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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Newcomers from European countries aimed to seize aboriginal land and manipulate Indians in order for no opposing threats to exist. Not rightfully being their land to take, lives of Canada's first nations were destroyed, forcing them to live in unacceptable conditions, and Indian culture, traditions, and values were lost. The aim of this: to destroy the Indian. Lives of aboriginals were greatly impacted and changed with the coming of the white man.

How was aboriginal culture molded by white Canadians through the Indian Act? Through looking at a comparison of the Indian culture before and after, identifying how their culture was shaped by propaganda and the goals the act was meant to have, one can see what effects the Indian Act had on first nations.

“We have been pampering and coaxing the Indians; that we must take a new course, we must vindicate the position of the white man, we must teach the Indians what law is; we must not pauperize them, as they say we have been doing.”

Through the introduction of new lifestyles from Europe, different views, and the associated intolerance, most all aspects of Indian life were lost. "The aim of the Indian Act is to wean them by slow degrees, from their nomadic habits, which have almost become an instinct, and by slow degrees absorb them or settle them on the land.  Meantime they must be fairly protected." John A. MacDonald speaking in the House of Commons, 1880

 This quotation sets an example to the approaches on the Indian Act taken at the time. Evidence of a great amount of discrimination is present in this and it shows how racist policies were set up. The common belief was that Indian people were similar to animals; they were wild, uneducated and had to be civilized in order to fit into European society. This was lead to by a mere unacceptance and intolerance from white newcomers and with an aim to seize the land, drastic measures against aboriginals were drawn.  

Customs, cultures, and traditions were lost, family ties were broken, children were removed from their families and the freedom of Movement was restricted causing Indian people to be discriminated against. Cultural traditions and Indian religion grew to be undesired in Canada, leading to many being banned and stopped under the Indian Act. Potlatches and Sun Dances, along with many other cultural Indian traditions were considered as unacceptable and were therefore banned under the Canadian Government, using the Indian Act.

The Indian Act was "marked by singular disparities in legal rights with Indian people subject to penalties and prohibitions that would have been ruled illegal and unconstitutional if they had been applied to anyone else in Canada."

Indian lifestyles were limited greatly through the act. They were denied the right to vote, they could not sit on juries, volunteer in war and the possession of liquor (on or off the reserve) was punished more harshly under the Act than general laws. Loitering in pool rooms was forbidden, their land was seized and thousands of Indians were brought to live on overpopulated reserves in which living conditions were far from acceptable.

Cultures of Indians were gone against and in an attempt to eliminate aboriginal and Indian culture in Canada, residential schools were used as a mass manipulation tool, where Indian families were obligated to send their children. Being set up by the Canadian Government, residential schools were meant for children to learn English or French and become Christian. The goal here was to erase aboriginal people and isolate children from the rest of their aboriginal life. 150,000 children were brought to residential schools, of which thousands died and were victims of both physical and sexual abuse.

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem.... Our objective is to continue until there is not an Indian that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.”

Schools were all run by churches and funded by the government, which strictly forbid them to learn about their heritage. Schools were overcrowded, there was a lack of food and health care, along with bad sanitation and disease, which lead to 24% of the children dying in schools and 47% dying when being sent back home. Manual labor was mandatory for boys, as well as home duties for girls and the children at residential schools grew up without a nurturing family life, leading to that cultural traditions were lost.

Aforetime the admittance of the Indian Act, Indians lived freely throughout Canada. Each nation had its own social system and additional to this, religion was very important in Indian daily lives. Mother Earth provided the people with food and the animals given to them had to be treated respectfully. Having an exceptional understanding of nature, Indians lived together with it, regarding it as an equal. With the arrival of Europeans, they were unable to understand how people could be equal with animals. Indians had no written laws, no system of writing and knowledge and laws were handed down orally. Everything known to the aboriginal people of Canada was based on sharing and living together, which was not common with European foreigner. North America inhabited around 600 different native Indian tribes.

With the arrival of Europeans, things began to change for Indian Tribes. They met the Europeans, who they considered a marvel. Having a different view, the Europeans saw nature as an obstacle and as a source of of resources. Cultural arrogance was present from the newcomer and following their materialistic views, the idea of owning property set problems, as ownership was not known to natives. Wanting to own the land, Indians were pushed away by the Europeans, thus creating conflicts of different cultures, unacceptance of Indian culture and eventually the attempt of Indian civilization, leading to the introduction of residential schools and the Indian Act.

As a result of intolerant European approaches, residential schools were popularized, Indians were not allowed to own property that was rightfully theirs, reserves specifically for natives were set up and the traditional leadership and sovereignty known to the aboriginal community was abolished. A lot was lost to indigenous people of Canada: lands, resources, traditional, lifestyles and most importantly; their freedom was disoriented. Apart from this, they had only a limited opportunity to sell agricultural goods, very constrained education and were forced to live in confined housing. After the arrival of European newcomers, Indians were not permitted to do most everything they could do before, dealt with abuse in schools, where the culture was purposely kept away from them, all in an aimed manipulation act in order to force European lifestyles upon them.

Being describes as a paradox that confirms special status, the Indian act also provided "a mechanism of social control and assimilation."

In contrast to the freedom and the existing aboriginal society before the arrival of Europeans and after, a noticeable change occurs. Limiting native Americans in most every aspect of their daily life, forced religion and culture was enforced and a horrendous shift in Indian culture became visible.

Succeeding to some degree, the Indian Act proved itself effective for foreign settlers and a strong difference in the Indian lifestyles before and after shows the losses that the culture suffered, as well as the noticeable degradation of Indian society. Lives of Canada's first nations were destroyed, forcing them to live in unacceptable conditions, and Indian culture, tradition, and values were lost.

It is evident, that in fact, the aim to civilize and even "destroy" the Indian has succeeded, as seen from the apparent breaks identified throughout the progression of Indo-European relations. Culture, tradition and Indian society were molded based on the perception of European newcomers, who assimilated and adjusted aboriginal civilization based on their own perception. From this, three distinct attempts to civilize natives emerged; the loss of freedom, religious education and forced ideas of society and the taking of property, culture, and self-identification.

The Indian Act was “a symbol of discrimination, a piece of racist legislation", although it has been supported and protected in order to promote special rights.

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