Op-Ed: Effects of Liberal Economics on Canada’s Aboriginals

Canadian Aboriginal

Aboriginal issues continue to shape the national debate in Canada. Like many other states with an aboriginal community, Canada’s relationship continues to be rife with mistrust, lack of direction, and an ever-present tutelage – the federal government – that seemingly undermines this relationship from the onset. The heart of this debate is often shaped by the question: how can Canada’s aboriginal community develop without losing their identity? Yet this debate seems to hinge on a great paradox: does development inherently undermine traditions and thus identity?

For many, a liberal economic system endlessly renews itself through innovation, ingenuity and an unwavering commitment to growth. Canada is no stranger to the perpetual hunt for resources and locating a subsequent avenue that will in turn provide these resources to the global market. Because of this, it is no surprise that solving aboriginal issues – poverty, drug addiction, high fertility rate, and low life expectancy, among many others – often hinges on the ability to develop natural resources and subsequent integration into a liberal economic order. In this sense, development through a liberal ethos seems only natural and is simply a hardened fact of life with a slogan that would read: if you want to develop, join the club and adopt liberal economic principles.

Aboriginal issues in Canada are an ongoing discussion and often take two starkly different sides: one side is concerned with progress and ‘getting with the times’, while the other continues to push for traditional living and thus a homegrown identity. Of course the nuances involved in these debates cannot be fully developed here, but they do exist and they are important.

The aboriginal population’s demographics are revealing: The median age of the aboriginal population is 28, while non-aboriginal population is 41; 34 percent of aboriginal children live in single-parent families, versus 17 percent of non-aboriginals; 48 percent of all children in foster care are aboriginal. Depending of your particular affiliation – considering the two sides listed above – some will view these numbers as progress, while others will view such statistics as the ongoing battle against Canada’s Aboriginal community.

What are the current options on the table to reach a state of development? Does development undermine identity? It is interesting first to speculate what development actually means and incredibly telling that in its modern sense development is synonymous with economic principles.

Take for example when the words “development in Nunavut” are typed into a Google search. The first result is the Nunavut Development Corporation, which has three fundamental principles: create employment and income opportunities for residents of Nunavut, especially those in smaller communities; stimulate the growth and development of local businesses; promote economic diversity and long-term stability. Of course this anecdotal evidence should not be surprising, especially given the key words typed in. Yet, as unsurprising as it may be it was also deeply troubling as development has become so closely linked to economic prosperity.

Canada’s aboriginal community continues to experience interventions as an external threat. Of course, the ‘outsiders’, with all the tutelage attached, are not the sole factor that continues to cause poverty, high birthrate and drug addiction. The aboriginals of Canada also have a large amount of responsibility for these ongoing problems. Aboriginal communities continue to sit in a precarious spot on the edge of liberal economics and sustaining a traditional way of life.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Economics, North America

Author:Matthew J. Harker

I am an independent researcher exploring issues such as humanitarian intervention, R2P (Responsibility to Protect), IR theory, critical theory, culture, and theorising on the impact of liberal economics on life. I have studied at Western University (London, Canada), Guelph University (Guelph, Canada), and recently received a Master of IR from McMaster University (Hamilton, Canada).


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4 Comments on “Op-Ed: Effects of Liberal Economics on Canada’s Aboriginals”

  1. Jason Paiement
    July 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    Regarding the “great paradox: does development inherently undermine traditions and thus identity?”, the answer can only be YES if you regard traditions as unchanging and identity as forever fixed in time. For example have the Chinese lost their traditions and identity since they have become richer? Clearly there are some traditions that do in fact undermine development, for example unresponsive local public institutions, insecure property rights, willingness to tolerate inequality, etc. etc. These traditions are sometimes even wrapped in the flags of ethnicity and suggested as identity markers by self-serving interests seeking to preserve a personally more favorable status quo.

    I’m not sure I understand the other points being made here. Is this suggesting that the solution to poverty, high birthrates and drug addiction in Aboriginal communities is less economic development and more traditional ways of life?

    If so, I strongly suggest that you read “FROM OBSERVATION TO HYPOTHESIS FOR FIRST NATIONS PROPERTY RIGHTS IN CANADA: THE ROLE OF INSTITUTIONS, TAXES & SURVEYS” by BRIAN BALLANTYNE (Surveyor General Branch, Natural Resources Canada) and ANDRE LEDRESSAY (Tulo Centre for Indigenous Economics, Thompson Rivers University).

    Available online here: http://www.conftool.com/landandpoverty2013/index.php?page=browseSessions&presentations=show&form_session=64&metadata=show&print=head&abstracts=show

    Ballantyne and Ledressay produce evidence from two initiatives (taxation and renewing parcels) to support their claim that “Insufficient certainty for private sector investors impedes prosperity on First Nations lands in Canada”. In this view, low rates of private investment on First Nation lands lead to high unemployment and other social ills; not unlike similar patterns found in some Black and Latino inner city neighborhoods in the USA.

  2. July 25, 2013 at 1:09 am #

    Hi Jason,
    Thanks for commenting and providing me with a resource for further research.

    The other point stressed in this piece, that unfortunately wasn’t clear to you, seeks to highlight how the predominant solution to Aboriginal issues (high birth rate, drug addiction etc.) is for ‘them’ to develop further economically. This point is about stretching beyond this traditional thought apparatus that many of us hold when attempting to locate a solution for the ‘Aboriginal issue’ in Canada. It’s a theoretical exercise for practitioners and perhaps you.

    Again, thanks very much for commenting on my piece. Look forward to continuing the conversation in the future.


    • jason paiement
      July 25, 2013 at 1:30 am #

      Thanks Matt. This is helpfull. I am also interested in asyou say “stretching” the debate beyond us vs. them tradition vs. developed dichotomies. Any additional insights you can provide in these matters will be most welcome .

      Best regards , Jason


  1. Opinion piece: Canada’s Shift to Northern ‘Development’ | Global Risk Insights - August 11, 2013

    […] July 13 GRI article, Effects of Liberal Economics on Canada’s Aboriginals, asked: Does economic development, and the involvement in liberal economics, inherently undermine […]

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