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Sask. issues primer: Indigenous communities

The Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post are delving into some of the most pressing issues affecting Saskatchewan voters during the election campaign. Today, we look at issues affecting Indigenous communities in the province.

The Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post are delving into some of the most pressing issues affecting Saskatchewan voters during the election campaign. Today, we look at issues affecting Indigenous communities that have come up during the campaign.

What are the issues?

Promises of work towards reconciliation played a role in a sharp increase in First Nation votes last election, which saw historically high numbers in on-reserve voter turnout. However, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s subsequent support as prime minister for oil pipeline expansion has drawn the ire of many First Nations who say addressing climate change is paramount.

In September, the Assembly of First Nations released its Honouring Promises Report, an election wish list declaring “climate destruction” the most pressing issue affecting Indigenous communities.

More broadly, issues that continue to crop up in discussions with Indigenous leaders and community members in Saskatchewan are geared toward ensuring a future for younger generations, including correcting past wrongs and addressing current inequities.

What’s at stake?

According to Elections Canada, 67.1 per cent of eligible voters living on-reserve cast their vote in 2015, up from 50.2 per cent in 2011.

The on-reserve vote could make a significant impact in this election, as the province is home to four of what the AFN calls priority districts, where First Nations voters could swing the vote. However, chiefs say they are grappling with disenchantment from members of their communities.

In the priority districts, the population of eligible voters, according to the 2016 Census, is either larger than the margin of victory in the 2015 election, or within five per cent of the margin of victory and at least one per cent of the total eligible population in the district.

One of them is Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s riding of Regina Qu’Appelle, where the number of eligible First Nations voters is 6,815. Scheer won by 5,242 votes in 2015. In Desnethé Missinippi Churchill River, with an eligible population of 22,850, incumbent NDP candidate Georgina Jolibois won by only 82 votes.

Expand on the issues

Released in June, the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) outlined a race-based genocide carried out through acts of violence perpetuated by colonial structures like residential schools and the ’60s Scoop. The report asked that its 231 recommendations — the Calls for Justice — be implemented through the lens of collective, intergenerational trauma.

It added that the violence particularly targets Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.

According to police-reported data from 2007-2017, violence against girls and young women in Saskatchewan was highest among the provinces, at a rate of 2,769 cases per 100,000 population. In that data, Indigenous girls and women were overrepresented among victims of homicide.

Victims of sex trafficking are most often young Indigenous women. While that group made up four per cent of Canada’s population in 2016, it represented nearly 50 per cent of victims.

The Liberals, Green Party and NDP have pledged to implement the calls to justice, while the Conservative platform says the party will develop a national action plan to address MMIWG.

All parties but the Conservatives pledge to create a national action plan to address gender-based violence, with the NDP specifically referring to to Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQI2S people.

Addressing physical infrastructure needs like electricity, water, telecommunications and roads, especially as they pertain to remote communities, play a crucial role in ensuring accessibility for First Nations in Saskatchewan.

The Liberals have continued their pledge to lift all drinking water advisories from reserves by March 2021, with the NDP following suit. The Conservatives and Greens have pledged to address the issue but have not provided specific details beyond that.

When the Liberals took power in 2015, there were 12 long-term advisories in Saskatchewan. Fifteen were lifted — nine of which were imposed and lifted within that timeframe — and one was imposed that has yet to be lifted, bringing the current total to seven.

The Liberals and NDP have set a March 2021 deadline for ending long-term drinking water advisories. The Green Party will end the advisories and the Conservatives pledge to support efforts to end them.

The Saskatchewan Child and Youth Advocate’s annual report that mental health and addictions is the largest issue facing Indigenous children and youth in the province.

Of the 28 children in care, in the corrections system or who had recently received government services who died last year, 16 were identified as Indigenous. Of those who died, eight were by suicide while 12 more attempted suicide.

Fewer than 10 per cent of Canadian children are Indigenous, but Indigenous children represent more than half of children in care. In Saskatchewan, about 80 per cent of the province’s children and youth in care are Indigenous.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action in regard to health focus on acknowledging the impact of trauma from residential schools and respecting traditional healing practices.

The Liberal government is currently seeking judicial review of First Nation child welfare compensation. It pledges to ensure access to culturally-appropriate mental health care services.

The NDP pledges to improve access to mental health and addiction treatment services, including an evidence-based action plan to prevent suicide.

The Green platform pledges to negotiate the Canada Health Accord to prioritize expansion of mental health and rehabilitation services and include traditional healing within mental wellness programs.

amshort@postmedia.com

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Head to TheStarPhoenix.com and our mobile app on Monday for complete 2019 federal election coverage, including stories, video and live results as they come in.

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