Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Trouble With Aboriginal Rights

First of all, only a small portion of the people on the planet can claim to have aboriginal rights and some of them are not, in fact, the original occupants of the land upon which they may stake their claim. Why should a handful of people have special rights that the vast majority of the people on this planet do not enjoy?

Secondly, it seems to be based solely on where these people happened to be when European explorers and settlers stumbled upon them. Europeans are far from being the first peoples to expand their territory, invade others, push them aside and take control. A short cruise through a general world history book will reveal many, many invasions by foreigners and subsequent development of empires, especially in Asia and the Middle East. So why don't any of the peoples that were suppressed and conquered by these various and sundry conquistadors and empire builders get to stake an aboriginal rights claim? Is it only when white folks do this stuff that it can form the basis of legitimate grievance? Shall we take this a step further and call this race based law?

Truth be told, the origin of the doctrine of aboriginal rights rests in the words of Medieval Popes and Catholic theologians, Pope Innocent IV and one Francisco de Vitoria being among the most important. These were people with a conscience, driven by Christian sensibility - notions of justice and charity and what not - who wanted to secure the protection of the vulnerable peoples living in a simple existence, many of whom possessed only the most primitive of technologies, that Spanish and Portuguese explorers were discovering. In other words, the idea underpinning the entire aboriginal rights agenda is based on what might be considered patronizing today.

Be that as it may, the idea came to permeate the thinking of virtually all European colonial administrations to one degree or another and can been seen expressed in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, in the British insistence that treaties be signed with these sorts of peoples throughout their empire and was central to the gradual emergence of the notion that Indians needed to be wards of the state, as expressed in repeated passing of legislation in Upper Canada during the mid-1800s.


Blogger marginalizedactiondinosaur said...

Well there were the Algonquin almost wiped out the 6 nations reserve is on their land. and the Eskimos in Canada live in the north because they were pushed there.

November 23, 2008 2:18 pm  
Blogger Louise said...

Looks like I edited out some part of my post. I had used the example of the Dene pushing against the Eskimo and the Cree intruding into Blackfoot territory, etc. etc.. Too much editing, cutting and pasting and I can't even see it sitting on the floor, since it was only virtual. Damn.

November 23, 2008 3:18 pm  
Blogger Louise said...

And yes, I had used the Huron and others being pushed around by the Iroquois as they expanded north.

November 23, 2008 3:23 pm  

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