Canada is quick to speak out against human rights violations abroad, and to brag about its foreign aid to combat poverty around the world. It would be nice if the government would do the same at home. Given the desperate living conditions of most First Nations across the country it is surprising that the $5.7 billion in foreign aid isn’t matched here to lessen the gap between non-Aboriginal Canadians and First Nations. Instead, the 2.5% of the 2012 budget ($165.30 per Canadian) devoted went elsewhere.
But is this an example of racism, a lack of respect or studied indifference on Canada’s government? It doesn’t seem to make a difference which party was in power because this has been going on for decades.
Two recent examples are front and centre. The first is the First Nations Education Act and the recent stats on murdered and missing Aboriginal women.
In the first example, the Education Act was developed without input from Canada’s Aboriginal population or leadership. This legislation has been put on ice as a result of the outcry against it that led to the resignation of AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. Too often, non-Aboriginal people have been deciding what is best for us without consideration for what we want or say we need. For something such as this to work, there needs to be a feeling of ownership and that is where Canada failed. Many felt it was not in the best interests of First Nations and rightly so.
Remarks by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt comments on the topic are deeply disturbing. Valcourt condemned “rogue chiefs” and said they didn’t represent the majority of First Nations in Canada. He added, “I trust that the good, hard-working chiefs will speak up.”
These remarks are ignorant and ethnocentric and a real example of not-so-subtle racism. I remember a non-Native in Montreal who used to remark that Ernest Webb, Neil Diamond and I were some of the “good ones.” He thought most Natives were drunken welfare bums. Valcourt’s comments are no different. They reinforce a perception of “good” and “bad” Indians the public mind. Good Indians, of course, are those who accept his decisions without question, much less input.
The second example is the report released by the RCMP in the middle of May confirming 1,181 documented cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women over the past 30 years in Canada.
“The Harper government was quick to respond to the recent crisis in Nigeria following the tragic abduction of school children yet refuses to commit to an inquiry into the disappearance of hundreds of Aboriginal women and girls despite the growing number of cases documented by police,” said Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations in Ontario.
A Parliamentary committee spent a year studying violence against Aboriginal women and issued a report on March 7. Analysts at the Library of Parliament recommended to the committee that a public inquiry be undertaken, but that fact and the recommendation itself were omitted by the Conservative-dominated committee when it tabled the report in the House.
Postmedia columnist Stephen Maher commented on May 3, “I don’t think he would talk like that if we were talking about 1,026 dead white women.”
Maher adequately summed it up in that one comment.
So are the government’s actions or lack thereof an example of racism or a lack of respect for its Aboriginal population and its own principles? That is for you to decide.