June is National Indigenous History Month. The recognition began in 2009 after a unanimous motion was passed in the House of Commons — one year after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s historic Apology to Residential School Survivors on June 11, 2008, now ten years ago.
Much has changed in the past decade in terms of the present history between First Nations, governments, and Canadians. The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action have been promised to be implemented by all levels of government. There have been recent gains on addressing the First Nation child welfare crisis. The federal government has promised to end all Boil Water Advisories by 2021.
However, on May 29 the federal government announced it is purchasing the Trans Mountain Pipeline for $4.5 billion. On the same day, the Auditor General reported that the federal government’s attempt towards improving life for Indigenous Peoples has so far been “an incomprehensible failure.” Also on the same day, there was the third reading of NDP Romeo Saganash’s Bill to ensure Canada has an implementation action plan for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The contrast cannot be more extreme. The federal government is going ahead with a pipeline that is opposed by many First Nations from BC to Atlantic Canada. At the same time, UNDRIP calls upon all government to obey the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) when dealing with Indigenous Peoples. Here in Ontario, we are one week away from an election that has barely touched upon Indigenous issues.
In fact, the only Indigenous issue mentioned so far was PC leader Doug Ford stating that he would drive a bulldozer to build the roads into the Ring of Fire. This is as far from FPIC as one can get. However, in light of the Trans Mountain Pipeline purchase, Prime Minister Trudeau is now acting a lot like Mr. Ford to ensure that development happens despite First Nations interests being largely ignored. Canadians must realize that First Nations are still very much an “after-thought” in government policies and still burdened under the colonial Indian Act.
During National Indigenous History Month, governments and Canadians must vow to turn Reconciliation into action. Apologies and promises have done nothing to end the high rates of poverty, suicide, poor health, and the child welfare crisis. Apologies and promises have done nothing to ensure that First Nations in Ontario and across the country share in the wealth of the lands and resources as solemnly committed to in the Treaties that were signed in good faith by our ancestors.
National Indigenous History Month is a reminder to all Canadians that we are the First Peoples of this land. Every day, Canadians should be thankful that this country, one of the wealthiest in the world, was founded in peace and friendship with our Peoples
Our children should be able to enjoy the same rights and privileges as all Canadian children. Our children and youth should not be victims of racism and injustice. They should be able to grow up being proud of their heritage, cultures and languages.
We must throw off the chains of the Indian Act, embrace UNDRIP, and create a true nation-to-nation relationship where we live as equals. We call on the Federal Family and all levels of jurisdiction across this country to support a national this dialogue.
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day