Citizens Plus: Bridging the Divide

Citizens Plus: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State
Alan C. Cairns (UBC Press)

Alan C. Cairns has completed a remarkable and well-researched study that adds a measure of sanity to the often histrionic debate over Aboriginal rights in Canada.

The author reviews major research, academic analyses, and key documents including the 1969 White Paper and the 1996 report from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples to offer a thorough discussion of the current and historical relationship between the federal government and Aboriginal peoples. He also discusses the main ideological platforms that compose government policy and Aboriginal self-government strategy. Cairns argues that these paradigms – assimilation (on the government side) and parallelism (on the Aboriginal side) – will not heal the fractious relationship between Canadians and Aboriginal peoples.

The author dismisses the government’s attempts to assimilate Aboriginal peoples into the dominant society by arguing that a society can be made up of smaller communities invested in a larger purpose characterized by universal values such as human rights and equity. But Cairns says the Aboriginal insistence on special recognition and powers that amount to a third order of government are not the way to achieve that society. Parallelism, he says, stresses a permanence of difference that does not foster a common civic identity, but instead pushes Aboriginal peoples to the extreme margins of society, with the result that Canadians do not recognize them as fellow citizens.

Cairns makes a cogent and compelling argument for integration as the middle road between assimilation and parallelism, noting that 50 percent of the Aboriginal population is urban-based. They are the people, he says, who force – by their very presence – real change within dominant systems and institutions.

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