01/04/2013 05:50 EST | Updated 03/06/2013 05:12 EST

Why Are Aboriginals Afraid of Integration?

Stephen Harper blinked first. On January 11, 2013 the Prime Minister will be meeting with Theresa Spence and a delegation of First Nations leaders coordinated by the Assembly of First Nations. It would be wonderful if the meeting was televised so ordinary people could watch the artful way in which difficult work is avoided, hard questions are unasked and the theatre continues.

At some point, aboriginal Canadians need to consider that the best hope of a future for their children may be integration into the mainstream of Canadian socio-economic life. They need also understand that integration is not the same as assimilation.

The latter is the process by which one group's culture and language disappear and are lost under pressure to become part of another dominant group. The former is the process where one culture gains ideas, technologies and products from another without losing its own uniqueness and becomes part of a greater whole.

No one is forced to assimilate in modern Canada. Tens of thousands of people from all over the world, from places that have living conditions worse even than those found on reserves, immigrate to Canada and find success. These people care no less about their culture of origin than aboriginal people do theirs. They care no less about their history than aboriginal people do theirs. They care no less about their traditions and language than aboriginal people do theirs. Have they been "assimilated"?

If so, tell it to the Chinese community in Vancouver or the Lebanese community in Ottawa. Tell it to the Indian community in Brampton or the Portuguese community. This may be a fact that is inconvenient for the aboriginal industry, who profit off the continued misery of native people, but I don't like the fact that chocolate makes you fat and the chocolate I eat doesn't seem to care.

No amount of meetings with the Prime Minister, "white papers", renovated treaties or twitter campaigns will give to Aboriginal people a standard of living commensurate with that of ordinary Canadians if they choose to live in the margins of society far away and disconnected from the mainstream of Canada.

Hunger strikes and the leveraging of guilt or historic grievances will only secure more face time with politicians and perhaps, if public pressure makes them amenable to the idea, brand new "study groups," committees and white, green, blue or rainbow papers.

Appeals to guilt, by the way, will become increasingly unsuccessful over time as Canada changes and people become increasingly removed, both temporally and demographically from the origin of the grievance. This fact might be unpleasant, but it is true and inevitable, much like another unpleasant fact connecting good health to exercise; I don't like this fact -- my waistline seems oblivious to the displeasure.

Whatever compensation or land that is owed to Aboriginals according to signed treaties should be paid to them. But their future lies in independence, the independence gained by wealth, success and yes, integration.

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