On Tuesday, Nov. 26, five members of Scarborough’s West Hill United Church – Minister Gretta Vosper, Ruth Gill, Dorothy Hirlehey, Steve Watson, and Morlan Rees – set out on a caravan for Ottawa to deliver a petition calling upon the federal government to end the disparities between the Onhkwehonh:we and non-Onhkwehonh:we people of Canada.
On their arrival at the steps of Parliament on Nov. 28, the petition had a total of 3,300 signatures – 2900 on paper and 400 from the avaaz on-line version. Hundreds of those signatures had been gathered on the journey itself.
The petition campaign was supported by Kairos (representing 11 Christian denominations), Unifor, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the OFL, the Southeast Toronto Presbytery of the United Church, both opposition critics for Aboriginal Affairs, and many individual church congregations. Conservative Member of Parliament for Scarborough East-Pickering, Corneliu Chisu, read the petition in the House of Commons the morning of Nov. 28 and thereby made it part of the record.
The petition calls upon the government of Canada to lift the 2% cap on funding of core programs in the Aboriginal Affairs budget, to reverse the decision to cut $1.2 billion from the department’s budget in 2015, to end the disparities between non-indigenous people and the indigenous peoples of Canada with respect to education, water, housing, health care and other basic needs and to honour the treaty relationship with indigenous peoples. The 2% cap, in place since 1996, has aggravated the crisis on many reserves where basic needs are simply not being met. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has 45 days from Nov. 28 to answer the petition as it has now been read into the official record. The group is discussing its next steps.
“Certainly the Minister’s response will not go unanswered if it is not satisfactory,” said Ruth Gill, one of the First Nations Study Circle convenors at West Hill.
The West Hill caravan made stops in Port Perry, Peterborough, and Perth. In Port Perry the majority of people the five talked to on the main street signed the petition.
“The caravan set out to show ordinary Canadians care about fairness and do take the treaty relationship seriously. I think we showed that,” said Gill.
In Peterborough Ruth Gill made a presentation to the Indigenous Studies class of Professor David Newhouse at Trent University. At the Perth Union Library, the travellers met about 30 people from the area who came out to hear about the West Hill initiative. As a result of the discussion, they decided to form their own solidarity group and start work on the issues.
Copies of Two Row Times were distributed to hundreds of people over the course of the journey and were well received.
The petition was started by the First Nations Study Circle at West Hill in the belief that as treaty people, non-indigenous people have a duty to call the government to account when they see that it is not honouring the treaty relationship. For the duration of the trip, the five members wore ribbons with the colours of the Two Row Wampum.
The day after the petition was delivered, the delegation went to Victoria Island in the Ottawa River below Parliament Hill. There they tied some of the ribbons they wore to a stockade on the hallowed ground where Chief Spence had conducted her hunger strike to call for action on the housing crisis at Attawapiskat.
The morning of Dec. 2, during the West Hill Sunday service, Minister Gretta Vosper, asked that the remaining ribbons worn on the journey be brought forward and presented before the West Hill congregation. The colours representing the Two Row are now a permanent feature of the church sanctuary and will forever serve to remind the parishioners of their duty to honour the treaty relationship with the Onhkwehonh:we and to act when that relationship is not respected.