Toronto, Canada – After the discoveries this year of unmarked graves belonging to indigenous children who attended assimilation schools in Canada, Cindy Blackstock expected much more from the people who want to lead the country.
“It’s a sham,” said Blackstock, a Gitxsan child welfare activist and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
‘If you’re a government and children – hundreds of them, thousands of them – are found in schools you control and operate, and there is evidence that you could have prevented death in many cases, why is something like gun control more important than that? She asked.
The sentiment that indigenous priorities are not getting enough attention was expressed by several leaders in the declining days of a federal election campaign, in which the rights and priorities of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis people were mostly backward.
The cruel legacy of colonialism is well documented in a country known for its reputation for human rights around the world.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said Canada had committed ‘cultural genocide’ through its so-called ‘residential school system’, which forced 150,000 indigenous children from the late 1800s to 1996 into institutions where many people abused, malnourished and suffered death.
This ‘dark past’ is present to this day through lack of access to clean drinking water, trampled treaty rights, unequal numbers of children in foster care, the investigation of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and a juvenile suicide crisis.
‘I think it’s important that the parties respond to the program, so to speak, and respond to their own constituents by indicating how they will begin to solve some of the long-standing problems in Canada related to the people of the First Nations. , ‘said RoseAnne. Archibald, the national head of the Assembly of First Nations, added that she was saddened to see more attention in the latter part of the campaign.
“The recognition and implementation and respect of these inherent and treaty rights – this is really the way forward to heal this whole country.”
‘Working in partnership’
Indigenous people make up just under 5 percent of the Canadian population, or about 1.7 million people, according to the 2016 Census.
Beforehand from the federal election of September 20There is a renewed effort to encourage indigenous peoples to vote through organizations such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada, as well as a record 77 people from the First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities who are candidates for all political stripes.
But Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national organization representing Inuit, emphasizes a persistent lack of understanding by most federal party leaders about how indigenous peoples structure their politics – and how they can strive for reconciliation with respect.
In many ways, the conversation is stuck in another era, he told Al Jazeera, with leaders talking about working with individuals who may have name recognition “as if we do not have our own systems that create our priorities, and then have also a direct relationship with the federal government through a governance model. “
“Only one party leader does not hear the basic terminology,” Obed said, referring to Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole, who used the term First Nations as if it applied to all indigenous peoples.
‘During elections, leaders are asked what they will do for indigenous people, and I think we are just not in space anymore. We work in partnership, ”he said. ‘Indigenous people have power, we have power, we have management models.
“We hope Canadians will follow the reconciliation with us and choose to elect politicians who respect the rights of indigenous peoples and respect the work done in partnership.”
Boiling water advice, child funding
Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party, became prime minister in 2015 on a pledge to restore the government’s relationship with indigenous peoples across Canada. In the current campaign, he said his government had come ‘on the road to reconciliation’, ending 109 long-term boiling water advice on First Nations reserves, rebuilding schools and bringing ‘the truth forward’ with an inquiry into missing and indigenous peoples women killed.
But during a French language debate, the issue of access to clean drinking water on First Nations reserves was raised as a question, while Marek McLeod, a young indigenous man, asked the leaders during a later debate in English, “How can I trust and respect the federal government after more than 150 years of lying and abusing my people?”
According to the government, although Trudeau promised in 2015 to end boiling water advice in all First Nations communities within five years.
The liberal leader has been challenged on his record by his opponents, including especially Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP), who said during the recent debate that the government should not act on a long list of calls to actions from numerous queries.
“You can not take a knee one day if you take the next indigenous children to court,” Singh added.
The federal government is currently fighting the compensation scheme ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which five years ago ruled that Canada discriminates against indigenous children on reserves by systematically funding their services, according to lawyers that led to an unequal number of foster care.
“Since 2016, there have been 20 non-compliance orders and procedures,” Blackstock said.
“How do we heal?”
As for Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, longtime president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Trudeau, nor O’Toole, the Conservative leader, has a ‘real intention to change the status quo’.
“In terms of climate policy, Prime Minister Trudeau went out and bought a pipeline,” Phillip said, referring to the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project from the Alberta tar sands to the BC coast.
“And Erin O’Toole is talking about reviving a dead pipeline (the Northern Gateway project) so that none of them have a real commitment to a progressive climate policy,” Phillip said. This is something that, according to him, are many indigenous communities that are experiencing the serious consequences of the climate crisis.
Lynne Groulx, chief executive officer of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said her organization judged the NDP’s platform before the Liberals and noted a loss of confidence in Trudeau because promises were not kept. She emphasizes the importance of bringing indigenous women to the decision-making table as well.
“It’s a historic time,” said Groulx, who is Metis. “We are about to have the big discussions again about how we decolonize, how we move out of this system and away from Indian law and towards true self-determination.”
Archibald, leader of the AFN, agreed that the landscape had changed in important ways.
“Ordinary Canadians are struggling with interrupting the myth of Canada and starting to understand the truth of this country and that it was actually built on the graves of our children and that it was built on genocide,” she said. “But a lot of them are on our side, and they’re really looking for answers: how do we start curing this?”