Last Updated October 8, 2017

Why Infrastructure (Canada)

Drawing from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), Canada’s relationship with its Aboriginal people has had essentially three phases4;

Displacement and assimilation of Aboriginal people began in the late 1700's under British rule. Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald created Canada’s policy on forced Aboriginal assimilation when he informed Parliament Canada’s goal would be,

“... to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the inhabitants of the Dominion.”1

The country’s perception of this policy was as a duty to “civilize” Aboriginal people. This duty became the justification for the extensive annexation of Aboriginal lands and resources. Federal legislation was created that purposely designed educational systems, social policies and economic developments to extinguish Aboriginal rights and assimilate Aboriginal people. As a direct consequence of Canada’s policy on forced Aboriginal assimilation, two paths were laid out at confederation,

“... one for non-Aboriginal Canadians with full participation in the affairs of their communities, province and nation; and one for the people of the First Nations, separated from provincial and national life, and henceforth to exist in communities where their traditional governments were ignored, undermined and suppressed, and whose colonization was as profound as it would prove to be immutable over the ensuing decades.”5

One hundred and forty one years later, on June 11, 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that forced Aboriginal assimilation no longer had a place in Canada. The legacy of Canada’s policy on forced assimilation includes:

Across Canada, most Nation communities are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty because they refused to assimilate to non-aboriginal ways. Poverty in today’s Aboriginal communities was purposely caused by the destruction of traditional Aboriginal infrastructure in an effort to force Aboriginal people from their land into non-Aboriginal communities. The withholding of Aboriginal rights to build traditional infrastructure while the Indian Residential School system erased memories of the cultural functioning of local, regional and national Aboriginal infrastructure, left Canada’s Indigenous Peoples almost devoid of infrastructure. What little infrastructure remains now functions as non-Aboriginal infrastructure facilitating federal programs developed within a system created by the policy of forced assimilation. Traditional Aboriginal infrastructures are missing for trade and commerce, education, resource management, traditional foods, health, justice and more.

Now that Canada has acknowledged the human carnage caused by the policy of forced Aboriginal assimilation, we are left with absent, insufficient or inappropriate infrastructure in each of the areas that Indigenous infrastructures should have developed to keep pace with the changing needs of Indigenous citizens. These missing traditional infrastructures would have developed in a modern context and integrated into modern Canadian and global infrastructure. Nothing will change for Canada’s First Nation, Inuit, Innu and Métis nations until missing traditional aboriginal infrastructures are restored and harmonized into both the Canadian and global systems. Only then will reconciliation in Canada be achieved.

It is time for a fourth phase in Canada’s relationship with its Aboriginal Peoples. It is time for the phase of restoration and harmonization. To achieve this, traditional Aboriginal infrastructure needs to be rebuilt and harmonized with local, provincial, federal and international infrastructure. These infrastructures would already exist if Canada had not chosen to displace and assimilate its Indigenous Peoples.



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Last Updated October 8, 2017