Reid between the lines

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The Angus Reid Institute released a controversial survey in early June demonstrating contradictory and sharply divided Canadian attitudes toward Indigenous people. For example, 53% of Canadians don’t believe Indigenous people should have a status different from other Canadians. But 60% of the same sample group believe that treaties have been too often disregarded and ignored by Canada.

Just over half, 53%, believe Canada has apologized enough for the residential school system. Yet 47% believe the harm is ongoing and cannot be ignored.

Self-governance is a problem for 66% of Canadians who feel First Nations communities should be governed the same way as everyone else. The remaining 34% feel that they should have more independence and control over their own affairs. Even more interesting is that 53% think that Indigenous people would be better off if they integrate more into mainstream Canada, even if it means losing more of their culture and traditions.

One would have to ask if responses from Canadians indicate a level of cultural racism? This type of racism typically uses cultural stereotypes that allows people to think about groups inappropriately and ignorantly. It could be a result of systemic racism. One only has to look at Canada’s historic methods of dealing with First Nations. Canada’s public policies, institutional practices (residential schools, foster care, prisons), cultural representations and other norms have reinforced racial inequality.

A prime example of the impact on Canadian perceptions was the financial transparency policy of the former Conservative government, which imposed third-party management on communities with deficits. Only 28% saw the governments as spending too little on Indigenous issues with 20% saying they spent about the right amount. But 33% felt it was too much or way too much money dealing with those issues.

Most Canadians have no more than a passing acquaintance with a First Nations reserve. Only 4% said they were frequently present, with another 26% saying they saw a few things and visited a bit. Fully 38% said they had never been to a reserve at all.

Meanwhile, the poll found that more than a third of Canadians (35%) have never had any contact with an Indigenous person, 17% had a personal relationship or friendship with someone, 23% had acquaintances and 33% had impersonal contact in public places. That makes it easy to have prejudices when there is such limited contact or real knowledge of Indigenous persons or their communities. In any case, 66% felt that any money or attention given to Indigenous issues had generally ineffective results.

The study shows that 65% of Canadians have very little understanding of Indigenous issues. At best they know the basics and not much more. In that context the viewpoints of most Canadians are not based on true knowledge of the conditions, aspirations, needs and other considerations of Canada’s Indigenous population but rather on prejudices shaped by opinions, government rhetoric or actions, social media or the news.

It clearly indicates a need for interaction and educating Canadians on the realities of First Nations. There is hope as 61% of Canadians are optimistic about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians in the future. Obviously, however, there is work to do.

The Angus Reid Institute polled 2443 people for this survey, giving the study a margin of error of 2.5% 19 times out of 20.

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