A Review of Research on Criminal Victimization and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples 1990 to 2001

Part I: Literature Review (continued)

3. The General Context of Colonization

Before discussing Aboriginal victimization issues, this section provides a discussion of the context of Aboriginal victimization as a product of the historical process of colonization. This discussion will assist us in developing a fuller understanding of the phenomenon of Aboriginal victimization in Canada. No theory of crime and victimization is complete without an understanding of the devastating impact of colonization on Aboriginal peoples (RCAP,1996a). Its effects are often explained as the root causes of social disorder in Aboriginal societies where alcohol, suicide, abuse and indeed victims of violence are but symptoms of this underlying traumatization.[8]

Colonization is the outcome of a process of colonialism, whereby Europeans assumed superiority over Aboriginal peoples and denied any competing sovereign claims to land and government because Aboriginal peoples were non-Christian and largely non-agricultural. This project of colonization involved the need to "civilize" Aboriginal peoples. This included attempts to assimilate Aboriginal peoples into European lifestyles through force if necessary. The Indian Act, residential schools, land alienation processes were all designed with such objectives in mind.

Scholars and Aboriginal Elders have reported that early and pre-contact Aboriginal societies were generally peaceful societies with little "crime" to deal with (see, for example, Jennings, 1975; Ryan, 1993). This is not to say that there were no crimes. For example, sexual assaults did occur in pre-contact society and to deny they did is to live under a delusion (Supernault, 1993). However, "there is no evidence that the nature or extent of sexual abuse within traditional Aboriginal communities resembled, even in the most remote way, the problems that exist today" (Hylton, 2002, p. 7). Yet today, Aboriginal communities are plagued with high rates of crime (La Prairie, 1991). As the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) notes after reviewing a number of key Aboriginal justice inquiry reports and their own commissioned research, this high rate of crime in Aboriginal communities is directly related to the history of colonialization and its continuing effects experienced by Aboriginal peoples (RCAP, 1996a).

Victimization of Aboriginal people has occurred not only to Aboriginal people as individuals, but as a people through the colonization process in which communities lost control over their families and cultures (e.g., through the residential school system and the child welfare system) and their societies (e.g., through the imposition of the paternalistic Indian Act) in which land and resource bases belonging to Indian communities were removed without compensation in many cases and inadequate compensation in many others.[9] Similar processes of alienation of lands and resources occurred to the Métis under the Manitoba Act and the Dominion Lands Acts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While the parameters of this report exclude a discussion of the residential school system and colonization, these impacts are important to acknowledge if a contextualized understanding of victimization in the narrower sense is to be fully understood. The far-reaching impacts of colonization have been articulated well by Brown in her report to RCAP:

Additionally, the relationship to the land is central to the Aboriginal worldview, and this relationship informs various aspects of cultural expression that constitute the fabric of Aboriginal society. In all cultures the worldview, the values and beliefs, underlie the development of key spiritual, social, economic, educational, communication and political institutions. All these institutions are interrelated and all have, as part of their function, the role of socializing members of the society. If a dominant society controls, overshadows or wipes out this fundamental institutional function then it also takes control of the cultural constructs that become the defining characteristics of the smaller society. As a result, the smaller culture becomes sapped of its traditions and its autonomy – in short, it loses touch with its life blood and a period of social disease ensues. This has been the partially effective strategy behind the Canadian government's relationship with Aboriginal peoples. The impact of these phenomena are numerous; most notably Aboriginal people feel immense rage and shame that has been internalized (within the individual, the family and the community) through a long-term process of racist victimization. These feelings are apparent in the symptoms of depression, family violence, suicide and addictions that prevail in Aboriginal communitiesand are described as a dark period in the cultural development of Aboriginal peoples by numerous writers [italics added]. (Brown, 1994)


The above describes the all-encompassing impact that colonization had on Aboriginal peoples and continues to have. The continuing impacts of colonization and government policies of assimilation are highlighted in the demographic profile provided below.

The rest of the report will discuss the key issues of Aboriginal victimization, many of which are rooted in a past (and present) policy and experience of colonization.

  • [8] Lane, Bopp, Bopp, and Norris (2002) in their recent report entitled Mapping the Healing Journey provide an excellent definition of "trauma" in the Aboriginal context. After listing the various policies, programs and activities that the government implemented over the history of colonization that undermined Aboriginal traditions, identity and social cohesion, the authors then state that:

    It becomes clear when considering these various sources of trauma, that the eventual impact of trauma originating from outside Aboriginal communities was to generate a wide range of dysfunctional and hurtful behaviours (such as physical and sexual abuse) which then began to be recycled, generation after generation inside communities. (Lane et al., 2002, p. 3)
  • [9] These are but only a few of the many examples in which the government attempted to assimilate Aboriginal peoples in Canada. For a good overview of these attempts by government to assimilate Aboriginal people, see RCAP (1996c).
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