It is an unfortunate part of Canadian history and today’s reality that the Indigenous people within its borders face a multitude of hardships and discrimination from the Canadian federal government and others within the borders. Many Canadians are under the false impression that the Canada they live in now is free of prejudice against the Indigenous groups within the country. Since the bisons of the plains are no longer being mass murdered and Indigenous children are not forced into residential schools and lose their culture, many see Canada as free from its troubled past. There is a notion among Canadians that they are much different than the those living to its south, that the type of hardships American citizens face would be surreal in Canada. This is a false notion that many are beginning to understand, but for reform and progress to be made, no kind of injustice can be tolerated.
Within 2020 alone, a year chock-full of disasters and misfortune, the number of cases of Indigenous discrimination is alarming. Within Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaq fishers of the Sipekne’katik First Nation exercising their rights to hunt lobsters have had their vehicles and facilities destroyed. Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman, live-streamed the nurses and doctors saying racist statements towards her as she lay in pain and later died at a hospital in Quebec. On June 17th, the controversial Bill 1, otherwise known as the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, became active in Alberta. This would allow the government to charge people protesting, using their right to assembly, on infrastructure projects including the various pipelines currently being built. Earlier in the year, and in 2019, the peaceful protests over pipeline construction on Wet’suwet’en land in British Columbia resulted in arrests made by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), though no charges were laid.
The response from elected officials on all of these events are far from satisfactory. In Nova Scotia, Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne’katik First Nation told The Globe and Mail that he doesn’t want the RCMP involved anymore due to how they handled the violence at the fisheries and stated, “We need the military to come step in to keep the peace.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had told the press that Ottawa is working hard to find a solution, but no long term solution has yet been reached. Quebec’s Premier François Legault condemned the actions of those involved in Joyce Echaquan’s death, but stated that he doesn’t think “we have this kind of way of dealing with First Nations people in our hospitals in Quebec.” By dismissing the systemic racism present that allowed for this behaviour to stay within hospitals, he is promoting tolerance of such behaviour.Any tolerance towards discrimination is the same as supporting it. Elected officials cannot demonstrate this sort of behaviour towards their constituents or to anyone at all for that matter.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had withheld information on the Wet’suwet’en protests under the Access to Information Act. This means that they see the protests as a threat to national security and are withholding information and keeping an eye on the protests to “protect Canadians and their security.” By exercising their rights they had the CSIS involved and were arrested by the RCMP. This is not how a democracy should run, and the government should have worked for the benefit of those living within its borders.
For reform and progress to be made, more productive talks between the government and Indigenous groups need to occur. However, land disputes and treaty disputes continue to occur in this day and age. Russell Diabo, a policy adviser to the Algonquin Nation Secretariat, believes that negotiations should occur on the federal level. Historically, negotiations on municipal and provincial levels have failed to be productive and bring the necessary reform. Reform needs to occur on every level to allow various Indigenous groups to live and thrive. However, to completely take out the existing system and replace it would be impossible. To allow the various Indigenous communities to have autonomy, separate negotiations would have to be made since different groups would have a different set of demands, but they all want to have independence from constricting laws. In the long term, existing laws such as the Indian Act need to be slowly scrapped with new laws coming into place that are determined by Indigenous groups.
To allow the federal government to control or determine these laws would not bring about the necessary change. Having all Indigenous groups involved to determine what should apply to them and what is acceptable to apply to all is crucial to make sure that no groups are ignored in the decision-making process. Bill 1 is an example of a newly made law that blocks rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This bill needs to be repealed, and Canadians across the country need to show a strong reaction to gain the appropriate response from the government. Strong support across the nation will get the government to work for the people.
Indigenous groups will need more support, and more Canadians need to acknowledge the past and current mistakes Canada is making in order to rectify them. Many Canadians deny current atrocities because they feel all the mistakes made are in the far past, but the Inuit got the right to vote in 1950, but didn’t have enough ballot boxes until 1962. In 1960, the First Nations people were able to vote without having their status as an Indigenous person and their rights with it removed. Canadian curriculum on Indigenous history and current discrimination needs to be more intensive so that it becomes undeniable that change needs to occur and more Canadian youth know about their nations history and Indigenous history. More Canadians need to understand the current issues Indigenous groups face and what they can do to help. A simple way would be to follow social media accounts for and run by Indigenous groups as well connect with nearby Indigenous groups. Petitions need to be signed and for issues like Bill 1 letters need to be written to have them stopped before they can incur serious consequences.
There’s much to do for the Indigenous groups living within Canada to get justice and to be treated fairly on their soil, but support from the nation and honesty from the government are necessary to bring about change. There are many resources available online for curious minds regarding current and past struggles Indigenous groups face. It is important to remember that every voice counts when trying to bring about change.
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