Posts tagged ‘Indigenous Rights’

An Attitude Adjustment Needed for Truth & Reconciliation

Res_Schools1005

 

(Warning:  This article contains harsh words about the truth of residential schools and abuse.)

Over the next week, social media, the press and the airwaves are going to be inundated with opinions about the state of indigenous society in Canada. To their credit, many people will be open and willing to accept the truth about the state’s official policy of assimilation, systemic racism and cultural genocide that has marked Canada’s historic treatment of indigenous peoples.

There will be many others, however, that will continue to deny the truth about Canadian history, provide their contrary opinions and continue to justify the need for further assimilation as a solution to Canada’s indigenous woes.

Many Canadians don’t realize that it was Canada’s founding father and first Prime Minister John A. McDonald that advocated a government policy of eliminating “the Indian problem”. His words, not mine. It was under his watch and these early days of Canada’s fiduciary duty, that the Indian Residential School policy began.

A fiduciary duty that was meant to protect Indian people, deal with us fairly, and look after our best interests.

Instead, it was the most vulnerable people that were targeted. It was the children that bore the brunt of Canada’s surreptitious and sadistic approach to eliminating Indian people.

Despite continuous evidence of deplorable conditions, malnutrition, health concerns and physical abuse and even deaths, Prime Minister MacDonald remained resolute in their approach to “killing the Indian in the child”. Again, his words, not mine.

That’s right, Sir John A. MacDonald.

Yet Canadians continue to revere the man. His portrait graces the halls of many a Canadian school. We are reminded of his face every time we break a $10 note.

It’s time for all Canadians to take steps to learn about their true history, not some romantic and noble account of glorious leaders past. We all need to learn more about the sad history of how Canada has treated indigenous people.

Canada’s history has a deep dark secret rooted in racist, ignorant and genocidal attitudes. Sadly, they were the prevalent attitudes of the day.

It was these attitudes that made it acceptable to forcibly remove First Nations children – young, innocent, little boys and girls taken from their parents, homes and families sometimes without notice or explanation.

It was these attitudes that led to their beautiful, long hair and braids being cut, being punished severely for speaking their only language or simply comforting their younger siblings.

It was these attitudes that led to having their meals taken away, privileges, belongings and gifts to be withheld or to simply go without.

It was these attitudes that required boys and girls as young as 6 years-old to do hard labour and endless domestic work in almost every residential school across Canada.

It was these attitudes that led young boys and girls to flee their captors, only to be lost or frozen in the snow, or punished severely after they were returned to Residential School.

It was these attitudes that led to young boys and girls having to line up to be molested, sodomized and violated in unspeakable ways. To line up for their turn at the trough of an insatiable clergy.

The sad reality is that a glimmer of these attitudes continues to exist in Canada.

It is these same attitudes that have led to a belittling of our legal rights, including Aboriginal Rights, Treaty Rights and Aboriginal Title to the land and resources.

It is these same attitudes that have led to an inexplicable plague of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, who continue to be preyed upon and ignored by an insensitive government refusing to lift a finger to address this crisis.

Want to see a good cross section of anti-Aboriginal sentiment? Just take a look at the comments section in any news or opinion article related to Aboriginal issues. Things that most Canadians wouldn’t dare say aloud if it applied to our Black, Muslim, Jewish or Asian brothers and sisters, stills seems to be fair game in criticism of Aboriginal people.

People comfortably advocate the taking away of indigenous legal rights, removal of First Nations people from their home communities, assimilation into Canadian society, or that somehow our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights are maligned and subservient to the common-law rights of all Canadians.

But truth is one thing. Reconciliation is something else entirely.

In a very comprehensive and transformative way, there needs to be a fundamental re-education and indoctrination of all Canadians about indigenous people and society, the history and impact of Indian Residential Schools and the concepts of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. Such a step is essential to the survival of indigenous nations, our cultures, rights and our importance in Canadian society.

Canadians have to want to see a vast improvement of social conditions in indigenous communities. Substantial steps need to be taken to addressing poverty and ensuring the safety of our families, women and children. This requires the empathy and leadership of all levels of government and all Canadians to work in partnership with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.

First Nations are beautiful, proud, self-governing nations, and have been so since long before the establishment of Canada. This must be set right. The sacred wampum tells us that our nations were to ride along in two canoes, flowing down a great river together, supporting one another through the trials, tribulations and challenges that arise along the way.

Only through a significant attitude adjustment, the recognition of truth, empathy and reparations, will true reconciliation be achieved. There is a lot of work ahead for all of us. It’s not just the role of indigenous governments and the Crown. There is a role of all of us, as Treaty partners, partners in reconciliation, and partners in Canada.

Province abandons hunt cabin appeal

Bruce McKay Photo. Flickr.com

First Nations have the right to build cabins without permit

The Chronicle-Journal
**NOTE:  This article is from March 2011.

A provincial appeal in the Meshake hunt cabin case has been abandoned, clearing the way for First Nations members to build hunt cabins on Crown land without permits.
The provincial appeal was to be heard Tuesday in Toronto, but the province backed down, Aroland First Nation said.

Aroland members were at the centre of the case, which saw the Ministry of Natural Resources attempt to stop Elsie and Howard Meshake from building a hunt cabin on Ogoki Lake’s Comb Island in the summer of 2003.

The MNR issued a stop-work order, saying the couple needed a work permit to build at the site, which is not part of Aroland itself, but is part of the band’s traditional territory.
Initially, a justice of the peace ruled that the Meshakes were protected by their constitutional rights under Treaty 9 in building their cabin.

Ontario appealed to the Ontario Court of Justice, and the Meshakes won.

Tuesday would have marked the province’s second appeal had it been heard. With the legal proceeding abandoned by Ontario, the lower court’s ruling stands.

“Traditionally, we would go out all over our territory to hunt, trap and fish, and we would build shelters for this purpose,” said Aroland Chief Sonny Gagnon.

“We still do this. It has taken a long struggle, but we are interpreting this move as a sign that Ontario is finally accepting our rights to build and use our cabins out on the land,” Gagnon said.

U.S. will sign U.N. declaration on rights of native people, Obama tells tribes

President Barrack Obama

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post

President Obama said Thursday that the United States will sign a United Nations non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, a move that advocates called another step in improving Washington’s relationship with Native Americans.

Obama announced the decision during the second White House Tribal Conference, where he said he is “working hard to live up to” the name that was given to him by the Crow Nation: “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”

The United States is the last major country to sign on to the U.N. declaration, which was endorsed by 145 countries in 2007. A handful of countries, including the United States, voted against it because of the parts of the provision that say indigenous peoples “have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise used and acquired.”

That language does not override national law, and Canada and New Zealand, which also initially opposed the declaration, said in recent months that they would support it.

Obama has told Native American leaders that he wants to improve the “nation-to-nation” relationship between the United States and the tribes and repair broken promises. There are more than 560 Indian tribes in the United States. Many had representatives at the White House conference and applauded Obama’s announcement.

Native American leaders said this week that they have mixed assessments of the administration’s progress. Many praised the White House focus on Indian country, but others said some problems remain entrenched.

Canada’s Dirty Little Secret

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one with a dirty, little secret.

Canada still has fundamental human rights challenges. This is related to the conditions and history of Canada’s First Nations people. Sadly, these challenges are not generally known outside of Canada. Even some Canadians have blinders on. Many try to refute the truth and the statistics while never stepping foot in a remote First Nation community.

Today is International Human Rights Day. 61 years ago, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlining the 20 fundamental human rights that every human being is entitled to. According to Guinness World Records, it is also the most translated document in the world.

I wish it could only be translated into Canadian.

Last week, Stephen Harper was carrying his message of human rights to China – while fully ignoring the realities of his own backyard. Canada is not squeaky clean when it comes to human rights.

Here are just a few of the main human rights issues faced by Canada’s First Nations:

Third World Conditions – Canada currently ranks 4th in the world on the United Nations human development index. However, when Indian and Northern Affairs Canada entered First Nations-data only in the index, Canada ranks 63rd. Officially, this places Canada’s First Nations firmly in the realm of third world conditions.

Quality of Life Indicators – Infant mortality, life expectancy, homelessness, inadequate housing, incidents of tuberculosis, health disease, HIV-AIDS, diabetes – First Nations in Canada are near the top of the statistics. Suicide is the leading cause of death among First Nations between the ages of 10 and 24.

Aboriginal Women – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Yet, in recent years, there have been over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Most are the most vulnerable people in Canada, forced into homelessness, prostitution and unsafe situations. Many women and children are forced away from their homes, due to inequalities under the Indian Act and lack of matrimonial property laws. Once again, article 17 of the Declaration states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

Residential Schools – Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” For decades, First Nations children were forcibly removed from the homes, families and communities and forced to attend government sanctioned, church-run residential schools. Inside they were subject to systemic assimilation, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Entire generations of people endured inhuman and degrading treatment on behalf of the government and in the name of the Lord. First Nations survivors and victims were only given an apology in June 2008. Individuals and affected families were provided long-awaited compensation. Many more are still unresolved. Many thousands of Elders, the survivors, have died in anguish without any acknowledgement. Yet, the government has yet to deal with multi-generational trauma and the affected of residential school on language and culture. A truth and reconciliation commission will be travelling throughout Canada documenting the stories from Canada’s saddest chapter in it’s history.

Child Poverty – According to Campaign 2000, one in four Aboriginal children grow up in poverty. That is utterly signficant. Canada has attempted to address child poverty, and in 1989 passed a motion in the House of Commons to rid poverty by the year 2000. Not even close. Statistics are not improving.

Child Welfare – The Assembly of First Nations is currently before the Canadian Human Rights Commission after filing a complaint against the federal government over child welfare. There are over 27,000 First Nations children in care which is considered by many to be a state of crisis. Former National Chief Phil Fontaine described the conditions as a “national disgrace”. To this day, funding of First Nations child protection agencies is woefully inadequate to address the current need, much less lead to proactive, preventative measures. The situation is similar to what was referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, another Canadian historical taboo. In the 1960s, thousands of First Nations children were removed from their homes on reserves and placed into non-native care. Many of those children never reconnected with their First Nations culture and roots. Others were adopted out to non-native families without proper consent.

Education Inequity – Article 20 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to education.” But apparently this right is provided in varying degrees, at the discretion of the Crown. First Nations students going to school on-reserve are funded at least $2,000-$5000 less than non-native students attending public schools. On-reserve school facilities are inadequate and in many cases unsafe. As a result, the drop out rate for First Nations students is three times the Canadian average. About 70% of First Nations students on-reserve will never complete high school. This is all according to Government of Canada statistics.

Clean Drinking Water – Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,” However, there are still hundreds of boil water advisories in First Nation communities. That is boil water advisories for the entire communities, affecting every single home, affecting every single man, women and child. There is a fundamental lack of funding, standards and training for First Nations, much less the infrastructure needed to treat water and wastewater. Schools do not have clean potable water.

Indigenous Rights – Canada and the United States continues to refuse to be signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. This document entrenches the aspirations, values and rights of First Nations people including the right to have full enjoyment of the Rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the right to self-determination and self-government.

Perhaps, this message needs to be sent out during the Olympic Torch Run, leading up to and throughout the course of the 2010 Winter Olympics and perhaps during the Pan-Am Games. The message should be loud and clear during the upcoming G-8 meeting in Huntsville and the G-20 in Toronto.

I suggest that First Nations, as represented by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should join the fledgling “G-77”, the group of seventy-seven on the world’s poorest countries as a means of contributing to world affairs and gaining international attention to Canada’s dirty little secret.