Opinion: Indigenous peoples in Canada exist in ‘dystopian present’

(NDP MP Romeo Saganash. APTN/File photo)

Romeo Saganash
Special to APTN National News

Article 1 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law.

Some days, I wake up and I put on my T-shirt that says ROGUE across the front in bright NDP-orange letters because I wake up in a society where I am expected to remain quiet, obedient and, most of all, grateful to a colonial government that even in the 21st century paternalistically denies Indigenous Peoples our rights under the premise that they know best. I am expected to be thankful for temporary, piecemeal measures to remedy crimes that the Canadian government has, and continues to, commit against my people. I am expected to wait patiently for meaningful legislative changes that will end the colonial occupancy of our Indigenous legal, economic and social systems.  This society expects me to happily accept the mere pennies that they invest in funding our social services. Welcome to our dystopian present.

I suspect that one morning, Cindy Blackstock, from the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, woke up and also decided to put on her anti-colonial regalia. Despite government patronizing and intimidation, Blackstock filed a discrimination complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. She argues that Canada knowingly and willingly discriminates against First Nation children by underfunding services on reserves.

On Jan, 26, 2016, one year ago Thursday, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the government of Canada discriminates against First Nation children by failing to fund child and welfare services adequately, and that First Nations children do not have access to timely services. The government was ordered to fix the broken system immediately.

Article 7

Indigenous individuals have the rights to life, physical and mental integrity, liberty and security of person.

I have to use all 10 fingers and all 10 toes to count the number of Indigenous children I have known who have attempted or committed suicide. In the brave work of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, one little girl defined racial discrimination as “when the government doesn’t think you’re worth the money”. If that is how children feel today do we really have to ask ourselves why we have a suicide crisis in so many communities?

Indigenous communities live with the unspeakable trauma that comes from seeing children without hope. Each one of us has been stopped in our daily life by a message and a phone call letting us know of another desperate act by young person needing support. We have met for coffee, cried together, grieved alone, burned sage, placed tobacco, screamed at the world, and developed solutions to prevent another death.

Yet the government calls our solutions and proposals “awkward” and denies the funding that the Human Rights Tribunal ordered the government to provide. As Wapekeka First Nation member Joshua Frogg stated last week, “Awkward? It was awkward for us to bury two young children in the middle of the winter, in -30C, -40C weather. It was awkward to break ground in the permafrost so that we could bury these children. It was awkward for our youth to cry at the funeral.”

Article 21

  •  Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security.
  • States shall take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of their economic and social conditions. Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities.

I have tremendous respect for law: honouring agreements we share, respecting human rights, striving for justice for all people. However, I believe that the government of Canada is more concerned with maintaining power and control than building a society that reflects our Charter of Rights. In fact, since the Human Rights Tribunals’ decision, the government has consistently shown contempt for law by ignoring court orders. The Liberals brag about their historic level of funding for First Nations, Métis and Inuit and yet, they supposedly can’t afford to fix First Nation child welfare discrimination, in spite of the Tribunal’s ruling and two compliance orders.

So today and every day, I am that rogue Indigenous person. We must hold the government accountable and insist on integrity from Canada’s political leaders. Our ancestors and our descendants will commend our actions, and we will live our inherent rights as original peoples in our territories. We will define the relationship between the state and our nations; the colonial government lost that ability a long time ago. Our youth will be surrounded by the strength and teachings of our peoples, find hope, and succeed with all the potential of their birthright. Justice now.

Romeo Saganash is an NDP MP representing the Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou riding

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9 thoughts on “Opinion: Indigenous peoples in Canada exist in ‘dystopian present’

  1. It’s not too hard to conclude that, given Trudeau’s many lies around environmental protection and First Nations rights, the current federal government is all about enacting divisive policies in order to support energy projects. To that end they will bribe and/or threaten indigenous leaders to get their way. Follow the money trail.

    Screw Canada 150. The pricks in Ottawa haven’t changed in 400 years.

  2. I was saddened to hear that the Liberals have rolled back the Accountability Rule to allow FN people to see where their chiefs and counsellors are actually spending or investing the money and what is the outcome. Especially sad because this accountability request came from a grass-roots level of the FN people to finally have a voice in what was happening on their own reserves. That would be a good place to start. I am totally supportive of eliminating the patriarchal Indian Act brought in by the Liberal elites so many years ago as well, so that all FN people will have the right to own land, houses and whatever else they want to. I hope we see ourselves as Canadians first and tolerant of each others unique cultural pasts. Most of us understand that the Federal gov’t (doesn’t matter which one) rarely solves problems, so we need to be our own best spokesman and decide that a victim mentality gets you nowhere.

  3. Cheers and hands up to the rogues who change the narrative of colonialist history and behaviors. It is long past time for a new “Canadian normal”.
    Hiy hiy!

  4. Thank you for this opinion piece. Settler allies like me are listening. I am working with an ever expanding circle of teacher colleagues, administration and school board consultants listening carefefully for ways we can forward reconciliation in our lives, professional spaces and communities.

  5. Thank you for this. Settler allies are listening and supporting Calls to Action in education – I am working with an ever expanding team of colleagues, administration and Board system level educators to make reconciliation real – personal relationships between First People’s and non-Indigenous people is going to push for change up into our levels of government. If not, then individuals will find ways to support decolonizing every place we work and live. We want to listen to more First Peoples’ voices for guidance on ways to take action with you.

    CJ Ontario

  6. Yes… Good reading! But I try to never oppose something unlawful to someone breaking the law… I then give them the grip they need to justify their action… And there is no coming back…

  7. Rights are procedural, they don’t exist on their own. How does government guarantee full employment per UNDRIP?…foolish NDP.

    1. Boiling down the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to employment for all, and bad political party, simplifies and conflates living conditions in a country that is supposed to belong to all of us. Cutesy remarks like this do nothing to educate nor advance nor reconcile.

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