Comparing the Policy of Aboriginal Assimilation (Paperback)

Australia, Canada, and New Zealand

By Andrew Armitage

UBC Press, 9780774804592, 286pp.

Publication Date: March 1, 2002

List Price: 37.95*
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The aboriginal people of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand became minorities in their own countries in the nineteenth century. The expanding British Empire had its own vision for the future of these peoples, which was expressed in 1837 by the Select Committee on Aborigines of the House of Commons. It was a vision of the steps necessary for them to become civilized, Christian, and citizens -- in a word, assimilated.

This book provides the first systematic and comparative treatment of the social policy of assimilation that was followed in these three countries. The recommendations of the 1837 committee were broadly followed by each of the three countries, but there were major differences in the means that were used. Australia began with a denial of the aboriginal presence, Canada began establishing a register of all 'status' Indians, and New Zealand began by giving all Maori British citizenship.

The policy of assimilation is traced through five principal phases: a period of initial contact when the power relationships necessary to carry out the policy were established; a period in which the policy was passive and in which the aboriginal people were expected to die out or merge with the immigrant populations; a period of aggressive policy in which specific social policies were introduced to suppress aboriginal institutions; a period of integration in which it was thought that the policy could be achieved through disregarding the aboriginal existence; and the present period in which the policy is being reversed as aboriginal people re-establish control of their own social policy.

As well as providing comprehensive and comparative data on the conduct of the policy of assimilation, the book provides a series of accounts of the reasons given for the policy in each period. These lead to an analysis of the origins of the policy within the immigrant societies of the British Commonwealth and of the reasons for its persistence. In the end, the policy of assimilation is shown to be primarily an expression of the racist and colonial nature of the immigrant societies. Today the aboriginal societies are reasserting themselves, and there are some grounds for hope that a plural form of social policy can be brought into effect which accommodates the need to respect differences between the aboriginal and immigrant societies.

About the Author

Andrew Armitage is a professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of Victoria.