Coercive Assimilation, No — Multiculturalism, Yes

Last week, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission used the term “cultural genocide” for what happened to the 150,000 or so aboriginal children and their families while the schools operated. TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair made 94 recommendations for change in policies and programs.

In The Globe and Mail last Friday, Erna Paris wrote a column on the TRC’s Report with the title “Know The Truth – Make Amends” in which she discusses the ways various societies have coped with unspeakable crimes committed by them in their recent histories.

She writes:

“A new challenge for Canadians will be to acknowledge the endemic disconnect between our myths and our reality. We view ourselves as a tolerant society that values diversity, but what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made clear is that we could believe this only because we excluded native peoples from the picture…. One key to reconciliation will be the rejection of all forms of coercive assimilation.”

One reason why we exclude native people from our multicultural practices is that they have a fundamentally different history from that of immigrants and, therefore, a different legal and constitutional status. Another is, of course, our inability to cope with what has happened. The TRC’s report points the way towards a better future.

Is it possible to imagine a time when, after we have come to terms with the horrendous past, our native population will freely choose to abandon their reserve–culture and fit themselves into the multicultural pattern of the society as a whole? And is it even conceivable that a time will come when voluntary assimilation will cease to be a bad word – for them, and for the rest of us?

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5 responses to “Coercive Assimilation, No — Multiculturalism, Yes

  1. This is an appropriate time to recall one of the landmark documents of Canada’s history, the Durham Report, which recommended the assimilation of French Canadians. Could that be thought of as an early form of “cultural genocide”?

    • Most certainly the Québecois would think so. But in relation to our native people, do you think assimilation as a long-term objective should be discussed, on the grounds that current policies are likely to lead to demographic disaster?

  2. How could a “policy of assimilation” be perceived by the aboriginal population as anything other than coercive? Give up your land, your traditions, your beliefs, your culture and blend in like the Poles, Somalis, Fins and Scots have done or are doing. This is a solution to a complex social/political problem? A policy put in place by outsiders in Ottawa?

  3. Some would say that current policies have already led to demographic disaster.

  4. Outside of a recourse to a particular, ‘culture-biased’ normative framework is anyone in a position to cast a ‘fair’ moral judgment?