Academic journal article Refuge

Casualties of Aboriginal Displacement in Canada: Children at Risk among the Innu of Labrador

Academic journal article Refuge

Casualties of Aboriginal Displacement in Canada: Children at Risk among the Innu of Labrador

Article excerpt

Abstract

The concept of displacement has long been associated with individuals within poor and developing nations, living under conditions of conflict and civil unrest. Conversely, little research attention has been paid to displacement among Aboriginal peoples within the context of wealthy and developed nations such as Canada. This paper explores the consequences of internal displacement for the Innu Nation of Labrador. In particular, it examines how Innu children have become at risk for gasoline sniffing and suicide. The paper concludes by assessing the extent to which the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Canada's Indian Act have been effective in protecting the rights of Innu children. The questionable impact of state responses highlights the need for more effective strategies in order to protect the rights of Innu children.

   [Aboriginal people] are suffused by a free-floating hostility, the outcome
   perhaps of the combined effects of territorial disruption, overcrowding and
   social change ... This diffuse hostility has no specific object and appears
   to be turned inwards in the form of self-destructiveness. (1)

Introduction

The concept of displacement has, for the most part, been largely associated with refugees and individuals living under situations of civil unrest, political violence, and armed conflict, particularly within poor and developing nations. (2) In contrast, few authors have used the concept to explain the forced migration and cultural invasion that have occurred among many Aboriginal populations within wealthy, developed nations such as Canada.

The United Nations Development Program has consistently ranked Canada as one of the best countries in the world in which to live based on the criteria of life expectancy, adult literacy, school enrolment, and economic prosperity. (3) Given Canada's high standard of living and relatively low level of internal conflict, few would immediately refer to Canadian citizens as typical examples of victims of forced displacement, discrimination, or extreme poverty. However, Canada's history of colonization and displacement of its Aboriginal populations tells a story of centuries of domination, discrimination, and assimilation. As a result of the Canadian government's policies involving the forced migration and massive relocations of Aboriginal communities, the concept of displacement is used in this paper to characterize the history and experiences of one Canadian Aboriginal nation. The Innu Nation of Labrador, a traditionally nomadic people who have roamed Nitassinan (Eastern Quebec and Labrador) for over two thousand years, provides a powerful example of an Aboriginal people who have been long-standing victims of cultural invasion and forced displacement within the Canadian context. The history of the Innu reveals two instances of forced internal displacement by the Canadian government and the consequent devastating social, psychological, and economic effects on their communities.

The objective of this paper is to explore the long-term impact of displacement on the Innu people of Labrador. First, the paper examines the community's loss of culture and identity as a result of displacement and forced migration. Second, it explores the community's increasing engagement in self-destructive behaviours such as substance abuse and suicide as consequences of displacement. Third, the paper describes the impact of displacement on those most vulnerable and at risk within the community: Innu children. In particular, the paper examines the relationship between the displacement of the Labrador Innu and current health concerns, including an epidemic of gasoline sniffing and suicide among Innu children. Finally, the paper assesses the extent to which the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Canada's Act have been effective in protecting the rights of Innu children.

A Brief History of the Innu of Labrador

Approximately sixteen thousand Innu (formerly known as Montagnais or Naskapi) currently inhabit Nitassinan. …

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