But what is the aboriginal question for this century? Are we talking about standards of material well-being for aboriginal people? Is it about social status and professional opportunity? Or does the question turn fundamentally on the vindication of specific legal and constitutional rights?
The answer must begin with the brutal premise that the aboriginal people in Canada still live as history’s losers; that is, most of the aboriginal people in Canada are descended most recently from people who in their legal, social, economic, organizational and geopolitical interactions with non-aboriginals — principally European settlers and their own descendants — were over time and for a variety of reasons stripped of territory, prestige, rights and the underpinnings of social and material well-being.
In some cases, they were plainly outmanoeuvred; in others they were tricked; and in others still they were assimilated, killed or sickened by extracontinental diseases. The aggregate effect of these blows was historical defeat for the majority of the First Nations to the white man — a defeat that has mercilessly conditioned the logic of the relationship between First Nations people and what would become Canadian governments and Canadian society.