During my visits to Canada, I got the impression that indigenous peoples (often called First Nations there) were treated more respectfully & equitably than my perception of the United States’ treatment of our Native American peoples. Although not necessarily scholarly, the First Nations page from Wikipedia doesn’t seem to support my rosy impression. It’s a lengthy article, but a few parts that caught my eye include:
- A little more on the tribe of many characters in Green Grass Running Water
The Blackfoot Indians reside in the Great Plains of Montana and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The name ‘Blackfoot’ came from the colour of the peoples’ leather footwear, known as moccasins. They had dyed or painted the bottoms of their moccasins black, but one story claimed that the Blackfoot Indians walked through the ashes of prairie fires, which in turn coloured the bottoms of their moccasins black.
As Canadian ideas of progress evolved at the turn of the century, the federal Indian policy was directed at removing Indigenous people from their communal lands and encouraging assimilation. Amendments to the Indian Act in 1905 and 1911 made it easier for the government to expropriate reserve lands from First Nations. The government sold nearly half of the Blackfoot reserve inAlberta to settlers.
- On citizenship & civil rights
In 1960, First Nations people received the right to vote in federal elections without forfeiting their Indian status. By comparison, Native Americans in the United States had been allowed to vote since the 1920s.
Sun Dance ceremonies were prohibited by law in Canada until 1951.
Indian Health Transfer Policy provided a framework for the assumption of control of health services by First Nations people, and set forth a developmental approach to transfer centred on the concept of self-determination in health. Through this process, the decision to enter into transfer discussions with HealthCanada rests with each community. Once involved in transfer, communities are able to take control of health programme responsibilities at a pace determined by their individual circumstances and health management capabilities.
- On social status & health disparities
First Nations peoples face a number of problems to a greater degree than Canadians overall. They have higher unemployment, rates of incarceration, substance abuse, health problems [including markedly elevated rates of Type II diabetes mellitus], fetal alcohol syndrome, lower levels of education and higher levels of poverty. Suicide rates are more than twice the sex-specific rate and also three times the age-specific rates of non-Aboriginal Canadians.
Life expectancy at birth is significantly lower for First Nations babies than for babies in the Canadian population as a whole. As of 2001, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada estimates First Nations life expectancy to be 8.1 years shorter for males and 5.5 years shorter for females.
Since the tension between traditional & “modern” medicine came up in Green Grass Running Water, as well, I found this scholarly paper really insightful, especially pages 1-8.