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The recent discovery of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School is a national tragedy, and illustrates the acute need for better outreach, supports, and services for Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Innocent Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and subjected to malnourishment, neglect, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
This horrific and repugnant discovery, alongside the well-documented history of residential school policy that accompanies it, runs completely counter to the image that most of us hold of Canada in our minds. We think of our country as a beautiful place filled with some of the world’s kindest individuals and families; and while that may be mostly true, there is a dark side to our history that we must come to terms with. If we don’t, we risk furthering the already significant damage imposed upon Indigenous Canadians at the hands of the Federal Government throughout history.
The current Federal government continues to talk about all the things they plan to do to improve the lives of indigenous peoples across Canada. Despite all this talk and campaigning, residential school survivors, their families, and their communities feel left behind. I’m not here to point fingers at specific governments for the long and harmful legacy of Crown-indigenous relations in this country; unjust, oppressive, and lopsided treatment of Canada’s indigenous peoples is sadly a pattern of behaviour dating back to our earliest days as a nation.
As much as the current government likes to “virtue signal” about improving the quality of life for Indigenous peoples in Canada, Liberal Party Prime Ministers and MPs been among the worst offenders, even in recent history. In 1969, Pierre Trudeau and his Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chretien published a White Paper that proposed terminating the Treaties, abolishing reserves and extinguishing all Indigenous rights. In 1996, the federal government placed a two percent cap on increases to First Nations’ budgets that left bands struggling to provide basic services to their growing populations. Justin Trudeau promised to improve First Nations’ drinking water facilities to eliminate all on-reserve boil-water advisories by 2021. This has now been pushed off until 2026.
Countless Canadians from all walks of life are outraged at the poor treatment Indigenous Canadians receive from the federal government, and they should be. Not enough is being done, at a time when a global pandemic is exacerbating existing inequality and making it even harder to break the cycles of poverty and addiction. With a Conservative government in place, Canada’s Indigenous peoples and the millions of Canadians who fight passionately alongside them for their rights will find a new champion in combating the devastating and lasting impacts of decades of abuse.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.