Confederation is often explained as a great and progressive thing, and I mean, it is hard to deny its value to making our nation what it is today. However, when we put confederation on a pedestal for its “inclusiveness”, that’s where we go wrong. When we take a good look into confederation, it is easy to notice that while many groups of people are included in the discussions, almost as many are not. This was true for Aboriginal communities at the time. What makes this particular exclusiveness even worse is that it was the Aboriginal’s land that was at stake. They, more than anyone, deserved to be included in the process of confederation.
All of the exclusiveness at the time makes me wonder how things would differ if the Aboriginals were included in the development of Canada. How would it have changed the relationships at the time or even our current relations today? Would there be new benefits for all groups by working together? How much of a say would the Aboriginals even get? Although the answers to these questions would all be hypothetical, I still wanted to take a look into a topic that would help me further my thinking about these things. Therefore, I have decided to look into the question:
- How did a country that included Aboriginals in confederation differ from a country (like Canada) did not?
The country I decided to look into to answer this question was New Zealand. Canada and New Zealand did, and still do, have many structural similarities, but also some significant differences on their relationship with Indigenous peoples. Like Canada, New Zealand had complications with their Indigenous communities at first, but unlike Canada, were able to resolve their problems in a timely fashion. The following PDF from the Cape York Institute was the resource I used to conduct my research:
A little background: New Zealand was home to Indigenous peoples before colonization occurred. Once the British arrived, the Maori people were treated poorly; their land taken, discriminatory policies made against them, and the inability to practice their culture. In addition, the British brought over disease. This resulted in the death of an abundance of Maori peoples, making them a minority. Sound familiar? This is similar to the early history of Canada in terms of their relationship with the various Aboriginal communities. Unfortunately, Canada’s story does not improve as effectively as New Zealand’s does.
27 years before Canada’s confederation, New Zealand went through major positive change with the Maori peoples. In 1840, approximately 500 Maori chiefs contributed to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. This treaty is especially important to history as it was the framework for all future positive relations between the peoples of New Zealand. As outlined by Cape York Institute’s paper, there are three key articles which are a part of the treaty:
- “Article One declares that the native chiefs cede their sovereignty and authority absolutely and without reservation to the British Crown (although this is disputed, as the Maori text of the Treaty employs a concept that falls short of the English concept of ‘sovereignty’).
- Article Two confirms and guarantees the Indigenous tribes ‘full exclusive and undisturbed’ possession of their properties as long as they wish to retain those properties; but says that the tribes yield to the Crown the exclusive and pre-emptive right of alienation at agreed prices.
- Article Three says that ‘in consideration therefore’ – so in return, presumably, for ceding sovereignty and granting the Crown the exclusive and pre-emptive right to buy native land – the Crown grants the native people ‘royal protection’ and imparts ‘all the rights and privileges of British subjects’. Thus, Article Three gives the native people equal citizenship and equality before the law, but may also establish a duty of protection, whereby the Crown is supposed to act in the best interests of Indigenous people. “
The Treaty of Waitangi was a huge help in initially changing the national mindset to be respectful of Maori rights. Through this treaty, New Zealand recognized themselves to be bicultural, with Maori language and culture being a part of the country’s identity to this day. The New Zealand national anthem is often performed in the Maori language and Maori rituals are performed during various ceremonies. Each are also taught in schools. Furthermore, New Zealand celebrates “Waitangi Day” as a national holiday. While we have Canada Day, New Zealand chose to have Waitangi Day (as opposed to something like “New Zealand Day”) to celebrate the signing of the Waitangi Treaty.
Years later, following the practices of the treaty, the Waitangi Tribunal was born. In 1975, the tribunal was created as a safe space for the Maori to share their stories. In doing so, the remainder of the country is educated on Maori history. What makes the tribunal worth looking up to is the fact that half of the members are experts in Maori affairs, while the other half are Maori themselves. Thus creating a very valid representation of the group. Cape York Institute explains the Waitangi Tribunal as follows:
- “It is an important forum for the Maori to tell their story, and it provides a safe environment in which to air their grievances.
- It has an educative role for the country as a whole (particularly through the reports that it hands down).
- The process is empowering for the Maori: they are able to tell their history the way they want to—this enables them to deal with their emotions in order to focus on the best future.
- The Tribunal’s role has changed over the years: it has a historical role, but also a role in keeping the Crown honest in managing the Treaty relationship, which has shifted from a focus on compensation to maintaining the ongoing relationship.”
Finally, what really helped to repair the relationship with the Maori peoples was seriously following through with Truth and Reconciliation. In my last Document of Learning, I discuss Apologies vs. Actions in terms of the Aboriginal people of Canada. I note that early on, continuous “sorry”s were said and acts without true purpose were made. For example, “the way that the government and church chose to show apologies was through compensation packages. These packages provided residential school survivors money in order to repay their bad experiences.” While an apology and compensation packages are a nice gesture of reconciling, where is the truth? Who knows it? New Zealand faces the truth of their past head on, making it much easier for the Maori people to even agree to reconcile. Why reconcile without the truth?
While we cannot exactly know how including the Aboriginal communities in confederation would effect our country presently, by taking a look at a country that has demonstrated how to be inclusive of Indigenous peoples, we can at least predict what our country could have been. The quick and effective actions to fix disputes involving the Maori peoples in New Zealand have resulted in better relationships between people in the country today. Not only does having a bicultural nation make the place more inclusive, but it also helps to create a more unique cultural identity. If Canada were to follow New Zealand’s path early on (which we totally could have because New Zealand has always been a couple steps ahead), we could see our country living up to its “kind, polite, wonderful” name today. Although it is unfortunate that we have not reached this point yet, it’s not too late. Canada should take the time to look into the practices New Zealand has put forward to reconcile with its Indigenous peoples. By learning from our friends down under, maybe we can be better friends up north.