Canadians often pride themselves on having one of the highest standards of living in the world. However, statistics regarding Canada’s First Nation’s population can quickly shatter this notion.
Paul Martin once dubbed the conditions on our Native Reserves as “third world.” Looking at the facts, the injustice behind Canada’s treatment of First Nation’s citizens becomes clear. According to Statistics Canada, in 2006, 60 per cent of First Nations on-reserve residents had not completed high school. Amongst First Nation’s individuals on reserves, the individual median income is just over $14,000. In comparison, the overall median income of an individual in Canada was $28,840 in 2009. Further, the life expectancy for Native peoples is 7.4 years lower than the Canadian average for females, and 5.2 years lower for males.
These dire conditions are also exemplified by the fact that the government has declared States of Emergency in a number of First Nations communities, most recently for unsafe drinking water and prescription drug abuse.
Many of these problems stem from a long history of colonization, residential schools, and systemic racism – seeds that were planted long ago, but continue to creep into all aspects of life on reserves. Indirectly, racism can be any form of prejudice that legitimizes unequal relationships, facilitating socio-economic mobility for one group while placing the other at a disadvantage. Aboriginal peoples in Canada do not enjoy equal access to education or jobs, and continue to lose their resources and lands which are essential for economic growth and self-determination. The trauma of this abysmal period of Canada’s history is carried by current generations of indigenous populations, passed down from parent to child in an endless cycle.
Racism comes in many forms, and though today it may not be as visible as it once was, it continues. In 2000, Canadians were asked how they felt about the statement: “If Aboriginal peoples tried harder, they could be as well off as other Canadians.” 75 per cent of Quebec francophones and 56 per cent of “rest of Canada” anglophones agreed.
These issues are deep, complex, and have no easy solution. In the larger framework of politics and governance, Canada needs to start working with Aboriginal populations, rather than working for them.
Providing funding is only half the battle – reserves need to be given the support and services that they have long been denied, along with the autonomy to use those things as they see fit in order to become sustainable communities. Development of mining, forestry, and energy must be done in collaboration with the aboriginal communities that they affect.
Solutions so far have come from the top down, and they have not worked. There is groundwork that can be done, however, by us here at McGill. McGill’s Aboriginal population, though small, is making its voice heard, particularly through groups like First People’s McGill and Kanata. One step toward promoting growth of this community, is to give them what they, and many others at McGill, have been asking for for years now – a Native Studies minor. In a previous editorial on September 15, The Daily called for the implementation of such a minor. We have said it before, and we will say it again – a minor is needed both to aid the cause of increasing aboriginal enrollment at McGill and to create a space for analysis of the very oppression that prevents many aboriginal individuals from accessing post-secondary education.
The AUS GA is on Tuesday, January 31 at 6:00pm in Stewart Biology.
The Daily strongly encourages all students to attend the SSMU GA on Wednesday, February 1. The GA will be held in the SSMU ballroom at 4:30 p.m. Additionally, all members of the Arts Undergraduate Society (including Arts & Science students!) are encouraged to attend the AUS General Assembly on Tuesday, January 31, at 6 p.m. in the Stewart Biology building, room S1/4.
Bring your student ID to be eligible to vote!