By: Harsimranjit Kaur
Arising from a deep slumber, an underprivileged adolescent girl gets up to proceed her day as usual in a community where 53% of children reside in poverty, 19.6% of families live in houses that require major repairs, 48% of families lack financial requirements to purchase food, and suicide rates are several times higher than the general population.
From the lifestyle depicted, does “Canada” come to mind? Unfortunately, this is the disappointing reality for many indigenous families living on federally owned reserves here today. A first-world country such as Canada is often viewed as a safe haven, where injustice is actively advocated against. For many, it is indeed a place of refuge, including my immigrant family who migrated here in search of a better lifestyle for future generations. However, it is heartwrenching to learn about the horrendous neglect and discrimination Canada has inflicted upon its natives.
The humanitarian crisis dates back to when the first residential school opened its doors in 1883, run by the Catholic Church and the Canadian government as a way to assimilate and convert Indigenous children. They were torn from their families, cultures and heritage as they were forced to live a Christain lifestyle with severe punishment for disobedience. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse was a common occurrence. The last school was finally terminated in 1996 and a formal federal apology was made (Miller). These wounds were then again aggressively reopened as the remains of hundreds of missing nameless children were discovered under multiple residential schools using modern technology. Indigenous human rights issues were once again on mainstream media. However, there was one flaw. These news outlets continued to talk about misdealings in the past but still stray far away from informing the Canadian public of the harsh conditions Indigenous communities face today.
I only became aware by reading the novel Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga, which depicts the systemic racism still embedded into the Canadian justice system and how that has led to poor conditions for indigenous communities. Many households still suffer from generational trauma from residential schools and lack adequate aid. Yet, none of this is covered in mainstream media.
As Orange Shirt Day approaches, it is important to become an ally. To begin, as youth, we can start by raising awareness within our communities. For example, the volunteers at the Brampton Library are working to host an event dedicated to spreading awareness on this issue. Similar initiatives can be taken. However, smaller steps can also be taken such as supporting indigenous creators and artists and showing that we hear their silenced voices. Education and awareness is the key to the solution. A problem can not be dismantled if we do not know it exists.
APTN National News. “Half of First Nations Children on Reserve Live in Poverty, New Study Says.” APTN News, 9 Jul. 2019, http://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/half-of-first-nations-children-on-reserve-live-in-poverty-new-study-says/.
Miller, J.R. “Residential Schools in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada, 1 Jun. 2020, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/residential-schools.
Sawchuk, Joe. “Social Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada | the Canadian Encyclopedia.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2020, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/native-people-social-conditions.