Indigenous middle class key to closing tragic cultural chasm

The large and growing Indigenous middle class has shown us the way, by successfully integrating without any loss of their Indigenous culture and identity

The Great Divide creates the rugged border between Alberta and British Columbia. However, Canada has another great divide: the trial of Gerald Stanley for the killing of Colten Boushie. It brought into sharp focus the huge chasm in this country between mainstream Canadians and Indigenous people.

It’s not necessary to recite the facts of the case. By now they are well known. Suffice to say that a young man’s life came to a tragic end, a jury heard the evidence and acquitted, and the subject of race is now reverberating through the country.

How did things get to this point?

We have created – or perhaps it’s better to say that we’ve all blundered into – a strange form of apartheid in Canada. Many Indigenous people live in one world, the rest of us in another.

The extremely odd thing about these two worlds is that the ‘rest’ now includes a large and growing Indigenous middle class, composed of lawyers, academics, artists, senators, judges and others. These people have successfully integrated into the Canadian whole, but have done so while preserving their Indigenous identity and culture. The group shares an ethnicity with the Indigenous underclass but that’s really all. In other respects, the mainly urban Indigenous middle class is mainstream.

Meanwhile, many Indigenous people live in poverty and remain dependent. Boushie lived in a rundown trailer with a broken septic system. Most of the members of that community don’t have it any better. Welfare and an alcohol culture have become a way of life on most Prairie reserves.

Many of the reserve administrations appear to have failed in their responsibility. They appear to have created a world of poverty, corruption and hopelessness that doesn’t seem likely to change.

How do we deal with this great divide?

If you listen to Indigenous leaders, the answer is to make the divide even wider, through a ‘third order of government,’ separate economies, separate everything. These leaders seem to have the ear of a prime minister who doesn’t seem to have a problem with the idea of further dividing the country along racial lines – even appearing to believe that racial quotas for juries make sense.

It should be clear by now where separateness has taken us. Visit Red Pheasant First Nation and judge for yourself.

Surely the answer is to bridge the divide, not widen it. Indigenous people need to be full participants in the economy, not pushed to the fringes.

Fortunately, the large and growing Indigenous middle class has shown how to do exactly that, creating successful inclusion with no loss of Indigenous culture and identity.

That’s the solution to the great divide.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


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