Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

AJI assumptions wrong

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Re: Stuck in the past, Free Press, Sept. 14.

The gist of Mary Agnes Welch's review of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry 25 years after the fact seems to be that "nothing has changed." Looking at the increased aboriginal incarceration rates over the period, one could argue the situation has gotten worse.

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Not surprisingly, the dismal evaluation doesn't seem to spark a reconsideration of initial assumptions. In order to address a justice system "based on white values," AJI argued for "a uniquely aboriginal system as a key element of self-government and reconciliation." Not only did the AJI attempt to combat systemic racism by further racializing justice, it also conflated political dissociation with moral imperative.

The stock hostility towards assimilation seldom distinguishes between cultural and civil assimilation and if there is one terrible constant that is overlooked, it is the putative segregation of aboriginal people, particularly through the reserve system. The romantic impulse to transmute reserves into sovereign nations furthers the dissociation by proscribing what works well socially for the rest of Canada: a normative state.

Declaring oneself a sovereign people not obliged to abide by provincial law may seem noble, but consider the civil and moral chaos that goes with being beyond the pale, as it were. Under-funding does not account for the difference in norms between reserves and the rest of Canada. It is reasonable to consider that 250 years of civil demarcation can lead to sharp social bifurcation. Fuel that division with narratives of atavistic nationalism and infantilizing victimhood and it's small wonder that nothing's changed since AJI and, if anything, deteriorated further.

MICHAEL MELANSON

Winnipeg

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 23, 2013 A8

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