Indigenous people have suffered for generations in Canada without the same supports offered to refugees.
By Liam Massaub | thestar.com – Jan. 4, 2017
We have homegrown refugees in Canada who aren’t prioritized enough to justify a Justin Trudeau greeting at an airport or a tear shed from the prime minister that made for such a great, heartstrings-tugging photo shoot.
Yes, we have a particular group of people forced from their homelands, who fled rape, terror and abuses so great they would be considered war crimes. Simply because they were different.
Yet we ignore these refugees. We let them suffer in mouldy, crumbling shacks. We keep them poor and dependent through racist legislation designed to do just that. We ignore mass child suicides and deny them access to adequate health care. We have let their communities deteriorate in many places to war zones of shootings and contaminated water and soil, overdoses and sexual abuses.
And unlike other refugees, they don’t get a basic income, a guaranteed safe roof over their head, support from groups to help them adjust, free food or business people paying their family’s way and giving them jobs over skilled Canadians.
There is no help to start businesses. We don’t let them own houses or benefit economically from selling their resources, yet billion-dollar corporations can pillage these resources for off reserve benefit and profits.
And for the most part, they do not have media constantly pushing a positive image of them and government and law enforcement scrambling to punish and demonize all who offend their religious beliefs or are racist towards them.
No, after enduring a lifetime of pain, indigenous people are in many ways foreigners in their own land.
There are those who would say that comparisons of indigenous people and refugees is wrong, or in fact that attempts at comparisons just pits one group against another.
Well, look at the situation of indigenous people and the circumstances of the refugees coming to Canada from other countries. Trauma, seeking a better life for their families — all shared by both groups. But First Nation people just don’t get the compassionate headlines like others.
Consider the systemic minimization of concern and lack of law enforcement action related to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, until years of outrage, truth telling and advocacy pressured a response.
Maybe we can ignore indigenous people because we already have a history with them; they aren’t newly arrived here and appreciative of every gesture. Maybe it is too hard to bring them up with one hand while you take their resources and undervalue them with the other. Maybe it’s too hard to tell corporations they can’t pollute their land.
Or maybe we can’t face them after the residential school system or years of broken promises and flat out lies to them.
And the lies continue to this day. Like telling them we will solve their water crisis and give them hope their children can bathe without rashes or falling ill from drinking contaminated water. We all may wish politicians will one day really do these things and we remain satisfied with ourselves and government if at least the promises are made.
And with lots of promises made we don’t have to think about the contributions of First Nation people to Canada, including playing instrumental roles in winning past wars. Those times are long gone.
It’s much easier to let the deterioration of First Nation people and communities play out through packing our prisons and child welfare systems. And it is easier to control all aspects of energy and development and just keep them where they are; then we can call them poor, irresponsible and lacking in motivation to help themselves.
The lives of many indigenous people are hard ones. That’s the comparison to refugees. And the comparison can stop there, as the response to indigenous people and refugees from other countries should not be the same, or one vs. the other. The approach to refugees is largely a time-limited sponsorship, often through church involvement. The approach to indigenous people should be to shape and strengthen relationships between governments and indigenous communities on a nation-to-nation basis.
It is time for the Government of Canada to put in place the concrete actions, policies and funding that will honour its promises and commitments to First Nation people. There is much to be done, including repealing racist legislation, removing barriers to economic development on and off reserve and reforming subsidy programs to be effective, adequate and with direct benefit to families.
This work needs to include the active representation and participation of First Nation people in planning, decision-making and governance. These approaches are the difference between a sponsorship model for refugees and the ongoing, strategic foundation required for the sovereignty of First Nations and the elimination of the Third World conditions in one of the richest countries in the world.
Enough is enough.
Liam Massaubi is a repeat entrepreneur, investor and aboriginal business consultant. He is a proud Mohawk and a busy dad. Twitter: @OldManLM
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