Aboriginal Canadians and European Settlers

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Aboriginal Canadians and European settlers

In the history of contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada, there has been an imbalance in acculturative influences. Generally, Aboriginal peoples have been changed substantially, with serious erosion of their cultures and identities. However, this dominance by Euro Canadian peoples has also been met by resistance by Aboriginal peoples. Policy and programme changes to alter the relationship between these two sets of people are suggested, including a reduction in pressures toward assimilation and segregation which have historically resulted in the marginalization of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. When individuals experience intercultural contact, the issue of who they are comes to the fore. Prior to major contact, this question is hardly an issue; people routinely and naturally think of themselves as part of their cultural community, and usually value this attachment in positive terms. Of course, other life transitions (such as adolescence) can lead people to wonder, and even doubt, which they are. But it is only during intercultural contact that their cultural identity may become a matter of concern. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples established a research project on Aboriginal cultural identity, and commissioned reports on the subject. This paper is based on one of those reports, and draws upon concepts, data and analyses that were carried out as a consultant to that project The main line of argument in this paper is that intercultural contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada (both historically, and at the present time), has initiated a process of acculturation (at both the cultural and psychological levels), during which Aboriginal peoples have experienced cultural disruption, leading to reducedwell-being and to identity confusion and loss. It is further argued that sincethis process has resulted from interactions between Aboriginal and nonAboriginal peoples, the key to reestablishing a sense of well-being and secure cultural identity resides in restructuring the relationships between these two communities. This paper contains four sections: a discussion of the concept of cultural identity, as it derives from the social science literature; a brief review of the process and consequences of intercultural contact; a summary of the main findings; and a discussion of their implications for policy and programmed. May lead to more positive identities, and to cultural and psychological outcomes that are more fulfilling. Breton and Norman fishermen came into contact with the Algonquians of the northeast at the beginning of the 16th century, if not earlier, as they put into natural harbors and bays to seek shelter from storms and to replenish water and food supplies. There is some indication that these first contacts with Aboriginal inhabitants were not always friendly. A few individuals were kidnapped and taken to France to be paraded at the court and in public on state and religious occasions. Also, precautions seem to have been taken to hide the women inland when parties landed from ships engaged in cod fishing or walrus hunting. On the other hand, there were mutually satisfactory encounters as trade took place. The Algonquian brought furs, hides and fish in exchange for beads, mirrors and other European goods of aesthetic and perhaps spiritual value. Both sides seemed content with this growing exchange. Soon the Algonquian exacted goods of more materialistic value, such as needles, knives, kettles or woven cloth, while the French displayed an insatiable desire for well-worn beaver cloaks. In the 16th century, the French, like their western European neighbors, proceeded to lay claim to lands "not possessed by any other Christian prince" based on the European legal theory of Terra Nullius. This theory argued that since these lands were uninhabited, or at least uncultivated, they needed to be brought under...
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