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✨  Good morning! Today is Sunday, June 21, 2020, and this is "The Long Shot," where we do a deep dive into a trending news topic that you just can't quite figure out.

Our Home and Native Land

...is what our national anthem says. And it's true: we are living on native land. Land that Aboriginal peoples found first and then colonialists claimed (more on that later). That's why so many schools, events and meetings provide land acknowledgements: to recognize we are sitting on Indigenous lands, acknowledge what happened in the past and think about what we can do to further the reconciliation process. Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day — the perfect time to talk about pressing issues and learn how we can all help make Canada better.

Indigenous groups make up 4.9% of Canada’s population and include 634 First Nations groups (not including Inuit or Metis) that speak more than 70 distinct languages. But when it comes to protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, Canada has a track record that is “failing at best.” We interviewed Meggie Cywink, a mixed-race Anishinabek woman from the Whitefish River First Nation who says that today, it’s “a dangerous time to be an Indigenous woman.” With both her sister and her stepdaughter murdered, she has become a warrior for women within her community

“I think people, Indigenous people, advocates, even the allies that walk alongside us, are shaking their heads wondering what the hell is going on,” says Cywink.   

And what’s going on is systemic racism and the mistreatment of Indigenous groups that go back centuries. Indigenous peoples across the country have also had a busy year defending themselves. (See VIA Rail strikes, Trans Mountain Pipeline.)

Say It Right 

But before we move on to the nitty-gritty, let's clear up some terminology.

Aboriginal refers to the first inhabitants of Canada, and includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. The singular “Aboriginal people” refers to each Aboriginal individual. The plural “Aboriginal peoples” refers to several distinct Aboriginal populations.


Indigenous refers to the original peoples of North America and their descendants. It is most frequently used. 

First Nation describes Aboriginal peoples of Canada who are neither Métis nor Inuit.

Indian refers to the legal identity of a First Nations person who is registered under the Indian Act. If you're not using it in a legal context, you shouldn't be using it at all. (It's considered outdated and offensive.) 

Native refers to a person or thing that has originated from a particular place, but does not denote a specific Aboriginal ethnicity. It still holds negative connotations for some because it doesn't distinguish between various Aboriginal groups.

Best practice? Use the name of their specific group that more specifically denotes which peoples you are referring to. If this is unknown or you are discussing the groups as a whole, “Aboriginal” or “Indigenous” is generally preferred. 

Call It What It Is

Indigenous and Black people in Canada share a collective outrage as the pattern of police violence against racial minorities escalates.

“Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly,” says RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki. (No sh*t.) 

Cywink says, "it's part of this systemic racism and the systemic colonial process." 

The call to address systemic racism within the RCMP is part of the global anti-racism movement sparked by the death of George Floyd, causing increased scrutiny over forceful police responses across the continent. In the past two weeks alone, Canada has seen an increase in police brutality against Indigenous peoples. “I don’t know if there’s a word beyond anger,” says Cywink.

At the beginning of March, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam was brutally battered by an RCMP officer after being approached for an expired license plate in Fort McMurray, Alta. (You’ve likely seen the disturbing photo.) In a 12-minute video, officers are seen violently attacking Adam and leaving him bloodied, yet Adam was later charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. Prime Minister Trudeau said he is “deeply alarmed” over the disgraceful altercation and has “serious questions.” Honestly, so do we. 

While Chief Adam walked away with some wounds, others were not so lucky. Twenty-six-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, Chantel Moore, was killed in New Brunswick by police two weeks ago. Police entered her home to carry out a wellness check and shot her five times. Rodney Levi is another Indigenous person to die at the hands of police this month after being shot at a church barbecue in New Brunswick.

These incidents show a “pattern of behaviour” that must end. As federal cabinet minister and former human rights lawyer Carla Qualtrough says, “I believe we need to really dig in and call it what it is. It’s racism, it’s systemic racism within our police force.”

History of Violence

Indigenous peoples lived in North America for thousands of years before European settlers arrived in the 11th century. While their relationship began peacefully, European and First Nations interests clashed over land rights throughout the 16th and 17th centuries causing all-out warfare. There was a mass slaughter, also thanks to diseases like smallpox, human crimes like rape and countless other unspeakable acts of violence. 

Cywink says that Canada has had a colonial mentality for centuries.  Colonial practices and policies tried to control and assimilate Indigenous peoples into what they considered “Candian culture.” They believed that in order to function in contemporary society, Aboriginal peoples needed to abandon their culture and heritage (the antithesis of Canada’s welcoming reputation), and therefore, were really taken advantage of. 

“The history the Crown has had with indigenous people has been a violent one," says Cywink. "It's based on the Indian Act, ripe with being able to take away the identity of Indigenous people. So how can that not be founded in some kind of violence?”  

First introduced in 1876, the Indian Act outlines a legal definition of “Indian” and how their "status" can be granted or inherited. It also allows the government to use First Nations’ land and resources in exchange for annual payments and other benefits like healthcare, education and the right to live on reserves. The UN (and many others) consider the Indian Act discriminatory because Aboriginal peoples should have the right to self-identify. It is one of the most frequently amended pieces of legislation in Canadian history, with reforms most recently added in 2017.
The Canadian government also took extreme advantage of Indigenous children in residential schools. You might have briefly learned about them in elementary school (and by briefly, we mean maybe a class or two).

“All of all the things that we've been teaching our children is based on an untruth,” says Cywink. "It all goes back to education."
 
So here’s a refresher: residential schools were abusive, government-sanctioned institutions whose goal was to strip Indigenous children of their heritage. From 1874 to the 1970s, children were beaten if they were caught speaking in their native language and became victims of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of teachers and staff. The conditions of the schools were shameful; full of overcrowding, poor sanitation, and lack of medical (and general) care. Diseases like influenza and tuberculosis ran rampant. Estimates put the death toll at 3,200 — but after 1920, the government decided to stop recording deaths because the numbers got alarmingly high. This dark period in history only ended in 1996 when the last federally operated residential school closed, beginning the path to reconciliation.

The doors to residential schools may have closed but the emotional and psychological wounds still run deep. On June 11, 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized to all former students of residential schools, asking for their forgiveness for the suffering they experienced. Hey, it’s 2020 and the government is STILL apologizing for it. However, Cywink says we can't make changes until people truly understand what's happened in this country to Indigenous peoples. 

"I think people have to realize how this destruction of land and how the taking away of language in that process has affected the disappearances of culture. And when you lose your culture, when you lose your language, you lose all of that," says Cywink. 

Reconciliation must be an ongoing process and cannot happen without respect for Aboriginal culture, listening to residential school survivors, understanding their pain and encouraging dialogue. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada said in a report, “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it’s a Canadian one."

Gone In Thin Air

Indigenous women and girls are also victims of violent crime at disproportionate rates.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented more than 660 cases of women and girls across Canada who have gone missing or been murdered in the last 20 years, many of which remain unresolved.

The Royal Commission on the Status of Women made an appeal to examine the violence against Indigenous women, nearly 50 years ago. Fifty years later, we are in the same place. At least 40 women have been missing and murdered since the National Inquiry released its final report last June.

The report found decades of systemic racism and human rights violations to be causing factors to the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of Indigenous women and girls.

Little has been done in the year following the report’s release to address the inquiry’s calls for justice. “We want our women to stop disappearing and we want them to stop being murdered,” says Cywink. “Some get found and some never do. But all the systemic issues that have to be looked at and the underlying reasons around why these things are happening definitely have to be rectified. They need to be addressed right at the very grassroots level.”

Stats on Human Rights Concerns

The aforementioned history, along with government policies, acts of racism and segregation, loss of land and unequal access to resources have resulted in serious human rights concerns about the health and socio-economic well-being of Indigenous peoples. There’s so much to discuss so we’ll give you the quick facts:

Living Conditions
  • There are roughly 3,100 reserves (land set aside under the Indian Act for the exclusive use) across Canada.
  • 47% of First Nations children in Canada live in poverty, nearly four times more likely to live in poverty than non-Indigenous children. But the good news is the number of First Nations people, Métis and Inuit living in low-income households IS going down
Crime/Prison
  • 24% of all homicide victims in 2017 were Indigenous, six times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous people.  
  • Police identified 38% (more than one-third) of those accused of homicide in 2017 as Indigenous, 12 times higher than the rate of non-Indigenous people accused. 
  • Indigenous women had an overall rate of violent victimization that was double that of Indigenous men and close to triple that of non-Indigenous women. 
  • Indigenous peoples make up 25% of the prison population — and that number is on the rise. Aboriginal women are disproportionately incarcerated and are the fastest-growing population in federal prisons today. 

Health 

Start Somewhere

The key to positive change is education. So take the time to educate yourself and learn about Indigenous culture in Canada. And once you teach yourself, teach others, too.

Read:
  • The Canadian government's #Indigenousreads reading list is a great place to start learning about Indigenous life and culture. 
  • Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter is a collection of poetry that delves into the journey of Indigenous peoples. 
  • Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod is a memoir that follows one man's Cree upbringing in Alberta, and his path to embracing his heritage. 
  • In her book, Legacy, author Suzanne Methot traces her own roots in order to better understand herself and her heritage.
Watch:
  • This River is a short documentary about a particularly prominent story of a missing and murdered Indigenous woman. 
  • Colonization Road is a documentary that follows Ryan McMahon, an Anishinaabe comedian, as he travels across Ontario to learn about his heritage. 
  • Freedom Road is a five-part docuseries that reveals the uplifting story of a First Nation person and their journey to building a road.
  • nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up tells the history of colonialism on the Prairies and presents a version of the future where Indigenous children can live safely.
Listen: 
  • "All my Relations" is a podcast that focuses on Native communities, stories and issues of representation.
  • The Secret Path by Gord Downie is an album that is part of a multimedia art project, including a graphic novel and television film on Indigenous history.
Support:  Start today.
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