Coroner Report: Apartheid Reserve System the Root of Suicides in Quebec Indigenous Communities


Suicides in Quebec indigenous communities were avoidable: coroner

Red Power Media | Feb 03, 2017

Five suicides that occurred in two indigenous communities in 2015 were avoidable, a Quebec coroner said in a report that compared Canada’s reserve system to apartheid.

Bernard Lefrancois’ report was the result of a public inquiry that was ordered in January 2016 after four women and one man died by suicide in a nine-month period.

The victims ranged in age from 18 to 46 and all died between February and October of 2015 in the communities of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam and Kawawachikamach, on Quebec’s North Shore.

In his report, Lefrancois wrote the victims all had unique stories and circumstances, but had their aboriginal heritage in common.

“That fact raises the issue of living conditions in these communities even though, when each death is considered individually, each person may have had a different reason for ending his or her life,” the report said.

Lefrancois’ report concludes the five victims — four Innu and one Naskapi — all exhibited at least one of the factors associated with suicide, which can include alcohol and drug consumption, family difficulties, sexual abuse, mental illness and exposure to the suicide of a loved one.

The coroner added that most of the victims had not wanted to die, but wanted to end to their suffering.

Lefrancois called for improving the living conditions in aboriginal communities and increasing the number of resources as well as the co-ordination between various services in indigenous communities to ensure people receive proper follow-up.

“There were a lot of human resources used by social services after a suicide, but it was requisitioning almost everyone and there was no one left to take care of people at risk,” he said.

Lefrancois noted the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam suffers from social problems that include high rates of unemployment, substance abuse and suicide. The troubles are despite numerous community resources including its own police force, social services, three Innu schools, and health service points.

He places the blame for the struggles of aboriginal communities squarely on the reserve system, and describes the Indian Act as “an ancient and outdated law” that treats aboriginal people as wards of the state who are “considered incapable and unfit.”

Lefrancois said the residential schools, which were a source of multi-generational trauma, were “only one product, one beast among many others, of the apartheid system that was introduced by our ancestors and that has been preserved to our day.”

He said he hoped the report would prompt Canadians to question whether the current system still has its place in 2017.

“In South Africa, they finished by abolishing the system of apartheid,” he continued. “They haven’t solved all the problems yet, but its much better compared to what it was before.”

Ghislain Picard, the Chief of the assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, said Canadian and provincial governments now “have no choice” but to look at the efficacy of the services in place.

That, he said, needed to be matched by efforts within the communities to try to figure out how to intervene earlier to prevent suicides.

Picard also praised the Quebec government for its openness to initiating “a process to take a deeper look at the question of social development in the communities.”

Lefrancois’ report contains a number of recommendations, including a “specialized resource” in the communities to take charge of persons who are at risk of suicide. That would include a team of caseworkers and psychologists, and be able to offer longer-term follow-up and lodging close to the community.

He noted that one of the communities sometimes doesn’t have 24-hour police service due to staffing shortages, and pointed out that a local suicide prevention centre receives few calls from members of the aboriginal community because none of the staff speak Innu or Naskapi.

He also recommended that existing services focus on suicide prevention in youth, with special attention given to the Internet and social networks, as well as more programs that help young aboriginals preserve their culture, identity, and health.

A version of this article titled Five suicides in Quebec indigenous communities were avoidable: coroner’s report By Vicky Fragasso-Marquis was originally posted in the National Observer on January 15th 2017.


It’s Not Enough To Blame Indian Act When Things Go Wrong In Indigenous Communities

People of all ages took part in a candlelight suicide awareness walk in Attawapiskat, Ont. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

People of all ages took part in a candlelight suicide awareness walk in Attawapiskat, Ont. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Indian Act only one factor creating conditions ‘so bad youth consider taking their precious lives’

By Judith Sayers, for CBC News: Article Posted: May 07, 2016

When things go wrong in First Nations communities, like the large number of youth suicides in Attawapiskat, some people say “let’s abolish the Indian Act” as the solution.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Attorney General for Canada,  said in Parliament a few weeks ago — on the debate on First Nations youth suicide — that the government needed to replace the Indian Act with a reconciliation framework.

When Shawn Atleo was elected as National Chief in 2009, he said he wanted to get rid of the Indian Act in five years.

The very harsh reality is the Indian Act is only one of the underlying causes that creates conditions so bad that youth consider taking their precious lives. Let’s face it, not many youth know and understand the Indian Act, they only know the conditions they live in.

What the youth know

What they know is the lack of positive change in their community, the lack of adequate housing that leads to overcrowding or substandard living conditions.

The youth may suffer poverty, with no jobs for their parents or grandparents. Hunger is no stranger to them. Drinking, drugs and violence may be in their home, or possibly the home next door.

They may have schools that don’t have up-to-date text books, computers or even an internet connection.

Youth who are committing suicide are a product of the whole colonization process that includes the Indian Act, residential schools, inadequate funding for their community for housing and services.

It includes the racism and discrimination they face all the time in their schools or the towns they live in. They are talked down to, they are perceived as not having much potential, or pushed into a lesser degree, making it hard to get into a training program or into university.

David Kawapit

David Kawapit (left) was the young Cree man who instigated the monumental journey from Whapmagoostui, in northern Quebe, to Ottawa. Kawapit is pictured here, with an elder, on the day the group arrived in the nation’s capital. (Alice Beaudoin)

They see First Nations occupying the land, in court, in the media, fighting for their rights — and that the government proceeds with projects like the Site C dam and pipelines even though it will destroy or impair their rights.

Youth see the great efforts made by people like the youth from the community of Whapmagoostui, Que., who walked 1600  kilometres to Ottawa to bring attention to First Nations issues. Those youth suffered and made huge sacrifices and for what? The government didn’t change.

They have seen many of their friends and cousins taken from their families and put in non-First Nations homes because their parents were judged to be incapable of looking after them. They see how confused these children are about where they belong and who they are.

“Youth see that First Nations have to fight for everything they need and that the fight doesn’t always lead to success.”– Judith Sayers

They see that First Nations are one of the highest incarcerated groups in the country and they see the impact of those members being taken from the community, and then coming back.

They know that health care is inadequate and have seen the sickness and deaths because the care wasn’t there. They have seen that everywhere in Canada there is clean drinking water — except for some reserves.

Youth see that First Nations have to fight for everything they need and that the fight doesn’t always lead to success.

Replacing Act not easy process

I have lived with this, my children have lived with this, and I hope my grandchildren won’t live with it. As a chief of 14 years, I witnessed this and tried to make changes. As a leader in B.C. I have been in many communities and I know the conditions that exist. I was a chief negotiator for the B.C. Treaty process for 16 years. We tried to displace the Indian Act with a true treaty with no success. My grandfather in 1922 tried to do the same.

First of all you need to deal with the reserve lands, how will they be held?  Of course, governments want you to hold them in fee simple so your people can pay tax. They don’t want to recognize Aboriginal title lands. The tax exemption has long been a small benefit to First Nations people and one that needs to remain and the governments insist on it being given up as you see in all the modern Final Agreements.

Governance is a big issue as the governments try to keep a limited range of powers that don’t allow a First Nation enough jurisdiction over their lands, resources and people. Paternalism is very strong. There are good reasons why there are so few completed final agreements in B.C. — it is tough to get the governments to agree to the solutions First Nations need, that go beyond the Indian Act.

‘Not one quick fix’

Youth suicides are a crisis in some First Nations communities and need urgent and immediate solutions. But there is not one quick fix.

People really need to understand that even if the Indian Act was repealed tomorrow, it would not change the dire effects of colonization or the continual racism that is present in many places in society.

I think most of all, there has to be honest, good faith negotiations to settle outstanding issues in relation to the land, resources and shared decision making on First Nations territories.

The most important underlying issue to this is being able to continue our relationship to the land, to exercise our rights on the land, to go to our sacred sites without being interrupted, and to know that developments won’t come through the middle of our burial sites.

This is a big picture kind of fix that is needed and First Nations leaders and grass roots people need to be part of the solution and the efforts to prevent suicide.

Our people need hope, they need to see positive changes, and most importantly our young people need to know there is much to live for.

A version of this article was initially published on First Nations in BC Knowledge Network: A space to exchange information between First Nations communitiesIt has been edited and republished with permission.

Justice Minister Says Government Will Get Rid Of The Indian Act ‘One Community At A Time’

Justice minister says government will get rid of the Indian Act 'one community at a time'

Justice minister says government will get rid of the Indian Act ‘one community at a time’

By Nation to Nation| 

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says she will work “one community at a time” to develop a “reconciliation framework.”

That framework would work with First Nations on a nation to nation basis and get out from under the Indian Act.

Speaking on APTN’s Nation to Nation, Wilson-Raybould briefly outlined her plan after giving an impassioned speech during an emergency debate in the House of Commons on the crisis in the Cree community of Attawapiskat. There she offered the first glimpse of the Liberal plan to abolish the Indian Act and emphasized the importance of “meaningful, substantive change.”

“There are no quick fixes to these issues,” said Wilson-Raybould.

Wilson-Raybould talked about the importance of a long-term reconciliation plan. She also addressed the need to move beyond the Indian Act and towards a nation to nation relationship.

“We need to ensure we breathe life into section 35 and that we complete the unfinished business of Confederation,” said Wilson-Raybould in her speech in the House of Commons.

“If we do so we will have a strong and appropriate governance in First Nation communities wherein they have moved beyond the Indian Act,” she said.

On Nation to Nation, Wilson Raybould said the government will work with First Nations who are ready to take on self-governance.

“Communities are at different places and we need to ensure that we have tools when a community is ready to move beyond the Indian Act in whole or in part that they’re ready to do so,” said Wilson-Raybould.

She said that this could be achieved in a variety of ways, from “sectoral government initiatives” to “bi-lateral self government agreements” to “comprehensively negotiating a treaty under the modern treaty process.”

Wilson-Raybould said it may not be a fast moving process.

“Our efforts and how quickly we move will be determined by individual communities, by the will of the people who live in those communities and when communities are ready to do something substantive, which many have already…they have a partner in Ottawa who is ready to pick up the ball and run with them,” said Wilson Raybould.

A former deputy minister of Indigenous Affairs said the government should be wary of putting the emphasis on action.

Scott Serson said a results-focused approach could hamper the government’s reconciliation efforts.

In a conversation with APTN’s Nation to Nation online, Serson said the department’s insistence on results may have been at the cost of substantive change.

Interview with former INAC deputy minister Scott Serson.

“(We) left all those more difficult, complex issues relating to nation to nation in abeyance and in the end we never really got back to them,” said Serson.

Now he worries the current government will have the same problem.

“This emphasis on delivery of results, while good, leaves some of us concerned that once again we’re going to neglect these fundamental issues that have to be negotiated and debated around nation to nation,” he said.

“I was happy to see that the Minister of Justice was renewing the call for that nation to nation relationship,” said Serson.

That relationship will require the development of new frameworks alongside Indigenous leaders, according to Serson.

“If the federal government can develop some framework policies, then individual nations can proceed at their own pace and their own priority to develop that relationship that they are looking for,” he says.

Still, he worries that despite Wilson-Raybould’s speech, the government is heading in a results-focused direction.

“It’s clear that from news reports and even the reports from the recent government retreat in Kananaskis, that the government wants to put an emphasis on results,” he said.

According to Wilson Raybould, those results are not in the near future.

“The Indian Act will not be gotten rid of in one fell swoop … communities are at different stages in terms of their own deconstruction or decolonizing,” said Wilson Raybould.

All Canadians Should Be Offended Apartheid-Like System Still Exists

A young man performs a traditional dance celebrating the spring equinox at the Thunderbird House in Winnipeg in 2005.

A young man performs a traditional dance celebrating the spring equinox at the Thunderbird House in Winnipeg in 2005. WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

By: Brian Giesbrecht | Winnipeg Free Press

Time to scrap racist Indian Act

Maclean’s magazine declared Winnipeg to be Canada’s most racist city. However, Maclean’s should have gone much further and declared Canada to be a racist country in relation to aboriginal people.

Racism is the belief one group or race of people is inferior in ability. That is exactly what Canada’s legislation dealing with aboriginal people is based on.

The 1876 Indian Act treated indigenous people like children. By today’s standards, it is a totally regressive and racist piece of legislation. With its reserve system (which was supposed to be a temporary measure), it created what can be called an aboriginal apartheid system.

The Indian Act uses the race of a person to define his or her privileges. For example, a status Indian has more privileges than a non-status Indian. People are born into their racial classifications as people in India were born into their caste. Aboriginal people carry cards that categorize them according to how “Indian” they are. This is a racial-purity scheme and should be deeply offensive to all Canadians — aboriginal and non-aboriginal. No other Canadian would accept the idea of carrying a card that declares what race he or she belongs to.

When South Africa was designing its system to separate the races in 1948, officials came to Canada to study our reserves. Although they called their apartheid tribal areas homelands, their model was Canada’s reserves.

So why is the aboriginal apartheid system still here? Surely indigenous leaders, who are not shy about denouncing racism, should have insisted long ago the apartheid system be abolished. Instead — and this is as disturbing as it is bizarre — aboriginal leaders themselves insist the Indian Act must stay.

The only prime minister bold enough to try to initiate the process of phasing out the Indian Act faced accusations of “racist” and “cultural genocide” from the chiefs before he could even get to a discussion stage. In 1969, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his Indian affairs minister, a young Jean Chrétien, introduced a discussion paper that proposed phasing out the entire reserve system. The incredibly valuable land now being held in trust for First Nations people (a combined area larger than France) would have been transferred to them as individuals.

This would have created a huge source of wealth for First Nations. The new landowners would have been able to create whatever kind of collective or individual ownership model they wanted. Since they would own the land as individuals, it would be their decision, not that of the chiefs. Generous funds were to be made available for transition programs.

Trudeau and Chrétien were attempting to move aboriginal people from the margins of the Canadian economy to the mainstream. Aboriginal culture and tradition were not threatened. But the chiefs mobilized and killed the idea. Using thuggish tactics, such as threats of blockades and violence, they put an end to the proposal before it could see the light of day. Trudeau and Chrétien backed down.

From that day to the present, federal government policy has been to transfer increasing sums of money to the chiefs, with few questions asked. The policy of the chiefs has been to make money demands and market an endless list of historical wrongs, some real and some perceived. Except for insisting on some basic accounting transparency from the chiefs, Ottawa has been compliant.

Why did the chiefs insist the Indian Act must stay?

There were many reasons. Some did not want to lose their privileged positions. Others acted out of better motives — they desperately wanted to keep alive a way of life that had in fact come to an end long ago. But they all made the same fundamental mistake: they equated a successful integration into the Canadian economy with a loss of cultural identity. They continue to make the same mistake to this day.

Would it be a difficult job to phase out the apartheid system? Absolutely. Even if the process had started in 1969, it would have taken years and a great deal of money to accomplish. Now, the job is even more formidable, but it can be done.

The reserve system is not something Moses brought with him down the mountain. It was a cynical system made by 19th-century men, and it can be unmade by modern men and women. As Manitoba’s senior aboriginal elder, Elijah Harper, said shortly before he died: “The Indian Act treats us like children — we should get rid of it.”

But until the First Nations leadership wakes up to the reality reserves must go, what is their plan? Incredibly, it is more apartheid. Multiculturalism is the official policy that applies to all Canadians — except reserve residents. In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples proposed continuing the current system. After spending a truly stunning $58 million, this is what the commission came up with: the 633 or so reserves should consolidate into about 50 to 80 First Nations and then deal nation to nation with Canada. Canada’s role was to pay the bills.

Each First Nation would make its own laws, operate its own economy and remain separate from the Canadian mosaic. Mind-boggling amounts of money from Canada would be needed to subsidize these 50 to 80 nations at first, but by some unexplained process this “self-government” would result in these nations creating their own economies, and they would become self-supporting. The commission gave its plan 20 years for all of this to work out.

As we know, the commission’s report was largely ignored. With very few exceptions, most reserves today are far more dependent on the federal government than before. Billions of dollars are spent annually, with results that are completely discouraging.

A growing number of successful aboriginal people have already found an answer. It is the tried-and-true formula that works for every successful person: get good at something and go where the jobs are. There are now many successful aboriginal lawyers, judges, artists, playwrights, journalists and workers of every description, and the number is growing.

Yes, Winnipeg has its share of racists, as does Canada as a whole. But most Winnipeggers, like most Canadians, are not racists. Canadians want to see aboriginal people succeed. We are dismayed when we read the negative statistics about aboriginal people in jails, in the child-welfare system and the like, and we are deeply unhappy with a system that keeps so many aboriginal people locked in a cycle of dependence and despair.

But we have no doubt about the abilities of aboriginal people. And when we do see aboriginal people succeed — to paraphrase the words of the late chief Dan George — “our hearts soar.”

Brian Giesbrecht was a provincial court judge from 1976 until 2007. He is now retired.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2015 A9


Vancouver Island First Nations Reach Treaty Agreement For Lands And Cash

Songhees First Nation Chief Ron Sams holds up signed documents with Five Te'mexw member First Nations Canada and British Columbia, towards an agreement-in-principle for final treaties on Vancouver Island for approximately 1,565 hectares of crown land during an announcement at the Songhees Wellness Centre in Victoria, B.C., Thursday April 9, 2015. Photograph by: Chad Hipolito, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Songhees First Nation Chief Ron Sams holds up signed documents with Five Te’mexw member First Nations Canada and British Columbia, towards an agreement-in-principle for final treaties on Vancouver Island for approximately 1,565 hectares of crown land during an announcement at the Songhees Wellness Centre in Victoria, B.C., Thursday April 9, 2015. Photograph by: Chad Hipolito, THE CANADIAN PRESS

By Dirk Meissner | The Canadian Press

ESQUIMALT, B.C. – Chief Ron Sam smiled as he held a thick treaty document in both hands and raised it above his head in triumph, sparking a rousing cheer from hundreds of people who gathered in a community hall minutes from downtown Victoria.

After two decades of negotiations, five southern Vancouver Island First Nations signed an agreement-in-principle Thursday on a modern-day treaty that includes land, cash and a route away from the Indian Act and towards self-government.

Sam said his triumphant gesture was meant to honour past First Nations leaders who believed that negotiating self-government and land ownership rights leads to a prosperous and independent future.

“The signing of this agreement will finally give us the opportunity to talk about some serious land,” he told reporters immediately following the ceremony. “This will give us the opportunity to really sit down and put some land on the table.”

Sam said he expected it would take at least one year to reach a final treaty with the federal and B.C. governments.

The treaty agreement comes at a challenging time for B.C.’s treaty-negotiating process, which dates back to the early 1990s.

There are more than 200 B.C. First Nations and only about two dozen have treaties, some of which date back to the mid-1800s when B.C. was a British colony.

Premier Christy Clark has said the current process that has yielded four treaties in more than 20 years is too slow and expensive. Her government recently refused to appoint former Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott as B.C. Treaty Commissioner, deciding instead to review the negotiating process before appointing a commissioner.

Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt recently received a report that suggests treaty talks face institutional barriers, inefficiencies with the process, poor accountability and a lack of urgency.

The report said Ottawa must take charge of the process and decide which talks should move forward and which should be abandoned.

Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl, who attended the ceremony on behalf of the federal aboriginal affairs minister, said the current treaty process has challenges, but Ottawa is committed to negotiations.

“We realize there are obstacles to the process, but this (ceremony) is a reminder that through patient negotiations we can achieve these milestones,” said Strahl.

The agreement-in-principle between the Te’mexw Treaty Association, which represents the Vancouver Island First Nations, and the federal and B.C. governments includes provisions to provide the First Nations with 1,565 hectares of Crown land and about $142 million once a final agreement is reached.

The agreement also includes 27 chapters covering issues including governance, taxation and land.

Sam is the elected chief of the Victoria-area Songhees First Nation, one of the few bands to have signed the so-called Douglas Treaties in the mid-1800s.

The other First Nations signing Thursday’s agreement are: Beecher Bay, T’Sou-ke, Malahat and Nanoose first nations.

An emotional Beecher Bay Chief Russ Chipps said his community has chosen the path of change that includes economic development, social responsibility and environmental protection.

“For that, I’m so proud of my community,” he said.

B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad said it may have taken 20 years, but the result is “momentous.”

“What we are doing today is laying the foundation of self-governance and economic independence,” he said.