Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. On March 27, a 17-year-old Ojibwa — I’ll call her Jane –went missing from her foster home in Winnipeg. On April 11, a police patrol found her on the street, apparently unharmed physically. But if, thankfully, good policing worked this time, the ongoing despair and humiliation of marginalized Indigenous Peoples continues every day, everywhere. There’s an ongoing problem of sex-trafficking vulnerable girls in conjunction with force-fed drug and alcohol addiction.
Jane’s family lives with the legacy of the residential schools, and that’s partly why she was in foster care. But her grandmother, who lives in Ottawa, says they could have gotten over the residential schools burden years ago if they’d had help that works. She lives every day with the pain of many murders and suicides among family members, and their addictions and troubles with the law.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who also holds the Youth portfolio, told the Assembly of First Nations in 2015: “The futures of First Nations children are not just our future, but also the future of Canada. First Nations communities, educators and students should not have to wait one more day for the critical resources they need.” But Trudeau’s words don’t connote action.
Likewise, Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Murray Sinclair never even suggested that Indigenous children should have the opportunities for education, sports and recreation, and a rewarding career that he had when growing up in Selkirk, Man.
Similarly, the Murdered and Missing Women and Girls Inquiry has churned away to record the stories of past tragedies, at a cost exceeding $50,000 per story. But it’s done nothing to deliver on its mandate requiring recommendations for “concrete and effective action that can be taken to remove systemic causes of violence and to increase the safety of Indigenous women and girls in Canada.”
Yet it’s obvious that educated and skilled women and girls who have rewarding employment, or are preparing for it, are seldom murder victims, and seldom disappear. Similarly empowered men are seldom perpetrators.
So here are suggestions for an implementation plan to start closing the ever-widening gap that Trudeau promised to close:
• Sports, activities and intensive after-school programs for young people both on reserves and for the urban Indigenous. Decades ago, for example, the cross-country ski program in Inuvik provided the core of the national team for three consecutive Winter Olympics.
• Proactive outreach to engage the most demoralized, especially their mostly invisible young children. A mentor might have to get swimsuits for enrolment in a learn-to-swim program. Then kids have to get there, with an ice-cream and reading a book together afterwards. In a household where nobody works, a teenager may need help to connect with a job stocking shelves at Loblaws.
• Supplementary counselling, remedial education and skills training, and job placement services. One template is the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services in Vancouver (ACCESS). It has placed thousands of once-seemingly hopeless clients in rewarding jobs.
• Cultural programs. A one-time handicrafts program at Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health closed enrolment the first day because demand was so high.
• Intensive addictions treatment, with ongoing support. Rob Boyd, director of Oasis at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, says programs are fragmented, underfunded and ineffective.
• Help that works for people in jail — it’ s too difficult even to make or receive phone calls.
According to an article in Maclean’s, by almost every measure conditions for marginalized Indigenous Peoples are worse than for African-Americans in the United States. Money alone isn’t the answer, insufficient though […]
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