There is an incredibly high rate of First Nation people incarcerated in jails across this country and it makes me think something is seriously wrong. I relate this to the situation in the United States where most people in jails are from the visible minorities. But good lord, this is supposed to be the fair and just land of Canada.
I recently saw some television coverage and did some reading on this issue of First Nation people in Canadian jails. I was sad to find out there are so many young First Nation people behind bars. I think it is time we all get more serious about looking with more depth at why people are committing crimes and ending up in jails. I agree that an individual is responsible for his or her actions, but I think it is worth it to take a deeper look into our society at large and that of the First Nation community to really understand why so many of our people are locked up.
A friend of mine has a saying that goes something like this: “There is no such thing as a bad kid but there are bad situations, circumstances and environments.” I can identify with this since I know first-hand having been brought up in a remote First Nation community and having traveled to many First Nation communities. I don’t have to look very far or hard to see that most First Nation communities do not have the standard of living available to the average non-Native in towns and cities right across Canada. Mind you, things are changing, but it is still a struggle for young Native people to cope with racism and in environments that are less than perfect.
The other day I came across a quote by one of the classics, Victor Hugo: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin but he who causes the darkness.” I guess it was this quote that really got me thinking about writing this piece. We really need to get honest about the real reason people are turning to crime and at such a high rate in the First Nation community. We must identify and deal with those who are causing the darkness. Who is it that keeps us poor? Who is it that keeps us in positions where we are limited in the development and control of any resources? Who is it that fights the First Nation demand for fair treatment in terms of treaties and land-claim settlements?
To me the answer is obvious and it points to the very few who have the most power and the greatest wealth. There is something wrong with our entire system and somehow we have to start working at changing the way things are done. At the very least, once we realize who is causing the darkness, perhaps we can come up with better ways of dealing with our people who are turning to crime. Perhaps we can, through our emerging self-government and our improved status in dealing with land claims, provide the resources needed to build stronger communities with a greater emphasis on healing, fairness and opportunities for everyone.
It is time we begin to put pressure on those powerful few who cause the darkness. Now is the time to align ourselves with those who are also in the fight for justice and a more fair and peaceful world. I am thinking of those we have much in common with, such as the other visible minorities, the union movement, the gay movement, the conservationists and environmentalists. It just could be that if we pool our resources and find a way to stand together, we could develop the power to lighten the darkness.