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When Will Canada 'Take A Knee' For Indigenous Peoples?

As we rush to act in solidarity with our American neighbours, we must remember that Canada too must approach racial injustice with rigour and tenacity.

10/16/2017 15:37 EDT | Updated 10/16/2017 20:08 EDT

As political protests blaze across football fields and dominate headlines, American athlete's intentions are palpable and fervent as they kneel in protest to social injustice — a course of action Canadians have failed to take.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Saskatchewan Roughriders players link arms during the singing of "O Canada" before first half CFL football action against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Sept. 29, 2017.

A simple, silent gesture to protest a nation fraught with racial inequity has garnered solidarity amongst Canadian athletes — the Saskatchewan Roughriders linked arms on the sideline at the Mosaic Stadium, the Calgary Stampeders voiced support and others took to social media — yet no Canadian athlete was compelled to protest racial injustices within their own country, turning a blind eye to the Indigenous inequities that remain rooted in Canada's colonial past and paternalistic Indian Act.

For decades, children were removed from their families and flown to remote locations where they were forced into labour and "education" systems with the purpose of destroying their cultures and civilizations. This is the unspoken genocide of Canada.

On Oct. 1, Vancouver vocalist Arielle Tuliao took the field before a Seahawks game in Seattle, singing "O Canada," and remained standing as players kneeled, sat and locked arms during the "Star Spangled Banner."

The same privileged rhetoric and course of inaction has resonated within Canada for decades.

"How do I take a stand without bringing unnecessary drama to my country?" shared Tuliao with The Associated Press following her performance.

The same privileged rhetoric and course of inaction has resonated within Canada for decades, leaving us in the comfort of our innocuous and kindhearted identity. Two years ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared at the Special Meeting of the Assembly of First Nations shortly after his election in 2015, stating there was no relationship more important to him, and to Canada, than one with Indigenous peoples.

It wasn't until a week ago that the Trudeau government pledged $4 million to Indigenous communities still living with a lack of safe drinking and bathing water.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right shakes hands with Justice Murray Sinclair during the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report in Ottawa, on Dec. 15, 2015.

A 2011 government report revealed it would cost $1.2 billion to immediately get reserves up to minimum standards, with $5 billion needed over the span of 10 years to upgrade water and sewage infrastructures.

It doesn't come as a surprise that the life expectancy among the Inuit remains 15 years shorter than the Canadian average. With minimal efforts from the Canadian government to curb suicide rates, Aboriginal youth are almost 11 times higher than the national average, and since 2005 there has been a 43 per cent increase of the Aboriginal population in federal prisons for those serving sentences of two years or more.

As Justin Trudeau addressed the 72nd UN General Assembly in late September, he stated: "For Indigenous peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect and abuse," a reality that has yet to change for over a million of Canada's vulnerable and marginalized population.

Who is kneeling for them?

Aboriginal women report being victimized by violent crimes at a rate almost three times higher than non-Aboriginal women. In 617 of the First Nations communities across Canada, there are only 41 shelters accessible to women and girls, leaving 45 per cent without access to dedicated shelter space.

Who is kneeling for them?

As we rush to make headlines and act in solidarity with our American neighbours, we must remember that the idea of balance can't reside at one side of the seesaw — Canada too must approach our injustices with the same rigour and tenacity.

If Colin Kaepernick and the many athletes inspired in his wake refuse to stand up and show pride for a country that oppresses people of colour, we must look at ourselves and question, why aren't we doing the same?

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