Canada’s Genocide?: Death by Poverty in First Nations

I apologize to all my readers about not posting lately. There are so many issues that I want to deal with and that need more attention, like: the failure of BC to provide funding to Aboriginal women’s groups to be able to participate in the Pickton Inquiry; the Conservative government’s subversion of the specific lands claims process by offering take-it-or-leave-it offers; the expert First Nation panel which has been a fiasco from its troubled beginnings, or the Conservatives pattern of censoring information. All of these issues I have tweeted about, but are deserved of their own blogs. However, as one person I only have so much time to do more things than I could finish in a lifetime. Currently, I am working on a journal article that will be published this fall on the pre-mature deaths of First Nations caused by the crisis of poverty created and maintained by Canada. This article is taking me much longer to write than usual because of the subject matter. As I type the words on each page, my heart gets heavier and heavier until I cannot hold my feelings anymore and have to walk away from the paper. Sometimes, when I am referring to very specific examples, stories of specific communities and individuals, I can’t help but cry. I am not crying for me, but for our Indigenous brothers and sisters who are denied their very lives by all the discriminatory laws, policies, and barriers imposed on First Nations by Canada. Often times we hear these words so often from our leaders and various advocacy organizations that the public hears it only as rhetoric – an exaggeration of the actual situation in First Nations. Any publicity about a crisis in one of our communities is quickly downplayed by allegations of corruption or mis-spending in another. We are often blamed for the ill effects of colonization and systemic racism. Canada has perfected the ability to “defer, deflect and deny” the fact of First Nations dying by poverty. Creating these situations of life and death make “negotiations” about our Aboriginal and treaty rights and land claims much easier. We are so far from an equal bargaining position with Canada that any agreement arrived at today should be challenged as an imprudent bargain. This is what I am writing about in my article. This is the reason why I haven’t been able to post any blogs lately or update my website (which is in desperate need of an update). Here is an excerpt from my article that I am working on: However, it is not just the federal government’s own offices and agencies that have noted Canada’s lack of action on First Nation poverty and discrimination. The Ontario coroner’s report referred to earlier clearly linked the extreme poverty in Pikangikum First Nation to the high suicide rates among their children:

Pikangikum is an impoverished, isolated First Nations community where basic necessities of life are absent. Running water and indoor plumbing do not exist for most residents. Poverty, crowded substandard housing, gainful employment, food and water security are daily challenges. A lack of an integrated health care system, poor education by provincial standards and a largely absent community infrastructure are uniquely positioned against a backdrop of colonialism, racism, lack of implementation of self-determination and social exclusion. They all contribute to the troubled youth…[1]

What health care residents do receive is “fragmented, chaotic and uncoordinated” with “clear gaps in service”.[2] Their school burnt down in 2007 and has never been replaced despite empty promises by INAC to do so. The significant funding disparities that exist between First Nation and Canadian students means that the students who are the most disadvantaged and have the greatest needs, receive the least. A community of only 2400 people has 200 child welfare files open with 80 children in care. Due to the lack of housing and the high levels of overcrowding, these children are sent to foster homes far away from their communities. Should anyone be surprised by the fact that 16 children between the ages of 10-19 took their own lives between 2006 and 2008? Under the Criminal Code of Canada, section 318(2)(b) defines genocide as:

(2) In this section, “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part any identifiable group, namely,

 (b) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction.[3]

 At what point does Canada’s denial of the problem equate with a de facto policy of genocide?

[1] Coroner report, at 93-94

[2] Ibid. at 95

[3] CCC section 318(2)(b)

As always, I welcome any comments or feedback you may have about any of my blogs. For the next little while however, there may be delays in my response so that I can finish this article.


  1. Pam…. thank you. Thank you for dedicating yourself so fully to the cause. I have a blog as well… but shame on me I don't have the time to write anything beyond one per couple months.

    I have shared links to your posts in my LinkedIn groups "Aboriginal Human Resources" and "Indigenous Economic Development."

    Thanks again for everything you do to keep us all informed and give us food for thought.


  2. Thank for your support Ken. I appreciate it. We will make the change we want – I am certain of it!

  3. Here is a quote from Captain America, just before he was assassinated, that I found inspiring:

    "Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.

    This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences.

    When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world, 'no, you move.'"

    I think we have the truth behind us and regardless of what voters "decide" or what the comments in newspaper articles spew against us; we must also plant ourselves as the quote says.

    We will not be forced off our lands or out of our rights or into oblivion, but we will choose death before denial of who we are.


  4. …"We will make the change we want – I am certain of it!"…

    Indeed in fact that's the only way real & meaningful change can happen.That said the roadblocks and resistance put up by the settler governments & settlers themselves can be very daunting and insanely frustrating as you know all to well.
    Take care

  5. Its hard to fight for what we believe in when our own leaders are stealing for us.I'm from Burnt Church and our community is lost, our chief is native but his whiter then Englishman inside.
    Every time someone tries to make a difference in the community they are held back by are own chief and council members,I just hope people like you can make a difference for all of us.

  6. Hey Pam,

    Do you know where or when this article will be out? Very interested in reading it.

    I am in law school right now at UVic, and as I look ahead I see a ton of s.7 & s.15 arguments that have yet to be litigated in the context of on-reserve disparities in services (safe drinking water, health, education, list goes on). Would love to hear your opinion on this and the potential road blocks. Right now I can only think of the (a) the feds having to declare the Indian Act either remedial/ameliorative or that the Indian Act is discriminatory to FN on reserve, (b) citing Whitler that comparator groups do not have to mirror… Either way I think the courts or the feds would be forced to make some profound statements in either direction to justify the disparities between FN and the rest of Canada.

  7. Hi TRue Blue;
    This article will be published in the Canadian Review of Social Policy – special poverty edition, sometime in November. I am also working on my second book by the same title that I hope will be out after Christmas.

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