by Edwina Duenas
Aboriginal people play a vital role in Canada’s formative history and cultural identity. Three main groups compose the nation’s aboriginal population of about 1.4 million: First Nations (North American Indian), Métis and Inuit — all of whom have distinct traditions and languages in their respective jurisdictions. Lately, however, there has been no shortage of reports on the problems facing the Aboriginal people of Canada.
Here are five recent issues facing aboriginal people:
1. Child Welfare Programs Slashed With No Guarantee of Return
Indigenous Approaches, or IAs, are indigenous-run projects designed to fill the gaps in the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s child services programs for aboriginal families. IAs were initiated in 2009 with $600,000 per year allotted in funding. These programs provided First Nation communities with family court assistance programs, community gardens cultivated for the purpose of combatting child hunger and training for social workers to best help aboriginal families with culturally sensitive dialogue.
However, due to budget mishandling over the past six years since IAs inception, it was difficult for auditors to identify where exactly all the funding went. Following the release of scathing reports revealing this mismanagement, cuts for 18 programs will go into effect at the end of this month, citing lack of program effectiveness. However, the Ministry of Children and Family Development has pledged to provide a “template” for IAs to follow if they want to apply for aid. Yet, given the lack of communication between the ministry, those administering IAs and the people who actually benefit from these programs, First Nation families have not been pointed to alternate resources, and the possibility of restoration for IAs looks bleak at best.
2. High Number of Unresolved Cases of Missing Aboriginal Women
Recent research by the National Women’s Association of Canada has found that more than 800 aboriginal women have been missing and/or murdered since 1990. Many are nameless, and while investigative probes have been made for some 400 cases, these women’s graves will remain unmarked. One of the biggest factors blamed for such a high number of unresolved cases is police inaction by Canadian forces.
Many of these women were plagued by vulnerable issues including mental illness, drug addiction, domestic violence and addiction. Yet, since these missing or murdered women were the ethnic minority, there was a lack of urgency in the Canadian justice system to find out how these crimes were committed. Fortunately, recent efforts by the United Nations and Canadian police have begun to open up new channels of investigation for these murders, since it is clear that justice has been delayed for far too long already.
3. Unequal Access to Canada’s Health System
First Nations people as a whole are more vulnerable to chronic sickness, HIV/AIDS and mental illnesses. A 2009 report by UNICEF has shown that aboriginal children are twice as likely to be hospitalized for preventative diseases, on top of denial of care altogether due to government loopholes as to who pays for their coverage. It seems ironic for Canada’s universal health care system to be consistently extolled for its quality of care even though it remains out of reach for aboriginal people.
4. Native Lands Might Soon by Subsumed by Mining Companies
A new mining project may take advantage of oil-rich native lands in the First Nation reserve of Long Lake. As reported in The Huffington Post, residents could capitalize from recent investments to the area, which could generate as much as $50 million thanks to a mineral deposit. Of course, this isn’t the first time native lands have been sought after and exploited for resources. While fair agreements by mining companies could benefit the living conditions for Long Lake, which is plagued by high unemployment and a complete lack of business industry, it is not a certainty. Long Lake is working on negotiations that will best benefit the reserve, but only time will tell if aboriginals will truly benefit in the long run.
5. Lack of Knowledge Surrounding the History of Residential Schools
Earlier this month, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released alarming information regarding residential schools, the last of which closed in 1996: upwards of 4,000 aboriginal children died due to lack of protection from school fires, safeguards against abusers and failures in enforcing health codes. This may just the beginning, too: figures are expected to rise as more federal records are analyzed.
How could this happen? For survivors of the residential school system, news of these figures come as no surprise. The system has cast a dark shadow on the First Nations community for decades. Abusive practices were put in place by the Canadian government and religious ministries administering these schools in order to erase aboriginal language and culture. Administrators wanted aboriginal children to adopt the “dominant” culture, and more than 150,000 children were forcibly removed from their homes by the time the last school closed.
Without a doubt, it is difficult to confront such a painful period of history. Even so, a majority of Canadians have never learned about the history of residential schools. While residential schools have been closed for nearly 20 years, the slow uncovering of these past abuses are important to consider if Canada is to provide Aboriginals with the support they need to recover and build a stronger future.
What accounts for these five recent issues in Aboriginal communities, and what can Canada do to better support them? Confronting these issues is the first step, but it is ultimately up to ministries, commissions and communities to work collectively to cultivate a sense of resolve.