To date, the Aboriginal peoples of Canada continue to play a dominant role in the public arena of Canadian national celebrations in recognition of the substantial contributions they have made to Canada. Indeed, the National Aboriginal Day has become an annual public spectacle, commemorated to recognize and celebrate Canada’s dissimilar cultures and exceptional contributions made by the Aboriginal peoples residing in Canada, particularly the First Nations, the Inuit, and the Metis peoples (Miller, 2002, p. 3).
This not withstanding, political pundits and historians have postulated the fact that successive Canadian governments have only served to rob, repress, patronize and disparage the self-pride and self-identity associated with the above stated Aboriginal groups (Radforthe, 2003, p. 1).
According to Radforthe, the Canadian government have found it valuable to incorporate the Aboriginal peoples in festivities that only assist to define and assert an imagined national community since the Aboriginals are rarely included in any other sphere of national development except in national celebrations. This paper intends to show how a multiplicity of social, cultural and economic factors continues to hamper Canadian Aboriginals’ quest for adequate representation in the country’s political process.
The Aboriginal peoples can be described as the genealogies of the original population of Canada (Bellfy, 2001, p. 11). In retrospect, the Canadian Constitution distinguishes three clusters of Aboriginal peoples, namely First Nations, the Inuit, and the Metis. While these groups are known to share numerous resemblances, major differences exist as each grouping has its own distinctive heritage, values, language, cultural traditions, worldviews and spiritual beliefs (Miller, 2002, p. 7).
In the absence of official mechanisms and procedures of enhancing the required exchange of concepts, these Aboriginal groups have been trained to use blunt appliances to make their point known. In the last few decades, Aboriginal peoples in Canada have actively taken part in political demonstrations, obstructions and litigations in the hope of curtailing the socio-cultural and economic conditions that continue to exclude them from mainstream political development. Below, some of the factors are discussed
In 2000, the United Nations rated Canada as one of the best countries in the world to reside in based on the country’s impressive development index (Kendall, 2001, p. 43). While this may indeed be true for other individuals residing in Canada, the Aboriginal peoples continue to thrive in an endless circle of disadvantage characterized by incessant family violence, massive educational failure, poverty, diseases and violence.
Available statistics reveal that Indians comprise the majority of the Aboriginal population in Canada, trailed by the Metis and the Inuit in that order. As a percentage of the total Canadian population, Aboriginal peoples range from 1 percent in Quebec to more than 60 percent in the Northwest region (Dickason, 2003, p. 265).
According to Kendall, about 45 percent of the Aboriginal peoples live in cities around Canada. The statistics notwithstanding, the First Nations continue to experience higher mortality levels and extremely low life expectancy levels, a scenario reminiscent of third world countries.
This scenario is associated with a multiplicity of factors, including lack of access to sufficient healthcare facilities, high level of substance abuse among the Aboriginal populations, and high suicide rates (Kendall, 2001, p. 43). The above factors points towards a population that is experiencing completely diverse level of growth from that of the mainstream Canadian population.
Inarguably, the above influences have negatively impacted the level at which the Aboriginal peoples have been able to contribute to the political process of the country.
According to Hunter (2006), “the level of Aboriginal voter participation in federal electoral politics remains low and their ability to successfully translate political participation into the nomination and election of aboriginal people to the House of Commons is even lower” (para. 1). In this perspective, experts have been able to draw a correlation between the social drawbacks experienced by aboriginal populations and their exclusion from mainstream political processes.
The diminished level of political participation among the Aboriginal peoples has further worsened the situation as far as social issues are concerned. According to Dickason (2003, p. 268), unemployment levels for the Aboriginal peoples in relation to the mainstream Canadian population have rose to over 25 percent in the first two years of this decade due to an unfortunate sense of political backwardness.
Unemployment rates remains as high as 80 percent in a number of Aboriginal communities. In the global arena, unemployment is known to occasion high levels of poverty, a scenario that successfully transforms a population into dependence (Bellfy, 2001, p. 12).
Consecutive studies have revealed that dependent societies more often become the subjects of any political process as they are easily swayed and manipulated due to lack of resources (Maxim et al, 2000, p. 23). In essence, this appears to be the case with the Aboriginal population residing in Canada. Their situation is further worsened by loss of land, political sovereignty and job market discrimination (Kendal, 2001, p. 44).
Aboriginal peoples in Canada have undergone what experts call a cultural genocide (Kendall, 2001, p. 44), leaving them with no cultural orientation needed for any meaningful political development. Many Aboriginals are known to practice communal approach to living, a conception that is widely viewed as a key stumbling block to Aboriginal peoples’ development in both political and economic sectors.
The communal approach utilized by the Canadian Aboriginals entails collective possessions and sharing of fundamental resources as opposed to the concept of individual private rights to property and resources characteristic of western culture (Kendall, 2001, p. 46).
Comparative analysis between communal cultural orientations and individual ownership to property and resources reveal that the former remains disadvantaged when fighting for political supremacy since the resources are held under the trust of respective communities rather than individuals (Maxim et al, 2000, p. 25).
This cultural perspective can be effectively used to show why Aboriginal peoples in Canada have continued to be politically disadvantaged even after receiving numerous incentives from the political class such as being granted with a permanent status to join the Canadian Mps’ panel (Nungak, 2004, p. 21).
According to experts, communal approach to living may not be effective in an industrialized society even if such an arrangement was viewed to make sense for societies previously dependent on hunting and gathering (Kendall, 2001, p. 47). According to Hunter (2006, para. 1), the highly structured communal approaches to living practiced by the Aboriginal population may be effectively used to explain why there exist a noticeable lack of representation of aboriginal population in the formal political processes.
The high level of political alienation witnessed in this particular segment of society actively jeopardizes the legitimacy of the Canadian political process as a considerable number of individuals in society are seen as underrepresented (Nungak, 2004, p. 21). In this perspective, the Aboriginal peoples residing in Canada must abandon their communal cultural orientations and assimilate into the mainstream Canadian population if they are to benefit from the political process.
Although enhancing Aboriginal political representation has been inarguably sanctioned as a fundamental objective and milestone within the wider perspective of securing social and political justice for the Canadian Aboriginal people, its realization will essentially depend on how the Aboriginal communities will successfully discard cultural practices and orientations seen as hampering the process of political integration.
The economic decline witnessed by the Aboriginal population can be positively correlated to lack of significant land base (Kendall, 2001, p. 47).
Aboriginal peoples in Canada do not have recognized titles to the land they claim to posses, and therefore cannot effectively be able to control the resources found on the land. This type of an arrangement has obvious economic ramifications to the aboriginal populations in Canada since majority lacks the capacity to use the resources found on their lands to achieve economic independence.
According to Bellfy (2001, p. 13) economic factors directly influence the political capacity of any community. In this perspective, it is prudential to suggest that Aboriginal peoples in Canada have been constrained to take part in the country’s political process due to economic limitations arising from the fact that aboriginal communities lacks the legal basis to utilize the resources that may be found on their land.
Economic factors are known to activate a chain reaction that not only affects political representation of the Aboriginal peoples but it also affects the social integration of the Aboriginal population. Experts are of the opinion that land is one of most significant sources of economic independence and self-identification for most individuals categorized as natives, including Aboriginals (Kendal, 2001, p. 48).
It is therefore reasonable to presuppose that many of the social pathologies displayed by Aboriginal peoples such as suicide and drug dependence are actually related to the fact that Aboriginals were forcefully evicted from their land (Maxim, et al, 2001, p. 27). In this perspective, the Aboriginal peoples in Canada need to be assisted to rediscover themselves economically for them to effectively take part in the political process.
The government should ensure that all aboriginal populations receive legal documentation for the land they occupy. Ideas aimed at uplifting the economic prospects of the Aboriginal peoples must be emphasized as it is only through economic independence that this particular segment of society will be able to actively participate in the politics of the day.
It was the purpose of this paper to reveal how social, cultural and economic factors continue to hamper Canadian Aboriginals’ quest for adequate representation in the country’s political process. In this perspective, arguments have been advanced to illuminate the shortcomings and suggest possible solutions to the challenges facing Canadian Aboriginals, especially in their quest for equal political representation.
Some of the social factors that continue to affect the Aboriginals include family violence, educational failure, drugs, suicide, high mortality levels, and unemployment. Through comprehensive discussion, a correlation has been drawn between the social drawbacks experienced by Aboriginal populations and their exclusion from mainstream political processes.
It has also been decided that Aboriginal peoples residing in Canada must abandon their communal cultural orientations and assimilate into the mainstream Canadian population if they are to benefit from the political process. In the same vein, this paper has revealed that economic factors directly influence the political capacity of any community, including the Aboriginals.
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Dickason, O.P. (2003). Canadian aboriginal saga: A people and a Dream. The American Review of Canadian Studies, Vol. 22, Issue 1, pp. 261-272
Hunter, A. (2006). Exploring the issues of Aboriginal representation in federal elections.
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Maxim, P.S., White, J.P., Beavon, D., & Whitehead, P.C. (2000) Dispersion and polarization of income among aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians. Canadian Journal of Native Studies, Number 14, pp. 21-31
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Nungak, Z. (2004, May). Aboriginal invitees to parliament – defective duck. Windspeaker, p. 21
Radforthe, I.W. (2003). Performance, politics and representation: Aboriginal people and the 1980 Royal tour of Canada. Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 84, Issue, 1, pp. 1-32.