CBC Aboriginal Forum Gets It Wrong Before It Even Gets Started
On Tuesday, June 15 in Winnipeg, CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition will host a public forum (to be broadcast at a later date) entitled “Canada and The Aboriginal People: Can We Finally Get It Right?”
Here’s the thing: last time I checked, the collection of territories called by the name of Canada for the past 140-odd years were — prior to 1867 — inhabited for many thousands of years by a plurality of Aboriginal peoples. That’s by and large still the case.
By one count, just over 50 distinct Indigenous languages are still spoken in Canada, falling into 11 separate, mutually unintelligible, families. These languages roughly parallel a whole host of significant cultural differences between (and, often, among) these peoples.
Thus, to now reductively boil these 50 peoples down to ‘The’ Aboriginal People — first peoples singular? — tells me this discussion is at risk of being fundamentally flawed from the get-go.
Think about it: Would we hope for much from a discussion that indiscriminately lumped Spaniards in with Brits, Germans and Croatians under the clumsy, clumpy category of ‘the European People’? (On the other hand, think of what an awesome World Cup team ‘the Europeans’ would have.)
Sure, maybe it’s nothing more than just a poorly-written promo. Maybe they were in a rush. A casualty of CBC cutbacks, mayhaps. Does it really matter in the end?
I submit that it does matter, precisely because most people in Canada think it doesn’t, to the extent they even think about the notion at all.
And among Indigenous peoples, these differences do matter. That’s why we sought (and still seek) to preserve them.
To the designers and administrators of the Residential School system, these differences did matter. That’s why they sought to eliminate them.
(Today, the federal government simply neglects them, but feels really, really sorry about it.)
So it’s ironic that a media forum hosted in the lead up to a Commission about the legacy of those schools would unwittingly reproduce that same kind of essentialist thinking and approach.
Can we finally get it right? Whatever the ultimate answer, it will necessarily rest in having a full and proper understanding of exactly who “we” are to begin with.