Onkwehonwe Week in Review: Week of February 3

Indigenous peoples in Winnipeg welcome Syrian refugees

Syria is a country torn by war. A crisis has emerged since the land is nearly unrecognizable by people who have lived there their entire lives. Having to leave their homelands to ensure survival, Syrian refugees are seeking safety in Canada. Prime Minister Trudeau has welcomed 25 000 refugees into Canadian borders and many groups of Indigenous peoples are welcoming them with open arms.

Gary Maclean, president of the Winnipeg Friendship Centre, says that it is important that we learn about each other, “In order to dispel misconceptions, Syrians and Aboriginal Canadians need to learn about each other in a good way.”

Other groups seem to agree. In December, two separate events took place to welcome the refugees to Turtle Island.

The Blackfoot Nation held a welcoming ceremony which featured a smudge passed around to the people and several songs were sung to honour the people and their struggle. A Blackfoot elder spoke to the group and highlighted the similar circumstances that brought both nations of people to where they were today.

Another event in Winnipeg welcomed refugees off the plane. Keewatin Otchitchak, a drum group, welcomed the refugees into Treaty One territory with songs and were accompanied by volunteers, airport staff and even an MP.

Khadija Daas, one of the arriving children told the drummers, “The smile on your faces, it brings hope.”

$2 billion required to fix dilapidated homes in Manitoba

The cost to eliminate mould and chronic overcrowding in Manitoba is 13 times more than the $150 million that the federal government has budgeted for the year.

Reports from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, say that the housing situation in Manitoba has worsened as infrastructure funding has been moved to other areas.

“As a result, Manitoba First Nations continue to face further deterioration in infrastructure,” says the report dated January 2015.

29 per cent of Indigenous peoples in Manitoba are living in inadequate housing. Key challenges outlined in the report include: affordability, low income and high social assistance rates.

With 25 per cent of existing homes on reserve needing to be repaired or replaced, the situation is dire. Suicide epidemics are sweeping through reserves, the people are suffering, and sometimes two bedroom bungalows house 23 people.

“We need to find a proper, sustainable solution, what is realistic in terms of how we can begin to even make a dent in this huge backlog,” says Chief David McDougall of St. Theresa Point in northern Manitoba.

INAC Minister Carolyn Bennett says that housing on first nations is a priority. Ottawa has been previously warned in a 2011 internal assessment of on-reserve housing, which said that communities do not have the means to maintain the homes that they live in which often require “aggressive maintenance.”

Alberta’s Regional Chief Craig Mackinaw says that this “needs to be addressed because it’s not getting better.”

MMIW inquiry must target systemic racism, symposium told

Indigenous women are saying that it is going to take more than apologies to create reconciliation between Indigenous nations and the Canadian government.

Over the weekend at the University of Ottawa, a symposium that involved Indigenous women’s groups and international human rights experts gathered to begin processes on how to make the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls feasible and effective.

One of the main concerns heard over the weekend was the need to make police and their institutions accountable for their inaction and the racism inherent in their structures.

Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) said, “It is clear from families of MMIW who have come forward that systemic racism exists within police forces nationally, not just the RCMP.”

In December, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson admitted that there is racism in his force and that he must confront it, but the symposium is asserting that it is more than a few “bad apples.”

“We can’t simply apologize and move forward. There has to be a change in practice and we need to do things differently from policing, all the way up to the top leadership…when it has become systemic, it needs to be addressed in a proactive way,” says the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (CFAIA).

The inquiry must look at the failed police responses to violence against Indigenous women and girls, including why some cases were never investigated or were delayed. The inquiry must also address the failure of the Canadian government to deal with the “extreme social and economic marginalization of women, which makes them more vulnerable to the violence and less likely to be able to escape it,” said Shiela Day of CFAIA.

The symposium has been deemed a historic event because it is the first occasion that an important group of international experts have gathered to discuss the pressing issue of respecting Indigenous women’s rights.

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