When is a citizen not a citizen? When he or she is born a member of one of the First Nations of Canada. To our shame, Canadians have moved from a policy of assimilation to a policy of non-acknowledgement regarding indigenous people. We seem to be attempting to render a whole group of our own citizens invisible.
We Canadians are living in one of the wealthiest nations of the world and year after year we accept without question the degradation and victimization of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people. Despite the Royal Commisions and the parliamentary inquiries and the hundreds of journalistic articles clearly outlining the problem, the state of many indigenous communities continues to reflect our collective shame. Canadians cannot claim to be caring compassionate people if we will not lift a finger, or our voice to respond in any concrete way to the cultural violence that is being directed by our society through governmental indifference and inaction.
In 1996 the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples stated that:
Aboriginal people’s living standards have improved in the past 50 years – but they do not come close to those of non-Aboriginal people:
- Life expectancy is lower.
- Illness is more common.
- Human problems, from family violence to alcohol abuse, are more common too.
- Fewer children graduate from high school.
- Far fewer go on to colleges and universities.
- The homes of Aboriginal people are more often flimsy, leaky and overcrowded.
- Water and sanitation systems in Aboriginal communities are more often inadequate.
- Fewer Aboriginal people have jobs.
- More spend time in jails and prisons.
In many First Nation communities these situations have become worse, not better since the Royal Commission reported in 1996. The rate of suicide for indigenous people continues to be the highest of any group in Canada and in particular, suicide and self-injury continues to be the leading causes of death for Aboriginal young people.
CBC reporter Kazi Stastna, on November 26th reported on the problems of housing, the need for clean water and the lack of roads at Attawapiskat, Wasagamack and Pikangikum. These communities, and many others, continue to underline the ‘johnny come lately’ approach to government intervention regarding indigenous communities. On November 17th the House of Commons debated a Liberal Party motion to assure clean water for all aboriginal communities. The Harper Government was quick to assure that they were on the case. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said in response to the motion, “We all are in agreement that the current standards are unacceptable,”
So much agreement, and so little action. The Liberal government was no better, nor worse than the present Conservative government when in office. They have all had their time in government, and we are still seeing human persons being degraded and diminished in a nation that has the resources to make a difference in the lives of all its people , but seemingly no political will to follow through on the promises that have been made, time and time again.
What we need is concrete action NOW. No more studies, no more urgent debates in Parliament, no more promises of a new day of cooperation between indigenous people and the government. Let compassion and respect for our fellow citizens, who happen to be indigenous people, be shown in concrete policies and actions which display to all the world our real support for the building up and the affirmation of the importance of the First Nations in Canada.