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Lots of excuses but little action for Indigenous people

The Government of Canada must stop making tax dollars as an excuse or delay to take real action.
File Photo: Justin Trudeau at an event in Kamloops in January 2019. (via Brendan Kergin)

Another heart wrenching discovery of 215 children in a mass grave brings out the scale of the assault on Indigenous people in Canada at just one residential school after a 16-year exercise took place with the release of the Truth and Reconciliation by the Government of Canada. 

The release of this extensive report from the survivors of residential schools came with calls to action to change the course for First Nations people. Indigenous leaders, organizations, advocacy groups are speaking out, exposing the lack of government action. It begs the question of how many more atrocities, how many more First Nations people dying at the hands of RCMP, how many more government racist systems need to be exposed before the Government of Canada takes action that goes beyond an apology and acknowledgement of the wrongs our people endured.

The Government of Canada must stop making tax dollars as an excuse or delay to take real action. The federal government created the barriers Indigenous people live with today. Real change is never going to happen until the prime minister, provincial premiers and mayors across the country acknowledge the wealth of this country was built from the land once occupied by Indigenous people.

The theft of the land by the colonizers changed the course of history for the original inhabitants. We hear terms like decolonization, but what does this mean?  It means something different, depending on the effects and impacts. For Canadians, it means “their” tax dollars and a costly enterprise to change what was put upon Indigenous people. For Indigenous people, it means taking action to stop the continuation of colonizing created by the Indian Act and making amends to right the wrongs. 

This is an easy fix, but will it happen? Not in my lifetime and not until the Crown changes this course for all those countries taken by British colonizers. UNDRIP called for change for Indigenous peoples around the world, but this will never happen. Why? Money! That’s the only thing that can right the wrongs for the failed attempts to extinguish the original people who occupied the land. Our ancestors never gave up the rights to the land, but today, hundreds of millions of “taxpayer” dollars are spent fighting the Constitution of Canada. Government is fighting with itself to determine how to break the Indigenous people by dragging them through the courts with tax dollars, on both sides! 

The newcomers became government surveyors who created maps of where Indigenous people lived, hunted and travelled for trade. It was this same government that placed them on reservations. It was illegal for an “Indian” to leave a government reserve, it was illegal for an “Indian” to work off a reserve, it was illegal for an “Indian” to trade, to farm, to visit family if they didn’t live on the reserve they inhabited, it was illegal for an “Indian” to keep their children. The government controlled every aspect of the original inhabitants and they still do. There is not one Indigenous person living on a reserve who owns the land or the house they inhabit. This is held “in trust” by the government.  

Imagine how your life would be, if every hospital and school was run like reservations are run in this country. Hospitals and schools were created by government, they are run and paid for by tax dollars, but Canadians expect and demand that standards are met in the running of these Institutions.  Yet the very wealth of this country excuses the deplorable, disgusting, Third World living conditions on every government owned and operated Reserve.  This is the tool the government uses to continue colonizing Indigenous people.  Unless a First Nation community is willing to give up the rights and title to what is referred as “traditional territories,” the government continues to own reserves and makes First Nations accountable for the conditions on these reserves. 

What government has allowed is for First Nations to work with Industry to extract timber, water, mining, development to address the poverty inflicted on them to exist on government reserves. What does this look like to other Canadians? It makes our people look disingenuous when we educate about our culture, traditions and ancestral respect for the land. This allows non-natives to make racist, discriminatory remarks towards our people. So just as our ancestors were deceived so the colonizers could take everything from the land, the new way is to leave no choice for First Nations to do government dirty work so Indigenous leaders can create a better life for their children. 

If the government had any intention of changing the course of a dishonourable past that caused the disgusting, deplorable, heinous crimes against a people, they would immediately implement action to fix what they created! 

The big announcement by the federal government was $5 million to build 32 houses on a Cowichan reserve. Do the math, folks, this is $156,000 per house. So how much has changed? Look to the past to learn what was once unacceptable (starve a people/take their children). Today it’s acceptable to deprive a people of a home and drinking water. The Government of Canada would never tell a Canadian “renter” they are responsible for repairs, appliances, in a rented home in Canada. This is what reserve housing is: government subsidized housing and building a home on a budget of $156,000 serves as another example of a racist system. The leaders in First Nation are responsible for building a government rental home on a budget that barely represents the cost of building today. So while government brags about this announcement, it leaves us questioning the motivation. More millions given to First Nations to improve government reserves, really!

Here is an idea I keep pushing: give a portion of every tax dollar and user fee collected in this country from every level of government and industry to the tribe that inhabited that land before they were moved to a reserve. Then meet with Indigenous leaders to address the systemic problems the colonizers created and do their part to catch up with the rest of Canada.

We can’t change the past but we can change what we do today and it is overdue for government to stop making First Nation responsible for the damage created by government. For Minister Bennett, Minister Miller and the Prime Minister to say they are meeting with First Nations to come up with an acceptable plan or appealing to every level of government is nothing more than another delay tactic.

- Jo-Anne Berezanski is an Elder with the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation who lives in Victoria.