My op-ed 'Canada Ignores Its Own Refugees' was published in Toronto Star on January 4th, and was one of the most read articles that day.
Since then, I have been contacted by numerous people with comments ranging from "how dare you make the comparison to refugees" to "you hate immigrants," media wanting interviews, indigenous people telling me they are not refugees and that I am not indigenous. It seems some even think I do not know indigenous people are from Canada.
Some of the stereotypes and barriers to understanding also came out, with one comment saying "Indians should stop drinking and get off welfare" while another said "these are issues from 500 years ago." The last comment particularly confirms that some are oblivious to what still happens today and for example, how recently the last residential school closed. The bigger picture eludes many.
But with all of the expected negative, the good shined through.
I was touched by the emails and messages from people of all walks of life, race and religion asking how they could help and what they could do to support the First Nation community. I wasn't expecting that at all. I had complete strangers ready to drop what they are doing and help out their fellow Canadians. For that many people to read through and really grasp what I was saying was nothing less than amazing.
It also really made me think of just how monumental the tasks at hand are because there is no simple answer.
I wrote this article to stir emotions on a touchy subject which I clearly succeeded at. My point was that much of the country is outraged by injustice faced worldwide but there is little outrage about it domestically. The article was intended to draw attention to the fact that the first people of this country are treated the worst of any group. I do not believe there is one person that can argue that. It is a sad reality in a country that paints itself as for everyone, when its actions have shown that it is for everyone but its first inhabitants.
As explained in the article, I do not actually think First Nations people are refugees, although there are many similarities. And I made it clear to say I am not trying to pit one group against another. I am all for everyone who is fleeing danger or in search of a better life to find it.
What I am against is a government prioritizing everyone in the world before the first people of this country.
There needs to be a real understanding in this country of the actual conditions that many First Nation people endure. They are often viewed as getting a free ride or always complaining, neither of which is reality.
When you have a system built on racist policy that forces people into poverty and conditions so disgusting they should be deemed uninhabitable, there is a problem.
When you have people still living without electricity, child suicides, victimization, underfunded police forces and drinking water that kills them, there is a problem.
When the impact of residential schools has scarred an entire generation and 60% of children on reservations in Manitoba alone live in poverty, there is a problem.
When just eating a nutritious diet costs people in remote First Nation communities half or more of a median monthly income, there is a problem.
When corporations are allowed to pull out resources, self-regulate, pollute, not hire locally and undervalue compensation for what they take, there is a problem.
When there is a housing crisis at a scale so large it is hard to even put an estimate on it, there is a problem.
When any group of Canadians is over-represented in the justice system, there is a problem.
When the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the federal government discriminates against Indigenous children by underfunding the system, there is a problem.
The issues that plague First Nation communities are not the creation of the first nation people and it is time we all take a step back and realize that. It is time for the government of Canada and Canadians to review the policies, legislation and government control that created the problems and still create barriers to this day even for successful First Nation communities.
For those who ask how they can help, I suggest reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report would be a good start.
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