Oh Kanata

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Treatment of First Nations, A Bitter Truth To A Joyous Celebration - Oh Kanata

By: Shayan Siddiqui and Vaishu Koduri

On a global stage. Canada is the perfect country. Condemning the actions of nations committing human rights atrocities, fighting for social reform to allow every citizen a happy, healthy, and educated life, and remains a safe haven for refugees and immigrants looking to better their lives. Today marks our 153rd birthday, a tremendous milestone in the history of our great country. To look back in time and see the progress Canada has made as a nation is certainly impressive. Canada has transformed from a British colony into one of the most progressive places on Earth. We are a beacon of hope in a world dominated by pessimism and sorrow. The opportunities we offer to those who come are limitless. Our healthcare system is the envy of many, especially to our southern neighbours. Our education system is among the best in the world, able to provide the necessary skills to our children for a successful and fulfilling life. Our cities are the best; Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary ranked among the ten most livable cities in the world. We invented the peacekeeping corps of the United Nations. We welcome those who flee persecution at the highest per capita rate in the world. We are one of the best countries for women and the LGBT population to live in. On paper, Canada is the perfect socialist and capitalist nation, it seems as though we cater to every single person’s needs. 

I suppose it’s futile for me to discredit any of those above claims because many will choose to ignore it. It seems as though that’s a pattern. For Canadians, including myself who are profiting from this system, ignoring the fact that our rewards are reaped from a system built on another's pain seems to be the easiest way to live that carefree life we crave. 

The Aboriginal people of Canada, comprising the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples, have repeatedly drawn the short straw of social circumstances, not because they are unlucky, but because we take the longer ones. While doing the research for this article, it sickened me to see such treatment continue in a society we praise on a daily basis, what hurt me more was to know that I, along with everyone I know only contributed to this problem, unknowingly or not. 
We failed. As a nation, we have failed if we continue like this. So I ask the global community, and my fellow Canadians to take this journey with me. On this day, where we celebrate the glories of Canada, I ask everyone to consider those whom we have failed.

The Treatment of Indigenous People
The government’s history with the indigenous population predates the creation of the dominion itself. The documented interactions have only created a horrific image of discrimination and ill-treatment against the Indigenous population since the earliest contact. The most tragically memorable incident involves the disappearance of the Beothuk people who once lived in Newfoundland. The arrival of white settlers diminished the food sources the Beothuk people lived on, introduced diseases to the vulnerable population, and was a death sentence to the Beothuk people. The unruly destruction of an entire culture, an entire people who had a rich and vibrant history remains only as a case study in Canadian textbooks. Then came the Indian Act, a piece of racist legislation that allowed the Canadian government to intrude into the daily lives of Indigenous people. I believe nobody can better describe the malicious nature of the Indian Act than one of Canada’s founding fathers John A. MacDonald. While it is expected that a man so widely praised would, in fact, be noble and respectful to those he placed himself above, it also comes as no great surprise to learn that he claimed: “The great aim of [The Indian Act] has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.” The Indian Act did just that, creating “Indian Agents” to monitor the Indigenous population to ensure they did not wear traditional cultural garments, practice any cultural activities, or simply speak in their native tongue. While the Canadian government has since amended the act several times as well as issued several apologies regarding its contents, it is an important reminder that such legislation was the basis of the society we live in today. 

Residential schools are yet another dreadful chapter in Canadian history that are simply not discussed enough. The first residential schools were created in the 1880s, the same time the rest of Canada was celebrating becoming a country. Residential schools were undoubtedly a very dark time in Canadian history, simply hearing about the stories of the former students is more than enough to make any Canadian ashamed of the government’s past conduct. The schools were created in another attempt to assimilate the Indigenous population. Children were torn from their parents and forced to abandon their traditional ways of life. Any resistance on their part would only be met with traumatic verbal and physical abuse. An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend the residential schools, and many of them did not make it out. Yet whenever residential schools are brought up in Canada, they are met with people arguing it was “in the past” and as a nation we should “move on”. That mindset of simple acknowledgment seems to be the only thing the Canadian government can handle. While a committee was formed to look into residential schools and provide compensation for families, nothing else has been done to ensure those who were hurt by the system are able to seek help in order to avoid the intergenerational trauma that still exists in the Indigenous community, through no fault of their own. Stephen Harper’s tearful apology was one large step, but we must move past the Canadian trope to “say sorry”, and begin making amends.

You would think past misconduct would ensure a better future for the Indigenous people, but today they still face extremely high rates of discrimination from a variety of agencies and people. Considering recent events in the United States, many cases of police brutality against Indigenous people have come to light. Just recently we witnessed the RCMP violently arrest Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, and we heard Chantel Moore was shot during a wellness check. What is scarier is the fact that these were not isolated incidents, they weren’t anomalies, they are all part of the systematic racism that exists in agencies such as the RCMP. These incidents are part of a continuing pattern of excessive force used against Indigenous people, and we cannot sit idly by and watch it happen. 
While falling down the heartbreaking rabbit hole of Indigenous abuse in Canada, I came across a page on CBC listing detailed cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. I scrolled and kept scrolling, I couldn’t stop scrolling and I never reached the end because I was too distraught looking at 304 innocent women who deserved so much better. The fact that the list is so long, and the fact that many of those cases still bear a tag that reads “unsolved”, is revolting. It is shameful that Indigenous women can’t feel safe in their own communities, on their land, because they could end up as another name on that list. 

Through years of unfair negotiations, the Indigenous chiefs and their tribes live on small pieces of land known as reserves. After all, they have endured, the Canadian government has been unable to guarantee basic human rights. Overcrowding is a huge problem on reserves, the many people are crammed into small housing units, which is not nearly enough to support them. Many reserves don’t even have access to clean water. As of August 2019, there were 56 long term water advisories on reserves, meaning the water there was not safe to drink or use. Welfare systems in place in Canada aren’t tailored to helping Indigenous people, leaving many seniors and people with disabilities without the assistance they need to live a healthy life. Schools on the reserves are terribly underfunded, many of them not having updated books, enough money for school supplies and classroom items. If that weren’t enough, the poverty rate among the Indigenous population is a whopping 25%. 1 in every 4 Indigenous persons is living in poverty, and that is a disgrace considering many of us are reading this sitting in a warm home with food in our stomachs. 

My goal in writing this article was not to have the readers simply look at the issues plaguing Indigenous Canada, and pity them. My goal was to demonstrate the resilience shown by the Indigenous communities, their spirit to revive their culture, educate themselves to make a difference and change Canada’s perception of them. The Indigenous people of Canada belong to such a beautiful heritage, and it is our duty as members of the global community to understand the issues they face, learn more about their culture, and do everything in our power to help. On this day, where we celebrate Canada’s founding I urge everyone to think about the darker eras of our history and make strides to better our nation. To those outside of Canada, I ask you to consider the Indigenous populations of your own countries, and how their lives have been impacted over years of colonization. 

To the non-indigenous readers, please learn about First Nations, Inuit, and Métis culture, becoming a patron of Indigenous art and literature. Educate yourself on the harmful stereotypes you may unknowingly be portraying. Access the resources provided on this page to get started!

To the Indigenous readers, I ask you to continue your brave fight. Continue your efforts to create a safe and meaningful land for the Indigenous population of Canada, and the rest of the world. 

To policymakers, and politicians, I ask you to read the several reports put out about missing and murdered Indigenous women, Residential Schools, Indigenous abuse, Police brutality and make concrete steps to bettering the lives of our fellow Indigenous citizens. 

To the global community, I ask you to speak up. It is your right to call out the issues in countries that pretend they don’t have issues at all. It is your right to draw attention to the problems nobody else is paying attention to. 

Recent events have brought to light the places that we as a nation have fallen short, but to discredit everything we have done right just because of injustice is also wrong. We have done so many things right, to create a beautiful nation of Canadians. Yet, we must address and acknowledge where we can improve so that we can work towards changing our nation for the better. On a global scale, it seems as though Canada has made progressive strides in its treatment of Indigenous people, the problem lies in the fact that through comparison, our nation may seem as though it still rests on a pedestal in almost every global issue, this is a recipe for a stagnant society. It is up to us to set our own standard for human rights. Since we advocate for better ethical and moral codes around the world and expect other countries to meet the expectations we set, it is only reasonable for us to abide by those expectations as well. We must do better. We can do better. We will do better. 



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