The Dignity for All campaign was present at the Wabano Centre in Ottawa last week where Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott was holding a town hall to mark the National Indigenous Peoples Day. Throughout the day government, civil society, and individuals alike celebrated the unique cultures and contributions by Inuit, Metis, and First Nations communities across Canada.
Minister Philpott was asked several hard-hitting questions about many of the challenges faced by Indigenous peoples and First Nations communities as a result of the continued legacies of colonialism. Questions were asked about social determinants of health, access to clean water, and child welfare. A major theme that arose from the discussion was the continued gaps in access to services, programs, and supports that exist between settler Canadians and Indigenous peoples in Canada, and the governments failure to adequately address them.
Some questions were more pointed than others, with one person asking the Minister, “How do you sleep at night with all of the indigenous children in crisis in this country?”
According to Statistics Canada, “in 2011, there were more than 14,000 Aboriginal children aged 14 and under in foster care” and “Aboriginal children accounted for 7% of all children in Canada but for almost one-half (48%) of all foster children.”
Indigenous Peoples also face a disproportionately high rate of poverty in Canada, with 23.6% living in poverty—more than 10 percent above the national average—despite representing only 4.3% of the population in Canada. These numbers are not surprising, as Indigenous peoples and First Nations communities live within a system that was built on a racist, colonial foundation that continues to manifest in policy today.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released 94 Calls to Action that the Canadian Government and others must undertake “in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” Yet, we continue to fall short.
Many of the Indigenous peoples present at Thursday’s town hall were frustrated by Minister Philpott’s extension of the current government’s pattern of talking a good talk without walking a solid, fully-funded walk. But they should not have to bear the burden of frustration alone.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada reminds us that we are all treaty people, and therefore have a duty to actively participate in reconciliation. This includes in all policies areas enacted by our government.
For the last nine years, Dignity for All has been calling for a national anti-poverty plan that touches on at least six key policy areas: income security, housing and homelessness, healthcare, food security, jobs and employment, and early childhood education and care.
It is important that these policies include in a meaningful way, both in formulation and in practice, Indigenous peoples’ partnership and interests.
With the first ever Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy (CPRS) set to be released within the next couple weeks, the federal government has a duty to practice reconciliation beyond kind words spoken on National Indigenous Peoples Day. Indigenous people must be represented in all areas of policy-making, including the upcoming historic CPRS, as an important first step towards achieving that goal.