Racism doesn’t just hurt our feelings – racism kills. The two senseless deaths of First Nations children in a house fire in Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan from an unpaid bill of less than $4,000 has sparked outrage across Canada. In no other place in Canada would an ambulance, fire fighter or police officer ask a provincial resident if they had paid their taxes before answering an emergency call for help. Canada has a deep-seated racism problem which is killing our people. But to truly understand Indigenous outrage and sadness, one must understand both the context and true depth of this problem in Canada.
In the mid-1700’s, colonial governments in what is now Nova Scotia considered the Mi’kmaw Nation to be “rebels” because we refused to give up our land. As a result, Governor Cornwallis issued a scalping proclamation that decimated the Mi’kmaw Nation by as much as 80%. In 1971, Donald Marshall Jr., was sentenced to life in prison for murder and spent 11 years in jail before his wrongful prosecution was exposed. A subsequent Royal Commission found the reason for his imprisonment was racism against Mi’kmaw people by all levels of the justice system.
In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that the Mi’kmaw right to fish and trade it commercially was protected in our constitutionally-protected treaties. The result? Canada sent in law enforcement to beat, pepper spray and run over our fishing boats – in addition to legal charges. In 2013, Elsipogtog First Nation and other members of the Mi’kmaw Nation who supported their anti-fracking stance in Mi’kmaw territory were labeled “terrorists”, “militants” and “bad Indians”. The scalping law was not used but our people were beaten and imprisoned.
From small pox blankets and scalping bounties to imprisonment and neglect – Canada is killing our people and Canadians will be next if nothing is done to change the value (or lack thereof) that we collectively put on human life – all human life. This dictatorial, police state is not what newcomers to Canada had in mind when they came to Canada. A territory shared with Indigenous Nations based on formal agreements (treaties) and information agreement (alliances) were founded on three principles: (1) mutual respect, (2) mutual prosperity and (3) mutual protection. Indigenous peoples, their families, communities and Nations protected and cared for newcomers. Our people fought in Canada’s world wars to protect our shared territory and people. Now it’s time for Canadians to stand up for Indigenous peoples.
In 1971, Helen Betty Osborne was kidnapped and murdered in The Pas, Manitoba. Her grieving friends and family were treated like criminals while the accused men were given the royal treatment by law enforcement and left to walk free for years. This wasn’t the first time our Indigenous women and little girls have been victims of a racist Canada, but no action was taken. Today, Canadians are well aware of the thousands of Indigenous women and little girls have gone murdered and/or missing in Canada. Yet, there is no sense of alarm in Parliament, nor has the Canadian state taken any steps to work with First Nations to embark on an inquiry or implement an emergency action plan.
By 1996, the last residential school had closed which was supposed to mark an end to the theft of Indigenous children from our Indigenous families, communities and Nations. Literally thousands of Indigenous children were victims of murders, rapes, tortures and medical experiments – and upwards of 40% never made it out of some of those schools alive. The legacy of thousands of our children who died as a matter of state law and policy should at least have included a promise to stop stealing our children. Today, we have more than 30,000 Indigenous children in care and growing. The problems have not stopped – they are getting worse.
The use of small pox blankets on our people to try to kill us off faster has been described by medical doctors as the first example of “biological warfare” during non-war times. Indigenous women and little girls were forcibly sterilized without their knowledge and consent for decades in an effort to stop us from reproducing. The Canadian state does not need to use such blatant policies to reduce our populations anymore – willful neglect has the same lethal effect. Federal, provincial and municipal governments are standing by while our people die. This is not an “Indian problem” – this is a Canadian problem that impacts every single Canadian and our collective future.
In 2005, Jordan River Anderson, a little boy from Norway House Cree Nation with many medical issues, died in hospital at 5 years old never having seen his home because the federal and provincial governments couldn’t stop arguing over who would pay. In 2008, Brian Sinclair, a double amputee, whose family had roots in Berens River and Fort Alexander First Nations, died after waiting 34 hours in a hospital waiting room waiting for treatment for a bladder infection – while nearly 200 people passed him by – including staff who wrongly assumed he was “sleeping it off”.
The former Auditor General for Canada raised the alarms about discriminatory funding and the failure by Indian Affairs to take action on programs that would significantly impact the lives of First Nations. The Office of the Correctional Investigator has called the increasing over-representation of Indigenous peoples a crisis that needs to be addressed. The United Nations Special Rapporteur has made numerous recommendations on how Canada can address this multi-faceted crisis in First Nations. But Canada fails to take action.
Despite Canada’s failure to act, First Nations continue to try to raise the alarm bells on this lethal situation. A failure to address the chronic underfunding has led to First Nations being 10 times more likely to die in a house fire than Canadians. Indian affairs own report done in 2011 indicated that a minimum of $28 million dollars was needed to prevent deadly fires in Manitoba alone – yet all 633 First Nations in Canada only get $26 million.
Canada sits back and watches our people die needless deaths while we struggle to heal our families and communities, to rebuild after the theft of our lands and resources and to resist ongoing attempts to assimilate and eliminate us. The herculean effort at the grassroots level to protect our people is made more difficult by state propaganda that would blame us for our own misery, or deflect media attention by vilifying our leaders. Now Bill C-51 will make those of us who speak out against such inhumanity all “terrorists”. Then who will defend this territory?
The Chief Coroner for Ontario released an especially rare and powerful report in 2011 on the child suicide epidemic in Pikangikum First Nation which had declared a state of emergency – a desperate call for help that went unanswered by Canada. Within a two year period between 2006 and 2008, 16 children between the ages of 10-19 committed suicide. 16 children died – not from accidental car crashes or unpreventable diseases but because the “basic necessities of life are absent” in Pikangikum who struggles to heal and survive amidst the “backdrop of colonialism, racism and social exclusion” and government neglect.
16 little First Nation children committed suicide because the Canadian state creates and maintains the conditions of life that will either kill them or make them so hopeless they will kill themselves. That’s the UN definition of genocide.
In the words of the coroner, this “was not a story of capitulation to death, but rather, a story of stamina, endurance, tolerance, and resiliency stretched beyond human limits until finally, they simply could take no more.”
In what vision of Canada are the ongoing deaths of our people ok? We need Canadians to stand beside First Nations and support us as we defend the health of our lands and waters as well as the rights and freedoms of Canadians. This should not be our burden to bear alone anymore. Help us turn this ship around before we lose any more precious children.
#StopBillC51 #RacismKills #Genocide #FirstNationsLivesMatter #foodfor7gens #mmiw P. Palmater, Genocide, Indian Policy and legislated Elimination of Indians In Canada (2014) vol.3, no.3, Aboriginal Policy Studies 27-54. http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/aps/article/view/22225/pdf_22 P. Palmater, Stretched Beyond Human Limits: Death by Poverty in First Nations (2011) No.65/66, Can. Rev. of Social Policy 112-127. http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/crsp/article/viewFile/35220/32057
Pam; I admire you for your strong voice, I support your views and arguments. I enjoy hearing you speak in media and it makes me happy that we have strong people like yourself to help fight that good fight for all our benefit. We need more and more ways of educating the public about these things as there are so many misconceptions and myths about us and our circumstances that perpetuate racism, discrimination and indifference by too many Canadians. I applaud and thank those Canadians with open minds and open hearts to hear us, see us, and stand with us.
Waasnoode Kwe Nipisssing First Nation
How can I help?
On March 10th 2015 Australian PM Tony Abbott in defence of Western Australia’s state governments decision to cut water and power supplies to over 150 of its remote Indigenous communities stated “it not the job of the taxpayer to subsidise lifestyle choices (Martin,2013). Labelling the first people right to live on traditional lands a “lifestyle choice” is not only an uneducated and ignorant statement but an embarrassment to Australia as a country which claims to be working towards reconciliation and “closing the gap”. The cost of keeping power and water running through these communities was estimated by the WA government to cost somewhere between 2 and 6 billion dollars over 10 years ( Western Australia Government).The idea of using a 1 billion dollar Regional Services fund was swiftly rejected by the WA premier. Western Australia is the mining capital of Australia; of the 446 operating mines in the country 202 are located in WA. The mining industry was estimated to pay 5.8 billion dollars in royalties during the 2013/2014 financial year (Government of Western Australia Department of Mines and Petroleum 2015).Never the less we still cannot afford to provide the most basic services to our First People because the cost is just too high. Question? What has been the cultural, spiritual and life cost to our First People that has afforded us the “lifestyle” choices we enjoy today. We have already made one apology on behalf of past governments policies which left a gaping hole in the heart of Indigenous Australia decades after children were removed from the mothers and their lands during our Stolen Generation. The long term and intergeneration trauma well documented in the Bringing them Home report (Australian Human rights Commission,2015) Now in 2015 we are again contemplating the removal in Indigenous people from their traditional lands by making it next to impossible for them to remain there. We are as a country well aware of social and health implications of such a move the Australian Human rights commission lists ownership of traditional land, customary law and connection to land as one of the major health determinants of Indigenous people (Australian Human Rights Commission,2015). Therefor forcing these people to relocate will without a doubt create a cost of its own equal to if not greater than that of investing in keeping these communities alive. Where are these people going? These people who have lived on land their entire lives, who speak English as a second language or not at all, where and what is their future? To date there has been no consultation with any community affected. On the 19 of March over 20 thousand people marched in support of those whose voices are not heard they filled the street in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney yet not one of these marches was acknowledged by our media. Social media was flooded with signs of support from across the world yet our TV screens remained void of any sign that a resistance was present. Once again our government is demonstrating not only to our First People but to the watching world that reconciliation is still such a long way away. How can we come together and tackle the many issues our First People face when we are still actively participating in cultural genocide through our disregard for the complex ways in which Indigenous People connect with their home lands and the significance of this connection is all aspects of Indigenous life.
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