The First Nations of Canada

"Our Place in the World

concerning Traditional Values"

Robert B. Lyons

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About the author


What is meant by the term 'values?'

What were 'values' as defined in the past?

What are contemporary Canadian values?

What are Traditional Native values?


Throughout my lifetime I have developed a unique understanding of the relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples and I have had occasion to witness many incidents where the differing value systems of Native and non-Native cultures have come into conflict.

By writing this paper I hope to provide the reader with an indepth understanding of the relationships between Native and non-Native people in Canada. It is my contention that the majority of non-Native individuals do not view the Native peoples as being equal persons. The reason for this is simply because the value system within which non-Aboriginal persons have been educated has subjugated their true nature to the extent that Native cultures are regarded as intruders when viewed from a Western perspective.

This does not mean to imply that individuals in both societies have a tendency to despise one another, for experience has shown me that this is certainly not the case. Yet, there is seemingly an ‘us against them’ attitude prevalent within non-Aboriginal Canadian society when issues concerning Native peoples are addressed and it is the underpinnings of this attitude which I hope to explore within the pages of this paper.

As could be expected, it is the differences in value systems which seem to be one of the contributing factors to the rift separating Western society from Native society. This is understandable to some extent when one considers that the Western world view is predominant and therefore affects the majority of Canadians in one manner or another as a collectivity of individuals, but it does not explain the indifference shown towards Native persons by the majority of the Canadian non-Aboriginal community. Are not the Native peoples a component of that collectivity even though their distinctness may invariably portray them as being different?

In this paper I hope to address the notion of changing values systems, that is to say that throughout history value systems were imposed upon individuals by both state and church. These imposed notions of what was to be considered proper value oriented beliefs and actions eventually usurped the fundamental values basic to each individual and hence to Western society collectively. It has brought us to a point where values are now, for the most part, based upon material gain and individual freedom as opposed to concern for community as a conglomerate of individuals being the predominant basis for value system construction.

The emphasis in Canada today is placed upon the accumulation of wealth and the acquisition of property, which are seemingly the foundation for the improvement of living conditions for an individual or an individual and his or her family members.

Since this contemporary ‘way of life’ demands that an individual’s attention and energy be primarily focused on employment it can be noted that this effort is taking away from valuable time spent with family members. In an exceptionally large portion of Canadian society both parents in a family are involved in providing for the welfare of the family and this leaves considerable less time to devote to children, aging parents, and close acquaintances. Moreover, this individualism seems to leave little room for concern towards issues which do not directly affect the individual, his or her immediate family, or their personal acquainances.

When Native peoples and Native issues are viewed by such individuals from this perspective it can be noted that Native peoples seem to be very low on their list of priorities. Native issues do not command the attention due them simply because non-Aboriginal persons attend very little value to these issues since the more demanding concerns of family and near acquaintances require immediate attention.

In this context, the majority of the non-Aboriginal population of Canada have no time to be concerned about Native issues. They, as a population, leave this problem in the hands of duly elected government officials and are not personally fully aware of the position of the Native Peoples of Canada.

Aboriginal peoples seem to have no position in the value system of contemporary Western society and if we consider kindness, compassion, caring, neighborliness, equality, and sympathy to be parts of this value system; we must question why it is that Native people seem to be ignored by such a system?

Why is it that Native people are regarded as having problems, which cost the Canadian taxpayer, causing problems, of concern to Canadian society as a whole, and just considered to be a problem in the minds of the majority of non-Aboriginal people?

My contention is that changing value systems have caused the majority of non-Aboriginal individuals or groups of individuals to focus their moral attention upon a very limited selection of family and close acquaintances. Very few ethical or moral considerations seem to be given to Native peoples on a societal level. Aboriginal peoples have come to be viewed very impersonally by non-Aboriginal society and until this view changes there will continue to be only insignificant advances by Aboriginal peoples in the fight to gain their rights and freedoms and the respect of Canadian society as a whole.

In contemporary times Aboriginal peoples are negotiating with the Canadian governments to gain what is their rightful due, but Canadian governments must act as duly elected representatives of the majority of Canadian society and until this same society recognizes that moral considerations must be given to Aboriginal peoples on the grounds that it is the right thing to do only superficial advancement concerning Aboriginal issues will continue to occur.

The following pages will attempt to provide the reader with a general view of the changes which have occurred in the value systems of Western society from the early Greek and Roman Empires up until contemporary times.Top

The intent of this paper is to provide the reader with answers to the following questions related to what are commonly referred to as 'values' with the intent of providing a better understanding as to why government is reluctant to deal with issues involving First Nations People in an expedient and equitable manner.1

What is meant by the term 'values?'Top

What were 'values' as defined in the past? Top

What are canadian contemporary values? Top

What are traditional Native values? Top

To be used for Footnotes. Back

About the Author

Hi! My name is Bruce Lyons and I am currently a Grad student at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay Ontario Canada. I am in the process of finishing an HBA thesis paper dealing with the changing value structures in Canadian society.

Since the reader may well come to the premature conclusion that this is no more than a subjective paper voicing the views of a sole individual I feel that it is necessary to present a brief explanation of the author. I am a Status Indian born and raised in Canada. I have adequate knowledge of the value systems of both the Native and non-Native cultures since I have lived my entire life interacting within both societal settings. It must be pointed out that although I am a registered Indian I do not look ‘Indian.’ The reason I state this fact is so that the reader may better understand that I have been privy to many unadulterated conversations about ‘Indians’ by non-aboriginal groups and individuals simply because I was not recognized as being an ‘Indian’, and I have found myself in situations where my lack of Indian features has allowed me to gain a more complete understanding of what many individuals from all walks of Canadian life think about Native people and Native issues.

What I have learned through personal experience is invaluable to me as an individual and I believe that this very knowledge can provide all of us with a more informed representation of the relationships between Native and non-Native peoples.

I do not profess to know more than any other individual concerning Western or Native cultures, I only wish to inform the reader that some of the content of this paper which may seem to be subjectively oriented does contain objective validity since I am attempting not to draw on my personal interpretations of certain issues but rather to present the views of others I have been in contact with over many years in an objective manner.

I am not writing this paper with the intent of demeaning any individual or group of individuals, be they Native or non-Native. That is not my nature. I wish only to provide a paper which may be of assistance in aiding any individual to better understand the value differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal non-native cultures.

My focus is on the effects that changes in the Western value systems are having upon Canadian government's ability and incentive to deal in an expedient manner with important Aboriginal issues in this country. If you're reading this, you are obviously on the right page. Click on this link and go back and please read the information on the pages.

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