In this section you read that aboriginal people in Canada have begun “redefining themselves on their own terms.” For this assignment, you will explore what that means.
You will be writing a monologue spoken by a character who you will create. The monologue will begin roughly as follows:
As a Canadian aboriginal, I am equally defined by my past, present and future. Let me explain.
Begin by writing some notes.
- Is your character First Nations, Inuit or Metis?
- What can you tell us about your character’s family background?
- From which traditional territory in BC does your character originate? Where does he or she live now?
- What can you tell us about your character’s cultural background? Which traditional practices do they still take part in? Is there anything that they would like to know more about?
In your monologue, you will have to make reference to the following:
- Indian Act
- Indian Status
- Indian Band
You will need to hand in your notes as well as your monologue. You can complete this as a written monologue or an audio recording. You may be able to read this to your teacher in person – ask if that is possible.
TEXT ON SUBJECT ___ MUST READ
Aboriginal people today sometimes say that they walk in two worlds—the modern, multicultural world of Canadian society, and the traditional world and culture of their Aboriginal ancestry. How did this dual identity come about? What might it feel like to be a part of two very different cultures?
The idea of living in two worlds expresses the significant effect of colonialism on contemporary Aboriginal people. Many aspects of the traditional pre-contact lifestyle have changed, yet Aboriginal people still maintain a unique culture and world view. This section discusses the way contemporary Aboriginal identity has been shaped by colonial policies, and the ways in which Aboriginal people are redefining their identities on their own terms.
As anachronistic as it may seem, the Indian Act still regulates the lives of First Nations people and Indian reserves are still a reality in British Columbia today. People registered under the Indian Act today are issued a “Certificate of Indian Status” card which bears the person’s photograph, description, registry number, the name of the band to which the individual belongs, and the family or band number.
There are a number of misconceptions about what entitlements First Nations people receive under the Indian Act. For example, many members of the general public believe that Aboriginal people do not have to pay taxes. In fact, Aboriginal people are required to pay taxes the same as every other Canadian citizen, except in circumstances on reserve where tax exemptions are covered by the Indian Act. Section 87 of the Act recognizes the unique constitutional and historic position of Aboriginal people in Canada, and the exemption is intended to preserve the rights of First Nations people to their reserve lands, and to ensure that the use of their reserve lands is not eroded by taxation. The Act states that the “personal property of an Indian or a band situated on a reserve” is tax exempt, and this applies to goods, income, and some on-reserve services. For example, on-reserve stores do not have to charge sales taxes, and many bands operate gas stations which offer fuel at a lower cost to people with status cards. Only people who are registered Status Indians living and working on reserves are exempt from paying income tax. Status Indians living or working off reserves are still required to pay income tax.
While the Indian Act prevents non-Aboriginal governments from taxing the property of Status Indians on reserve, it does allow First Nations to collect property taxes on reserve. Bylaws allowing such tax collection must be approved by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Some members of the Canadian public feel that it is unfair for any Aboriginal people to be exempt from taxes. However, many First Nations would argue that the amount of money is insignificant compared to the vast profits and taxes that have been generated by the resources of the non-reserve land, none of which has benefited First Nations.
In the summer of 2002, the Minister of Indian Affairs introduced a new revision of the Indian Act, partly to bring it in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights, but also to change the ways that reserves are governed, from how leaders are elected to ways of making them more financially accountable. Many First Nations leaders see this as yet another unilateral move by the federal government to make decisions on behalf of First Nations people. Chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations rejected the plan to change the Indian Act and offered their own process for making the important changes that would affect them and their people. As this book is being published the federal government’s First Nations Governance Initiative (Bill C-61) is still under discussion and the outcome is unclear.
The Métis people are a specific group of “Non-Status” Aboriginal people. The Métis descended from marriages between Aboriginal women and non-Aboriginal men during the fur-trade era. In some cases, the children of the fur traders and Aboriginal women grouped together to form their own communities, and thus developed their own unique culture. The Métis culture blends aspects of many different cultures such as Ojibway, Cree, French, and Scottish. The Métis have their own language known as Michif, their own traditional costume dress, as well as many other unique customs.
Until recently, there were no legal restrictions on who could identify as a Métis person; anyone who felt they had strong roots in the Métis community could call themselves Métis. This changed in 1982 when the Métis were officially recognized in the Canadian Constitution Act as one of Canada’s three distinct groups of Aboriginal people. Along with this formal government recognition, the Métis people were guaranteed certain rights and privileges by the Constitution. Therefore the acceptance of a national definition of Métis was very important. In addition, as Métis people began pursuing land claims and other historic rights, it became more important to make sure that the people who would benefit from these entitlements were of Métis ancestry.
However, defining Métis turned out to be a complex and controversial task within the Métis community. Currently, there are three different interpretations of what it means to be Métis:
- Some people believe only those who can show that they have directly descended from the Red River community in Manitoba should be able to call themselves Métis.
- Others see Métis as a more general term for anyone of mixed Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry who identifies with Métis culture.
- The national definition of Métis: “Métis means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is of historic Métis Nations Ancestry, is distinct from other Aboriginal Peoples and is accepted by the Métis Nation.”