Stereotypes on Native People and the Facts Behind Them

Johanne Thomson-Sweeny

Stereotypes are defined by the Oxford dictionary as being widely held but oversimplified ideas of the typical characteristics of a person or thing. These stereotypes divide groups and hinder the understanding and acceptance of those who are perceived as being different. In Canada, stereotypes are present just like in every country; however, there is a certain group who seems to be targeted more than others. Ever since the first contact with Europeans, native people have largely been misunderstood and disrespected because they were seen as different and inferior. The following will be an account of three common stereotypes and the facts behind them.

Native people have more social services than non-native people, in health for example. They also have access to special programs in a multitude of areas. This must mean that they are more privileged than non-natives.

In truth, native people are not more privileged than non-native people. Aboriginal people have a life expectancy inferior to that of the Canadian average, which indicates an overall poor health. In 2001, "life expectancy was 77 years for Aboriginal women and 71 years for Aboriginal men, about 5 years less than for non-Aboriginal people" (Statistics Canada). This gap illustrates how Aboriginal people are not more privileged than non-Aboriginal people. This can also be seen in how "First Nation children, on average, receive 22% less funding for child welfare services than other Canadian children" (AFN). Another example that demonstrates how Aboriginal people are not more privileged than non-Aboriginal people is the Aboriginal incarceration rate, which is eight times higher than the Canadian average. Aboriginal people continue to be over-represented in custody as Statistics Canada shows. "In 2010/2011, 27% of adults in provincial and territorial custody and 20% of those in federal custody involved Aboriginal people, about seven to eight times higher than the proportion of Aboriginal people (3%) in the adult population as a whole" (Statistics Canada). Such a high criminality rate indicates poverty, but also discrimination. This discrimination is reinforced by the authorities. This discrimination is what Elizabeth Comack, a Sociology professor at the University of Manitoba, calls "racialized policing", in which the native people are abused by the police because of discrimination. Aboriginal people are perceived as criminals, delinquents, because of the unjust system in which they live.

Aboriginal people are rich because they do not have to pay taxes.

Many people believe that Aboriginal people do not have to pay taxes, thus indicating that they are economically better off than non-native people. Native people pay taxes on their income if they work outside of the reserve. If they live on the reserve, they are exempt under Section 87 of the Indian Act, which states that the "personal property of an Indian or a band situated on a reserve" (Justice Laws Website) is tax exempt. Also, "Inuit and M├ętis people are not eligible for this exemption and generally do not live on reserves" (AADNC). With this in mind, the employability rate on the reserves is quite low. In 2006, the unemployment rate for Aboriginal people living on reserves was of 23.1% according to Statistics Canada. Also, just like non-native Canadians, native people often cannot take advantage of being exempted from taxes for the simple reason that their incomes are too low, which means they are not taxable.

Aboriginal people are uncivilized.

Concerning the belief that native people are uncivilized, many support this argument by saying that Aboriginal people do not take care of themselves, that they are all alcoholics, and that they do not know how to take care of their children. Aboriginal people have to live with the repercussions of discrimination and poverty, which is reflected in their way of life. They are limited in their access to information, good quality products, thus limited in their ability to practice healthy habits. However, it is impossible to say that all Aboriginal people are alcoholics, as alcoholism is not genetic. Alcoholism is a symptom of past suffering, like those who suffered because of the residential schools. Because of their socio-economic situation, some Aboriginal people are still suffering today. Some are trapped in a cycle of oppression and hardship from which it is hard to break free. Some of those who went to residential school who were not able to escape the emotional and mental consequences projected their sufferings onto their children, their husbands, or wives. Bev Sellars, who went to residential school, explains in her book They Called Me Number One how the residential school brainwashed her. Residential school made her raise her children "Mission style", without much love or affection. Hers is just one example among many that illustrates how the way Aboriginal people were and are treated perpetuates in the way they treat themselves as well as their families.

Aboriginal people are very often misunderstood, which leads to these types of stereotypes and prejudices. It is non-native people's responsibility to inform themselves about the truth concerning native people in order to understand them and to stop the discrimination.

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