Today marks the one-month anniversary of the protest camp outside the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada offices in Regina, Saskatchewan. I’m participating in the camp, which was established in solidarity as part of a wave of occupations of INAC offices that began in Toronto following news of the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat.
The destruction of First Nations’ sense of self and our structures of family, community, and governance are hallmarks of Canadian colonialism. To this day, the refusal to admit that Canada has been founded on and maintained through colonial practices inhibits the federal government’s capacity to sit at the table and address the issues facing Canada. If you refuse to acknowledge historical reality, even after you have apologized for wrongs committed, it shows the need to redefine what reconciliation means to all parties involved.
The continued disparity in living conditions between the two sides of the treaty relationship reveal the impact the Indian Act has had. Most Canadians take for granted the water that comes from city taps. But in Saskatchewan, 16 First Nations are currently on a boil water list. INAC says it has a five-year plan with regard to this crisis, yet a list compiled by the office shows seven First Nations with boil water advisories extending as far back as 2002.
I am from the White Bear First Nations in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan in Treaty Four territory. Members of my family have been forced to live with undrinkable water as far back as I can remember. But the last time I saw a slight deviation in Regina’s potable water, the political will and desire to fix the problem was immediate.
Undrinkable water is a reality facing many Indigenous communities across Canada, including Attawapiskat First Nation. There are many intersections of trauma, including those inflicted by the Indian Act, that have trapped First Nations youth in a cascading reality of suicidal outcomes. Indigenous youth feel overlooked and forgotten, a common sentiment across Canada, including the Key First Nation and Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan, which declared their own states of emergencies this year.
The 140-year-old Indian Act can be said to be the most racist piece of legislation in the world. Its repercussions are felt far and wide, as it helped set the blueprint for apartheid in South Africa and, dare I say, Palestine, establishing the practice of gathering people onto reservations to gain complete control of the population.
There was a time in my life when I thought it was fear that held me back, and then I read the Indian Act.
I urge Canadians to take it upon themselves to read the Indian Act in its entirety and assess how this document helped Canada achieve the success it enjoys today on a global level through the marginalization of the very people with whom it entered its founding treaties. Nation-to-nation treaties existed for only a few short years before the Indian Act was emplaced, in 1876, which tells me that the spirit and intent of the treaties on behalf of the Crown and government were a sham, a ruse, a legislative instrument to acquire resource-rich lands, with only the Indigenous population in the way of settler-colonial advancement.
In her book Indigenous Nationhood, Pamela Palmater suggests that the annual cost of doing absolutely nothing to encourage employment and improvement of social conditions for Indigenous people in Canada is around $7.5 billion. This reveals INAC’s absorption of vast federal funding dollars at a perpetual loss.
Make no mistake, the privatization of First Nations land as outlined by right-wing figures like former Harper advisor Tom Flanagan is not the solution. Repeal the Indian Act and honour the treaties. Nation-to-nation disparities should not exist in this land. After all, Mr. Prime Minister, it’s 2016.