By Janet French
“There was a general understanding in the public of the considerable challenges aboriginal people face,” said Loleen Berdahl, an associate professor of political studies and member of the election study team. “Even in light of that understanding, there’s still a very strong resistance to anything that might be seen as special treatment.”
In the survey, more than 58 per cent of people agreed with the statement, “generations of discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for aboriginals to work their way out of the lower class.”But spending government money to even the playing field proved unpopular, as 53.1 per cent disagreed that “governments should do more for Saskatchewan’s aboriginal peoples.” Another 71.9 per cent agreed with this statement: “German, Ukrainian and other immigrants to Saskatchewan overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Aboriginals should do the same without any special favours.”
Berdahl said the results speak to a hesitation to treat aboriginal people in a distinct manner, even though First Nations people have a constitutionally recognized relationship with the Canadian government.
“For some people, it’s possible they believe race doesn’t matter. They don’t understand, or they don’t see how racism and racial attitudes are a challenge for aboriginal people,” Berdahl said. “The belief that everything should be race-neutral is fine when you’re in the dominant race.”
Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas says the result reflects the belief that anyone who works hard enough and “pulls up their bootstraps” can have a good life. That’s not so easy for a group of people who, 50 years ago, were not allowed to be part of the mainstream economy or leave the reserve without a pass.
“A lot of people think there’s a lot of challenges and they want to help out — but as long as it doesn’t cost them anything,” Thomas said.
Willingness to fund aboriginal initiatives also varied by how the survey respondents voted: 64.4 per cent of Saskatchewan Party voters disagreed governments should do more for aboriginal people, compared with 28.4 per cent of NDP voters and 18.9 per cent of voters who cast their ballots for other parties. Meanwhile, 67 per cent of NDP voters wanted government to do more for aboriginal people compared to 73 per cent of “other” party voters and 31 per cent of Sask. Party voters.
And, the more educated a person was, the more sympathetic they were to aboriginals.