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There is almost exactly a century separating the governments of Sir John A. Macdonald and Pierre E. Trudeau, but not much difference in their approach to Indigenous issues. Trudeau’s “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969” didn’t propose separating Indigenous children from their parents and isolating them in schools where they could be abused by nuns and priests, but the strategy was the same: the best way to handle the Indian “problem” was to get rid of the idea of being “Indian” in the first place. Better to turn them into regular old Canadians like the rest of us. As Trudeau saw it, assimilation as a strategy was far from dead, it just needed updating. The proposal, known as the 1969 White Paper, was launched by one of Trudeau’s ambitious young cabinet up-and-comers, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Jean Chrétien. It was a monumental disaster. You can date today’s activism to the backlash generated by Trudeau and Chrétien. It makes educational reading for anyone wondering why so little progress was made between 1867 and 1969 — or today for that matter — or who thinks carting off a few statues and renaming some schools is a solution.

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