Sunday, August 7, 2022

Newcomers to Canada Support Indigenous Peoples and Reconciliation

Public education on Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples is an important component of the reconciliation process.

Knowing history can help citizens better understand current challenges and equip them with the tools to work with respect for indigenous peoples to build a better future, in line with the section on “education for reconciliation ”in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.

Much of this public education takes place in schools, through the media and even through conversations among friends and within families. But new immigrants to Canada may miss out on this socialization (depending on their age of arrival) because they will have less exposure to Canadian schools and media during their formative years.

It can affect their attitude towards indigenous peoples and support for the process of reconciliation itself. Given that one in five Canadians was born abroad, this would pose a significant political risk.

Alternatively, despite less exposure to Canadian schools and media, immigrants may be more supportive of indigenous peoples because they may be more aware of the legacy of colonialism worldwide, more open to learning about their new country, or more aware of their responsibility as newcomers to learning Canadian history.

Indigenous peoples’ support

The question of how immigrants perceive indigenous peoples in Canada, and vice versa, is therefore relevant, but is rarely investigated.

But data from the Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 survey, conducted by the Environics Institute and which include sufficiently large samples of both immigrants and indigenous peoples, enable us to investigate these issues.

Specifically, we can examine perceptions of immigrants towards indigenous peoples and reconciliation, and look at answers to three questions:

  1. How familiar are you with the history of Indian residential schools in Canada?

  2. In your opinion, have governments in Canada gone too far or have they not gone far enough to try to promote reconciliation with indigenous peoples?

  3. Do you believe that individual Canadians have a role to play in efforts to bring about reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, or not?

The results of the survey generally show that, despite less familiarity or certainty about these issues among new immigrants compared to those born in Canada, they are more likely to support indigenous peoples.

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Gap in knowledge

The survey shows a large gap between how well-known indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples – both immigrants to Canada and non-immigrants – are with the history of Indian residential schools.

The findings suggest that first-generation immigrants are less likely than non-Native Canadians to say they are “very familiar” with this history, and are more likely to express no opinion.

These results suggest that first-generation immigrants do not know as much as other Canadians about the history of Indian schools in Canada. It is noteworthy, however, that second-generation Canadians are more likely than third-generation Canadians to feel “very familiar” with the history of Indian residential schools.

A graph shows how familiar newcomers in Canada feel they are with the history of Indian residential schools in Canada compared to indigenous peoples.
Author provided, Author provided

However, this less familiarity among first-generation immigrants does not translate into lower support for efforts to promote reconciliation.

Government response

This support is evident when asked whether governments have gone too far, or not far enough, to promote reconciliation.

The most striking difference – not surprisingly – is that indigenous peoples are far more likely than non-indigenous Canadians to say that governments have failed to go far enough to promote reconciliation.

But first-generation immigrants are just as likely to hold this view as second- or third-generation Canadians. First-generation immigrants are also less likely to say that governments have gone too far in their efforts to promote reconciliation – a result that is significant when it comes to controlling for education (which is an important step as first-generation immigrants are more likely to to have university education than the rest of the population).

First-generation immigrants are also less likely to take a definite stand anyway, and are more likely to say “no” or “can not say.”

A graph shows whether Canadians believe that governments have gone far enough to try to promote reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
A graph shows whether Canadians believe that governments have gone far enough to try to promote reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
Author provided, Author provided

The role of Canadians

Similarly, it is not surprising that indigenous peoples are most likely to say that individual Canadians have a role to play in reconciliation.

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But first-generation immigrants are just as likely as second- or third-generation Canadians to hold this view (although first-generation immigrants are also more likely to have no opinion on this question).

A graph shows whether individual Canadians have a role to play in bringing about reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
A graph shows whether individual Canadians have a role to play in bringing about reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
Author provided, Author provided

These results are encouraging because they suggest that even if immigrants are not socialized in Canada at a young age, it is not a stumbling block to building understanding and support for reconciliation.

Indigenous support for immigration

Interestingly, the survey also enables us to explore the other side of the relationship between immigrants and indigenous peoples in Canada, namely support among indigenous peoples for immigration.

This is a potentially controversial issue. On the one hand, divergent sources of immigration in the period after World War II had already disrupted the story of Canada as a nation of two founding peoples (British and French). This in turn suggests a view of Canada that is not only multicultural, but multinational, and that includes indigenous peoples and nations.

In this sense, the interests of immigrants and indigenous peoples can be aligned. But at the same time, the constant arrival of newcomers can be seen as a continuation of the settler / colonization process.

People are looking at a mural painted on the ground that reads More Justice More Peace.
People look at the More Justice More Peace mural created by 17 artists to raise awareness of the injustices that black and indigenous people suffered in Victoria, BC, in August 2020.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Chad Hipolito

Thoughts on immigration

We can examine this issue by referring to a question in the survey that Canadians ask whether or not they agree that there is generally too much immigration to Canada.

The results show that there are significant differences in attitudes about immigration between the general population and indigenous peoples. Thirty percent of the indigenous peoples “agree” with the statement, the highest percentage among all groups.

A graph shows whether Canadians and Indigenous people believe there is too much immigration to Canada.
A graph shows whether Canadians and Indigenous people believe there is too much immigration to Canada.
Author provided, Author provided

However, this general difference in immigration levels is largely driven by the difference in views between indigenous peoples and first-generation immigrants. While indigenous peoples, compared to first-generation immigrants, are more likely to agree strongly than disagree that there is too much immigration to Canada, there are no statistically significant differences between indigenous peoples and second- or third-generation Canadians. not.

This suggests that the key factor influencing attitudes toward immigration may not be indigenous identity, but to be born in Canada.

Nevertheless, this finding is important because it is a reminder to proponents of more immigration that they should be open to and engage with indigenous peoples’ perspectives on this issue. Immigration, as a policy objective, should be pursued with a view to how it can be viewed by those displaced by the earlier arrival of settlers.

Nation World News Desk
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