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Effects Of Colonialism To Canadian Aboriginals

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2539 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Canada is considered a prestigious member of the First World, with a thriving economy and industry, high standard of living and democratic government that supports and protects its citizens. When countries of the global south are compared to Canada their disparities become enhanced. However, even as these comparisons are interestingly eye opening, the world’s eyes seem to only quickly glace within Canada itself, overlooking incredible contradiction. Within Canada people are suffering greatly, in particular the Aboriginals of Canada who have been marginalized and exploited since the colonial age. These people have been suffering internally for centuries as their relationship with the First World has left them with a shattered culture and a society polluted with social issues. This issue interests and concerns me deeply because I was born in Prince George, British Columbia, a small, polluted and troubled town that taught me a great deal about the hardships of the First Nations. My father worked in the school system and encountered many children that came from the reservations, it quickly became apparent that the situation these children were facing was dire. Many of the First Nations students were struggling with domestic violence or other types of trouble at home mainly concerning alcoholism; sometimes this resulted in movement to foster care which simply troubled them more. As I witnessed all of the hardships these peoples faced I felt overwhelmed and confused that in a nation as developed and diverse as Canada one group had to endure so much. When I entered into Development Studies 100 this year I began to learn about colonization and in particular theories like underdevelopment, which highlight its injustice and huge negative impacts. These theories helped to clarify the idea that many of the issues I observed can be traced back and attributed to European contact, connection, and corruption of the Aboriginal peoples. I think such historical understanding and relationships are important so that we can appreciate the current respect and celebration or multiculturalism in society but still be aware of the repression, exploitation and critical dissection of the Aboriginal culture that occurred and its results. Many issues have arisen from the colonial contact of Aboriginal Canadians but I am going to look specifically at the effects of the introduction of alcohol. I am going to demonstrate how alcohol played a pivotal role in the breakdown of traditions and cultural values which gave rise to various social issues resulting in an exponential number of dysfunctional families.

Theoretical Framework

The underdevelopment theory can effectively be applied to analyze the experiences of Canada’s Aboriginals; it explores how elements of colonization created a dependency between the powerful core countries and weaker peripheral people (Frank, 1969: 112). Andre Gunder Frank demonstrates the flaws in colonial relationships by illustrating how devastating they were on those countries and people that were exploited and points out the ridiculousness of the, “largely erroneous view that the development of underdeveloped… must and will be generated or stimulated by diffusing capital, institutions, values, etc., to them from the international and national capitalist metroples” (ibid: 108). By invading and implementing core countries’ values and policies on weaker peripheral countries the forced change nurtures unequal relationships which benefit the developed, resulting in devastating dependency (ibid: 107). This theory can be effectively applied to outline and understand the strategies employed by the British to weaken the Aboriginals of Canada which resulted in the breakdown of their culture and contributed to the growth of many disparaging social issues. Although there were many practices used by the British to gain power and control over the Aboriginals I am going to focus on mainly the introduction of alcohol and how it was wielded as a weapon against the weak.

Historical Context

Colonialism in Canada faced the same issues as many other colonial ventures, the problem of the people who were there first and how to eliminate them as a threat to success. The British used a large amount of colonial policy to weaken the Aboriginal population, discriminating against them both socially and legally, marginalizing them meant more profit for the colonizers (Barsh, 1994: 2). Such policy made their employment limited, lost them control over many resources and more broadly weakened their status (Blackstock, 2000: 4). However it was not just legal documents that gave the British power and control, there were also more hidden and manipulative methods employed, in particular the trading of alcohol (ibid). Edwardo and Bonnie Duran explore this issue thoroughly by demonstrating that although British colonialists were not the first to introduce alcohol to the Aboriginals they distorted the use of it for their own benefit (1995: 136). Alcohol was present in some Aboriginal communities before colonization but it was used infrequently and mostly for ceremonies and other rare occasions (ibid). The British colonizers and traders introduced heavy drinking and intoxication by the 1800’s huge numbers of Aboriginals had developed dependence and alcoholism (Duran and Duran, 1995: 122). This was the result that had motivated the British, they aimed to develop a desperate market that would give them power and control (ibid: 125). They introduced alcohol as a way to control and dominate trade and it was one of many elements they used to gain complete power (ibid: 122). The relationship alcohol created led to huge change to the Aboriginal culture and traditional way of life. This manipulation becomes even more apparent when related to the dependency theory. By analyzing the relationship from a perspective of benefits to the colonizer and hindrance to the Aboriginals it is clear that a form of destructive dependency was created which still echoes today.

Distortion of Culture and Tradition

By introducing such a destructive element as alcohol to the aboriginal culture the colonizers can be implicated as responsible for the breakdown of a way of life. Early reports of Aboriginals reactions to alcohol have stated it changed their attitudes and made them violent, promiscuous and wild (Duran and Duran, 1995: 123). As abuse of substance grew so too did the distance between the Aboriginals and their traditional values (ibid: 138). For example the Aboriginals always saw sexuality as a sacred element pre-colonialism but the introduction of alcohol led to a decline in respect of this traditional standard, as evidenced by the drastic increase in sexual abuse (Hylton, 2002:6). Child care was also an extremely important and revered part of Aboriginal culture but as alcoholism became more common instances of neglect and child abuse swelled (Duran and Duran, 1995: 159). Alcohol was taking them away from their traditional norms and standards and disseminating their value system, leaving them weak and disconnected at the hands of the colonizers (Hylton, 2002: 8). The trauma of colonial processes and mechanisms in general, and the destruction reaped by alcohol more specifically led to the distortion of traditional Aboriginal culture which brought about an abundance of detrimental and unhealthy internal issues and went on to destroy the family unit.

Growing Social Issues

Alcoholism is one of the most harmful problems plaguing contemporary Aboriginal life (Duran and Duran, 1995: 106). This is because with it comes many physical, emotional and psychological issues which have widespread consequences. When alcohol and mass consumption was introduced it caused social and cultural distress, leading to a breakdown of traditional culture and norms (Barsh, 1994: 21). Without guiding principles and the comfort of their culture, the intake of alcohol, which is a depressant, bred violence, confusion and illness. In short the alienation from their culture via colonialism and its legacies, alcohol in particular led to self destructive behaviour (ibid: 35). Levels of sexual and spousal abuse are both alarmingly high in aboriginal communities and the presence of both can be linked back to colonial causes (Bopp and Bopp, 2003: 27). In fact before colonialism it is reported that tribes lived harmoniously and sexual abuse was not present in communities (Hylton, 2002: 17). This is contrasted by the fact that a 1999 study reported that 75% of Canadian Aboriginal girls under 18 had been sexually assaulted (Bopp and Bopp, 2003:27). Another statistic that demonstrates the warping of Aboriginal values and relationships but colonial policy is that 38% of Aboriginal spousal homicides involve alcohol abuse (ibid: 24).

Alcohol has also had effects on personal areas like mental and physical health of

Aboriginals. Alcohol is closely related to depression which is widespread and both are large contributing factors of suicide among Aboriginals (Barsh, 1994: 28). An article in the Edmonton Journal claimed that the suicide rate among Aboriginal Peoples of Canada an epidemic (Aboriginal suicide rate ‘epidemic’, 2007). To support this claim it produced haunting statistics, such as the suicide rate of Aboriginal youth in some isolated communities being eleven times higher than the Canadian average (ibid). Alcoholism is also one of the leading public healthcare concerns for Aboriginals (Duran and Duran, 1995: 106). Abuse of alcohol has serious consequences, which can be observed in a large amount of Aboriginal peoples, including cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, and fetal alcohol syndrome (ibid). As demonstrated by these statistics, alcohol has had severely harmful effects on the Aboriginal peoples, both on an individual level and within group settings and dynamics.

Deterioration of the Family Unit

The introduction and integration of alcohol into the aboriginal culture has had significant influence over changing family dynamics. Upon investigating the distortion of culture and traditions it has been made clear that traditionally the Aboriginals of Canada had close and respectful relationships; however, the introduction of alcohol led to the loss of these norms and a growth of destructive issues (Duran and Duran, 1995: 159). Problems caused by alcohol often manifest themselves in the home; as Aboriginal peoples feel more socially disintegrated they retreat into their homes where frustration is expressed through violence and abuse (Barsh, 1994: 35). The prevalence of mental and physical illness caused by alcohol also has negative impacts on the family as it hurts them financially and emotionally, so that caring for each other becomes more difficult (Hylton, 2002: 17). Due to all these obstacles and problems it has become very difficult for Aboriginal families to live in a positive or functional manner. As a result, many families are separated, three times more Aboriginal children are in substitute care than non- Aboriginals (Barsh, 1994: 27). Alcohol has created an unhealthy and destructive atmosphere in the homes of many Canadian Aboriginals, sadly resulting in fractured lives and relationships.


When researching and analyzing the data and information on alcohol and Aboriginals there were several issues I encountered that could have affected the integrity of my work. The majority of the statistics and data I recovered was relating to the large and homogenized group of “Canadian Aboriginals”, by using this information it is possible I made generalizations. Every Aboriginal tribe and community is unique and has had different experiences. Alcohol has taken tolls in different ways depending on the location and specific demographic. This means that there was plenty of room for error in my work, as unique experiences were not really explored or addressed. However, in order to illustrate my ideas and the conclusions of my research on the affects of colonialism and alcohol on the Aboriginal home it was necessary for me to draw from the data, although it created some generalization. Therefore the quality of my research has been weakened slightly by the sweeping nature of some of the data and information collected and the manner in which it was presented by not exploring specific experiences.


This research paper set out to demonstrate that within the advanced and highly developed nation of Canada a group of people are suffering as a result of specific colonial processes that occurred centuries ago. The colonial introduction of alcohol to the Aboriginals of Canada created a chain reaction, building a dependency and shattering a culture which gave way to a breakdown of family dynamics. This paper illustrated the path that led to the current issue of dysfunctional and broken homes for Aboriginals, looking at several causes and contributing factors. It can be concluded that the introduction of alcohol and mass consumption to the Aboriginals by the colonists led to distortion and destruction of their tradition which deteriorated their culture. These processes gave way to many social issues which all cumulatively delivered a devastating blow to the dynamics of aboriginal families. This demonstrates that historical conflicts and manipulations has been the cause of the current struggles of Aboriginals. By demonstrating this it becomes clear that even in a nation as developed, modern and seemingly accepting, the underdevelopment theory can still be applied. It proves that even in a country with civil and human rights, democracy and equality, a country that many praise and admire, exploitation still occurs. This is an important point to raise because there is a common misconception that Canada is a gentle peacekeeping nation; yet Canada has a history of internal colonialism, so brutal that it has resulted in the decline of functionality for many families. Having demonstrated this, issues are raised on how to approach the problems facing Aboriginal society. How much responsibility should the government take for the personal and social dysfunctions that colonialism and alcohol created? (Smillie-Adjarkwa, 2010). How should the individual and communities approach the issues? Are traditional healing methods enough, or is external intervention necessary? This issue reflects the complexity of development issues as it illustrates the inequality and disparity that can occur within a developed and thriving nation. This paper has addressed and explained a very perplexing issue, that of a Third World within the First. This is important information for every Canadian and more broadly any person who cares about the world and those who inhabit it, we must be aware that the legacies of colonialism linger in even the most unlikely of places. Even the praised nation of Canada has a dark shadow in its foundations caused by the suffering and manipulation of colonialism, these elements are still reflected in current society by the disadvantageous position of the Aboriginal peoples.


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