Pam Palmater

Some people say: “Pam you are too angry” or “The AFN isn’t complaining, why should you?” Others say: “Pam, you have to admit that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made better promises on First Nation issues than former Prime Minister Harper” and still others say “But Minister Bennett is so nice?” They are all right. I am angry; National Chief Bellegarde looks exceptionally happy these days; Trudeau did make better promises than Harper; and having met Bennett on several occasion, I can say she seems to be a super nice person.

Yet, I sometimes work in The Pas, Manitoba where Helen Betty Osbourne was kidnapped and raped, yet nothing has been done to stop the numbers of disappeared and murdered Indigenous women and girls. I am  often woken up in the middle of the night with phone calls or texts about someone’s child having committed suicide or community members who have died in a fire or frozen to death outside.

The most recent hand-written letter I received was from an Indigenous man residing in prison who was hurting deeply because his mother had been raped by an RCMP officer and nothing was ever done about it. Prior to that, I received a desperate request for help from an Indigenous mother who was frantic because Child and Family Services was taking her children away because she was poor.  I receive calls from people who are trying their hardest to get to university, but there is no funding for them, so they give up. And an email I received this week was from a Rape Crisis shelter who asked me to keep advocating on behalf of Indigenous women and girls despite how hostile the environment.

So, I admit that I am angry and I look angry and I sound angry. The pre-mature deaths and suffering of my First Nations brothers and sisters is nothing short of a national crisis. The lack of housing, proper schools, adequate health care, education, and child and family supports; along with the lack of basics like food and clean water,  have been called labelled as a “crisis” “grave” “discriminatory” and “inequitable” not just by First Nations and advocates, but also by former Prime Ministers, Supreme Court of Canada justices, the Auditor General for Canada, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations.

So why has little been done to address the crisis? Despite all the promises from Trudeau, where is the action? Instead of action, we see daily doses of misinformation at best and lies at worst. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s not the truth and herein lies the problem with Canada’s new obsession with reconciliation. We can’t ever get to reconciliation, no matter how it’s defined, until we find a way to get to the truth and share it and take responsibility for it.

Canada is killing our people with its deeply ingrained racism towards to First Nations. If a, affluent neighborhood in Montreal had contaminated water which was making everyone sick, federal and provincial resources would instantly be brought to bear to remedy the situation. If a cozy suburb of Toronto developed the world’s highest suicide rate, massive amounts of financial and human resources would be dedicated to remedying the crisis. If 50% of the Members of Parliament’s children were stolen from them and put into foster care due to lack of funding for child and family services, watch how fast they’d reallocate funds from Canada’s 150th to get their kids back.

So, why then does the government not act to do this when it involves First Nations? Why does the response always follow the same racist pattern:

(1) DENY the problem:

This is when the government either says that there is no crisis or that it is not as bad as the media or First Nations are saying it is. Then comes the inevitable Access to Information request which shows that the government was either lying or misinforming and they have to admit there may be a problem.

(2) DEFER the problem:

This is when the government says they will study the issue, even if it has been studied exhaustively and well-documented in the research. This is when they will buy the media silence of National Aboriginal Organizations like the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) by offering them some sort of project-based funding to meet about the issue, set up tables, or do policy papers on the subject.

(3) DEFLECT the problem:

At this stage, the problem can’t be denied any longer, so the government will blame previous governments, blame First Nations themselves or make excuses as to why the problem can’t be dealt with right now, like budgetary limitations or that changes can’t be made overnight. The most common response at this stage is: “We can’t just throw money at the problem” because (a) First Nations leaders are corrupt (Harper) or (b) First Nations have no capacity to address the issue (Trudeau).

The end result is that all of the problems get worse and our people die. The government response is usually a Tweet or speaking point for the media which says: “Our hearts go out to the community” or “We are sorry for your loss” and then everyone goes back to their offices to plan Canada’s 150th birthday.

Every day that this government fails to take urgent action says that there is no relationship less important to Trudeau than the one with Indigenous peoples. The underlying message is that there is no life worth less in Canada, than the life of an Indigenous person. Until we accept that this is current government policy and force change, then it doesn’t matter which party is elected – new or old, racism will continue to kill our people.

Quick Facts:

4% of Canadian population
10x more likely to die in a fire
5-10x more likely to commit suicide
Some jails are 80-100% Indigenous
50% of all kids in care are Indigenous
More likely to go murdered or missing
120+ First Nations without clean water