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Michael Brown, Eric Garner deaths 'echo' Aboriginal experience in Canada

01/08/2015 11:55 EST | Updated 03/10/2015 05:59 EDT
A First Nations lawyer said the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in the United States — and subsequent protests — highlight the ongoing racial tensions between police and Aboriginal people in Canada.

Both Brown and Garner were black men who died at the hands of police.

In Canada, Aboriginal people face the same kind of profiling, according to Doug White, the director of Vancouver Island University's Centre for Pre-Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation.

"There's no doubt it takes place and we experience it through all aspects of our lives," he told On The Island's Gregor Craigie.

"It's a daily experience in Canada."

White — who is a lawyer and the former chief of the the Snuneymuxw First Nation — describes the relationship between police and Aboriginal people as "complex."

"[It's] one with a very long history and a negative history in a lot of different regards. I think that there's obviously work taking place to try to make things better, but there's no doubt that there are serious issues that continue to plague the relationship."

On December 28th, transit police shot 23-year old Naverone Woods in a Surrey Safeway. He later died.

Woods was a 23-year old Aboriginal man originally from Hazelton, B.C., and had stabbed himself with a knife he had taken off the shelf of the store.

His death is now being investigated by B.C.'s Independent Investigations Office.

White said while he doesn't know the details of Woods' death, the story raises a number of concerns for him.

"When you just look at the face of it all it really echoes what happened with Eric Garner and Michael Brown in the United States. It's yet another example or manifestation, I think, of underlying issues that we need to really address."

According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator, Aboriginal people account for four per cent of the population, but  make up 22.8 per cent of Canada's prison population.

White said there needs to be more of an effort to understand the underlying issues that "continue to plague the relationship" between Aboriginal people and police.

He points to B.C.'s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, where he claims Aboriginal interests didn't receive as much funding for legal representation as police did.

"We were trying to put forward more of a discussion in society of systemic racism and discrimination against Aboriginal women in particular, and we didn't get a lot of pick-up from the commission on that issue," he said.

To hear the full interview with Doug White, click the audio labelled: Doug White on the relationship between police and Aboriginal people.

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