It has been a year since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its final report, "Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future." Findings of the commission helped all of us to confront truths about the terrible inequities and discrimination faced by this country's aboriginal peoples and the legacy of the residential school system.
The report itself was an important moment in Canada's history. It was an acknowledgement of both the legacy and ongoing mistreatment of aboriginal communities. It revealed truths about the web of systemic racism and colonialism in Canadian society. In fact, it was more than a report because it gave voice to teach us an important story about the damage done by government policies and the attitudes of people.
It was tough to hear, but needed to be said. The same, I'm sure, will be said of the coming inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
After a decade of stonewalling and denial from the former Harper government, it seemed a year ago like we finally had a government in Ottawa ready to listen and act.
In the year since, we have seen the listening. Now we need to see the action.
In a tweet last week, Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, wrote:
10 days 2 Xmas-@JustinTrudeau my wish is 4 every First Nations child to have equitable services so they can grow up healthy & proud. Do it.
— Cindy Blackstock (@cblackst) December 16, 2016
It was a simple and heartfelt plea from a woman I admire a great deal, and a call to action that I fully support.
The pain of the residential school system continues to be felt through generations of survivors and aboriginal families. We have an obligation as a country to address that pain and to repair the damage done by the state-supported schools.
There have certainly been some triumphs in the past year. On November 1, Blackstock sat in the House of Commons gallery surrounded by supporters and allies as MPs voted unanimously to support an NDP motion for an increase of $155 million in welfare services for First Nations children. A Unifor delegation was on hand to witness the vote alongside Blackstock. She beamed as MPs stood one-by-one to vote in favour of the motion, even though the increase would not take government funding beyond what was already budgeted.
As a symbolic move, however, support for the motion from government MPs and cabinet ministers signaled something important.
When policy gets stalled, real people get hurt.
We must also remember that along with this progress there have been horrifying tragedies in the past year, as well.
A fire at the Oneida Nation near London just last week, for instance, killed five members of the same family -- a father and four of his children, including one infant -- in a blaze the local fire chief said was the direct result of overcrowding and inadequate housing on reserves.
A 2011 federal study found that people living in aboriginal communities are 10 times more likely to die in a house fire than those in the rest of the country.
Across the country, aboriginal children still struggle to get an education in adequate facilities given that First Nations schools receive less funding per student than provincial and territory schools. The Parliamentary Budget Officer recently highlighted the lack of education quality that is most evident in remote northern communities that face a disproportionate disadvantage.
The Canadian government must do more than just talk.
Of equal cause for concern, First Nations women and girls continue to go missing and are targeted. Families continue to be torn apart by this violence which is affecting entire communities.
These are the kinds of tragedies that are allowed to continue happening when there is inaction. When policy gets stalled, real people get hurt. For our aboriginal communities, the hurt is deep and ongoing. This is exactly why action is needed and it is needed today.
Talk is good. The frank talk we have had about the very real challenges facing aboriginal communities and about what is needed to address those challenges is certainly much more than we have had from our federal government in a very long time.
The Canadian government must do more than just talk. There is already a clear call to action outlined on what must be done. It's time to do it. Justice should not have to wait another year.
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The word Canada comes from the Iroquois word kanata meaning village, settlement or land.
There are currently over 60 First Nations languages in Canada grouped into 12 distinct language families, according to Statistics Canada.
Before European Settlers came to Canada, it was not uncommon for Aboriginal women to hold equal power to men, and even had to ability to take the power away from the chief, reports UBC. Women’s suffrage in Canada was not granted until 1918.
The North American headdress was earned, each feather representing an act of bravery.
There are over 600 different tribes in Canada each with their own culture and belief system.
The High King of France commissioned Giovanni da Verrazzano to reach Asia by sailing around North America in 1523. He described the coastline as densely populated and full of bonfire smoke, saying it could be smelt from hundreds of miles away at sea. Some academics place the American Aboriginal population at 50 million while some argue it to have been 100 million. Today’s First Nations population of Canada falls around 1.4 million.
During the early days of colonization, Britain saw Aboriginal people as essential to protecting their colonies and considered them powerful allies who helped battle the French during the Seven Year War and fought off American invasion during the War of 1812.
First Nations people played a major role during the fur trade between the 17th and 19th centuries, which attracted merchants from around the world.
Archaeology tells us that aboriginal people have lived in the Maritimes provinces of Canada for at least 11,000 years.
After the decline of the fur trade and the end of the War of 1812, more settlers came to Canada, creating a large enough population to protect their own borders. First Nations were seen as impeding on economic development and were sent to live on isolated reserves, while more land was set aside to accommodate new settlers.
Aboriginal people have the youngest demographic in Canada, with a median age of 28, while the median age for non-aboriginal Canadians is 41.
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