Focus Paper for A New Way of Thinking
Focus Paper for A New Way of Thinking
by Wayne Helgason
Aboriginal people are probably the most sensitive to the issues of exclusion
and inclusion due to a significant number of historical and current circumstances.
Given that First Nation, Metis and Inuit people have a special relationship
particularly with the Federal government, considerations in terms of advancing
a social inclusion agenda trigger issues from several points of reference.
First Nation people have only recently been included in the democratic process
of voting in Federal elections. (1961). Residential Schools run by the Catholic
and Anglican churches closed only recently (70's) and were seen by the dominant
perspective to have had the purpose of equipping First Nation children to more
easily be included in Canadian Society.
Just at the point when Aboriginal people seem to be achieving progress as to
their circumstances they are likely to be reticent to eagerly engage in a discussion
or agreements led by proponents external to their community. There is however
a tolerance for especially among the youth who have not been as barriered as
previous generations and have had increasing educational success.
The political context is also quite unique. While nation-to-nation treaties
have existed since the last century, the Canadian Constitution reference to
existing rights and the products of the last decade: The Royal Commission on
Aboriginal People; an Inherent Right Federal Policy and a Gathering Strength
Agenda have raised expectations within Aboriginal communities as to resolution
on many social and economic issues.
At a recent consultation/discussion on the issues of social inclusion held in
Winnipeg with the support of the Laidlaw Foundation the following points were
II. Key Points
- There are and have been benefactors from marginalization and social
- The experiences of Aboriginal people need to be examined and understood
before any significant discussion on social inclusion can take place.
- The focus will initially need to be on social exclusion and who and
what is doing the excluding before the principles of social inclusion can be
- Choice is necessary; choice in who sets the agenda and the right to
choose whether or not inclusion is an objective.
- Social inclusion requires fundamental changes in institutions and individual
III. Summary of Discussions
How does Social Inclusion resonate as a concept with Aboriginal people in general?
- Social exclusion is the current method of solving all social problems.
- There are many layers of inclusion and exclusion.
- Marginalized groups need to determine for themselves how to best meet
their needs and goals given the options at their avail.
- Balancing and maintaining relationships is an important element of
- Many people benefit from marginalization; our marginalization is an
- The first step towards SI is to understand how people have benefited
from exclusion and to understand how the dominant culture has actively excluded
people (including through racism).
- The excluded must be ensured the right to decide when they wish to
remain excluded and act on their own terms (for example, the Aboriginal Justice
Inquiry Child Welfare Initiative).
- Aboriginal people need to think about how they perceive inclusion.
- Can SI be used to change the direction of public policy and practice
toward Aboriginal people?
- The Canada West Foundation document points out that there is no urban
Aboriginal policy framework in Manitoba; could SI fill this role?
- The urban Aboriginal population faces different problems than immigrants.
- Any Aboriginal policy framework must include federal, provincial and
municipal levels of government.
- We need to examine what it is the marginalized group (in this case,
Aboriginal people), are being included in, what they are excluded from, and
on whose terms the exclusion and/or inclusion is occurring.
- Sensitivity is fundamental; people need to be understood and feel that
they are valued. One participant shared the story of being invited to a barbeque
as a child and then being asked why he did not bring any food. Inclusion needs
to be about more than access alone, rather about full citizenship and respecting
the individual as a whole person.
- For many Aboriginal people, mainstream society denied them their Aboriginal
identity as children (for example, nuns in residential schools telling them
not to act like an Indian). As adults they are expected to fit into mainstream
society, while they feel caught between two different worlds.
Problems in applying SI to Aboriginal people
- The dominant culture (and all of its vehicles- for example, the education
system) will not accept that they are actively exclusionary.
- Canadian institutions have proven themselves effective at propaganda,
convincing people that racism and exclusion do not exist. There is a veil of
ignorance that must be lifted before SI for Aboriginal people can be implemented.
- We consistently use the example of the United States, and in the process
hide behind our own exclusionary system. For example, we point to health care
as representative of our universality in order to demonstrate to the US that
we are inclusive when it actuality we are not.
- Not everyone aspires to the same thing, as is implied in SI.
- Will social inclusion be a continuation of assimilation?
- Who will define what it is people are to be included in?
- Society thrives on exclusion; there is exclusion even within the Aboriginal
- Will SI become just another buzzword and an excuse not to do anything?
- Policy makers often fail to recognize the diversity among people and
it can be a struggle to be identified as having unique needs and concerns.
- Employment equity programs have had little to no impact; how will social
inclusion be different?
- Policy depends on who interprets it and may not be indicative of front-line
implementation and practice. For example, money for training programs is tied
to practice, which ultimately has led to gender exclusion.
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