By Michael Asch
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Extra resources for Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada: Essays on Law, Equity, and Respect for Difference
On the other hand, the Aboriginal people were outmanoeuvred - at least in the timing of some of the treaties - and of course they were outsiders to the European ceremonies and texts. But they had their own texts and ceremonies; and they too saw them in terms of a dichotomy of culture and anarchy. Arnold's argument about the importance of establishing a common cultural ground must have had its persuasive counterpart in Aboriginal communities. Listening to the language that has come down to us from Aboriginal leaders at the time, it seems clear that they were just as preoccupied as Arnold with the battle between culture and anarchy - they were, after all, not in some hinterland, but in their own metropolis - and just as aware as any Canadian treaty commissioner of the need to articulate a sense of common purpose, if possible in a common discourse.
Culture and Anarchy in Indian Country Sometimes we have difficulty with this for the simple reason that we don't have very good texts, or we reconstitute superficial contexts, for the treaties. The referential precision of the written versions, for which we have ostensibly accurate texts (though they are often read in anachronistic ways), is not matched by any correspondingly accurate version of the essentially non-referential, but no less rigidly determined and determining, impacts and implications of the spoken texts.
The idea of individual Aboriginal identity was from the beginning associated with collective identity, an association which is enshrined in the earliest legislative definition in British North America in 1850 of Indian status as contingent upon membership in a band or tribe. The system of reserves under the Canadian Indian Act, with Indian interest represented as a collective interest in land, indicates how much the Canadian government has followed policy lines that flowed from the principle inherited from the British regime of respecting collective Indian interests embodied in the band or tribe.
Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada: Essays on Law, Equity, and Respect for Difference by Michael Asch