Distracting ourselves, destroying cultures

I pride myself that I am Canadian. More precisely, I am proud of a nation that fosters and develops individual cultures in a world where a myriad of cultures exist. I was always taught that Canada was a place where an individual could escape unjust persecution due to race, religion, or political belief. However, to tread once more on the worn cliche, things are not always as they seem.

While many cultures are quite accurately represented, hassle-free, in our great nation, one in particular has been receiving increased media attention in the past while, being thrust into the spotlight over land and rights disputes. The proud culture of aboriginal Canadians is often portrayed as strong, active and stoic, and parties who further this belief profit from this depiction. Most people, in turn, tend to believe this is how society views them.

The truth is, our general perception of these people is far different. Too many of us see natives as the poverty-stricken man on the corner, passively asking for change. It seems very few can recall the majesty of a culture, the first culture in our great land. Before the European presence, these were people who lived and died with the land, existing in harmony with their environment. These were people with many individual cultures, rich with art, family, laws, spiritual beliefs, music, and holding a devotion to the land and everything in it. It casts a very different light on our modern society.

Aboriginal cultures promote tolerance, respect, devotion and community, the very same ideals we as Canadians pride ourselves on. But how much of our pride is justified?

With the arrival of European influence came the exploitation and attempted conversion of these "savages" to what was known as "civilized." Many argue this is a barbaric practice, forever left behind in the depths of history. The truth is, though the harassment and judging of our first people has changed form, it has not stopped. We still have many groups living on "reservations," little more than governmentally regulated ghettos. More often than not, the house a family lives in is sent to them, so graciously, in a box.

Those wishing to escape the reservation have little choice. They can move to the city, where they face harsh prejudice, or they can attempt to go back into the wilderness, trying their hand at a lifestyle that has been neglected in the face of assimilation. The lives they lead are tainted with fear and mistrust, as they must (for the most part) rely on a government that ousted their ancestors for housing, food, and money.

So, who are they now? How are they to live and represent a culture that has been whitewashed and constrained for generations? And when they wish to rise above poverty, substance abuse and national neglect, what must they do?

If they hope to become "respectful citizens," to whom prejudices are not so harsh, they must often shirk their heritage and fit a mold. Does that sound like acceptance? They have almost completely lost their identity, the very thing that helps us all, as humans, understand and relate to the world around us.

The one major threat, or hope, to the heritage and lifestyle of our aboriginal people lies in you, the reader, and all those around you. How you perceive these men and women will influence the laws and stigmas that have held them down for so long. They have a desire to restore their culture to what it once was; a simple and just desire.

We all have the right to live as we wish, yet it is not always so simple.
We live in a society where community and human contact have been almost entirely discarded for hollow ideals, like consumerism and instant gratification. If people are too busy making money, lusting after the next object to help them cope with a world that ignores and neglects them, how are they to take the time to understand these people? If our culture continues as is, complete with a blatant lack of accountability and little thought to future consequences, how are issues like equality and compassion or sympathy for your common man going to be addressed?
I realize this has more to do with all of us, as opposed to one specific minority group, yet the way we perceive others and the effort we make to understand those around us is directly related to how well we understand ourselves. Our society teaches us to distract ourselves, to not look hard at our problems, and we apply these same lessons to our aboriginal people.

By giving people their due respect, we can make it so no one has to live with prejudice, with neglect, with fear. It is fear that is the ultimate backbreaker, as most of the natives to this land must first worry for their lives, families, and homes, and they often are forced to neglect their ancient customs, causing a despair stemming from a loss of identity. If things continue on as they have been, this precious culture will be completely absorbed, lost forever.

Stop now, and ask yourself these two questions: What would I do if someone treated me as they have been treated for years upon years? What makes them any different from me?

The only true way to bring about change is through understanding. Understand the people. Understand the problem. Prevent this massive social injustice from growing. Help the proud, rich culture of our First Nations People in a simple way: Treat it with the same respect that every culture deserves. Defend it like you would defend your own right to life, to an identity.

It is a basic right everyone should have, especially in their homeland. Yet this proud people, who have lived here for so many generations, risk being washed away, forever, by a deluge of ignorance and neglect.

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