By the Creator, it is true. The truth in that old chestnut of a joke we all told way back when. Justice for Indians? Look at the jails it’s just us.
A federal ombudsman in the form of correctional investigator Howard Sapers reported last week that the Canadian justice system engaged in systemic discimination against Aboriginal people. Hmm, you don’t say…
One statistic in his report, however, stands out. Of the general Canadian population, 117 out of 100,000 people are now incarcerated. But 1,024 of every 100,000 Native people are now behind bars in this country, for an incarceration rate that is 10 times higher.
Given that Women’s History Month’s theme is: Aboriginal Women; the Journey Forward, looking at prison population figures for Aboriginal women makes one wonder just where that journey forward will lead. Aboriginal women make up 32 per cent of all females in federal custody today. What will the next decade mean for them? Overall Aboriginals represent 18.5 per cent of the prison population while forming only 2.7 per cent of Canada’s population.
As if we didn’t already know there was a problem in the system. The Just’us joke is as old as the real problem is old and tired.
Yes, it was just us but this is just for us the flavour of the hour.
Just as mold in over-crowded houses was a problem and a national tragedy not so long ago. A few million dollars were tossed out while the problem was studied. Is the study over and is there a solution?
Wasn’t the high rate of suicide among First Nation youth a hard-hitting story nationally? Wasn’t there concern? Wasn’t there a study to see what to do next? Was it ignored? Who knows these answers?
Water, safe drinking water on Native reserves, became an issue. Every single community that benefited from upgrades was showcased. Just how many are those and how many are still waiting? Perhaps a study should be made?
Diabetes, with rates approaching 20 percent, would make any other population cry pandemic. A few programs are cobbled together but rates remain unchanged.
Another hard-hitting story runs its course and the problem is safely and largely forgotten until the next time.
Just for the record, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day denied any discrimination exists in Canada’s prisons. I’m still waiting for him to change his name to Doris as the petition was something he believed in too. He still hasn’t changed his name or undoubtedly his mind.
This is just a fragment of the mindset of the unlamented Canadian Alliance, who believed Canada’s Aboriginal populations lived in the equivalent of a South Sea island paradise. Hell, the only discrimination they seemed to see was that the First Nations had a few rights they didn’t expect. And if they couldn’t have them then nobody should. The right to land, the right to expect the rule of law to be just and so on.
I have thought of a just course and think we should adopt Stockwell Day. Let’s give him what we have. The South Seas would look so different if you were an islander instead of a tourist with a wet suit photo op.
A challenge to you, Minister Day, is to walk a mile in our footsteps. After all, you have asked us to walk in yours. One on one or in groups isn’t living a First Nations life.
Let’s make this story different from the rest or at least give prisons reserve status if you plan to send so many of us there.
It probably won’t be as the National Chief said, “First Nations poverty is the single largest social justice issue in Canada today.” Given that this is the International Week to Eradicate Poverty, the prison story will hit the back burner as usual. The tears will be targeted as pictures of Aboriginal poverty designed to tug at heartstrings will hit mainstream media.
But what will come of it? A few tears and then a few years… behind bars. Such is the Canadian way.