newnham Campus to continue her lecture series on February 11th, March 11th and April 8th giving Seneca students and guests a fantastic opportunity to hear more of her story and insight on the struggles faced by indigenous women across the country.