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The gap between indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada doesn’t stop at wealth; it is also evident in health measures, writes David Clement.

Back in 2015’s federal election, then-candidate Justin Trudeau made hefty promises on issues important to Canadians. One that hasn’t been at the top of headlines has been the government’s treatment of Canada’s indigenous people. This was supposed to be a priority for Trudeau.

It came to the national fore in August 2016 after the Tragically Hip’s final concert in Kingston, Ont. With 11.7 million Canadians watching, a clearly ailing Gord Downie looked up at Trudeau in the crowd and said "he’s going to take us where we need to go" (referring to improving relations with, and conditions in, indigenous communities). Downie, moving back and forth between Trudeau and the crowd, then explained how we all have a duty to fix this broken relationship, and how current conditions "aren’t cool, and everybody knows it." What was an obviously emotional night left the one-third of Canadians watching the broadcast wondering: how bad has it gotten?

The answer is very bad. Most people don’t know how tough life can be for our indigenous fellow citizens. For example, median income for First Nations in 2016 was just $21,875, 30 per cent lower than median income for all Canadians. If we look at all reserves from coast to coast, 80 per cent of them have a median income under the poverty line.

The gap between indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada doesn’t stop at wealth; it is also evident in health measures. On World Water Day of 2018, more than 50 indigenous communities were under long term drinking water advisories. Indigenous people in Canada are more likely to contract diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, while being four times more likely to have Type 2 Diabetes and experience health repercussions as a result.

Added to that, our court systems have a long history of racial disparity for indigenous people. Although indigenous people only account for 5 per cent of Canada’s total population, they represent 27 per cent of our prison population. What’s even more shocking is that this figure has risen over the last decade. When we look at youth incarceration, nearly half of imprisoned youth in Canada are indigenous people. Once in jail, indigenous people are also more likely to be subjected to the worst forms of punishment our prison system has, specifically solitary confinement. A simple Google search for news related to cases such as Eddie Snowshoe, a man who died by suicide after 162 days in solitary confinement, offers a first-hand look at how cruel, heavy handed, and overreaching our criminal justice system can be for indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples were once promised autonomy to handle their own affairs, but those promises have fallen by the wayside. An example can be found with Justice James Sloan of the Superior Court of Ontario, who interjected in the Hill v. Beaver custody case. Instead of allowing for this custody and separation case to be heard under the laws and customs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, it has been decided that the case must be ruled by Ontario Family Law. This is happening despite the fact that these indigenous communities already have legal frameworks in place to handle such disagreements. Even as someone who generally thinks there should be only one law for all people, and as someone with no indigenous ancestry, this interjection feels like the creeping hand of colonialism.

At the end of the day, as the late Gord Downie said, we know that what’s going on here isn’t cool, and it isn’t ok. […]

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