Category Archives: Indigenous Issues

Treaty-making

 

Some people think Canada’s boreal forest is boring. Nothing but rocks and trees some of them say.  I think only boring people find this country boring. In Particular I love the small islands on tiny outcroppings.  I think that is the essential boreal forest. This is the country I love.

I wasn’t really thinking about treaties and indigenous settler relations all the time as I drove though eastern Manitoba and North-west Ontario. But I was always at the back of my mind.

The process of treaty making began shortly after 1867 with the negotiation of what came to be called numbered treaties. The first treaty successfully negotiated was right in the area I travelled through on my jaunt. This was Treaty One Land. It is beautiful land. It is valuable land. It should be cherished. I also drove through a substantial portion of Treaty 3 land where I happen to have a cottage on land the  Buffalo Point First Nation has developed and offered to people like me with a long-term lease. Thanks to the Royal Proclamation of 1763 declared by the British King George  no one could purchase land from First Nations, but one could acquire a leasehold interest like we did.

 

Treaty negotiations were a means for Canada and the First Nations to work out trade relations between them in a peaceful manner. First Nations though did not see what they had done as “ceding” land to the settlers. They saw it as a means of agreeing to share the land and thought each party would learn from the other. Neither would dominate. They would be partners on the land.

The Royal Proclamation was issued by King George III after concluding the 7 Years War with France.  As a result, he wanted to establish rules for how the land England had acquired would be governed.

As Pam Palmater, a brilliant Canadian indigenous lawyer has  said,

“All of our rights are inherent. That means they were here before anyone else came. And we had those rights because we were nations. And we had our own laws and our own territories. These things all belonged to us before anyone else came here. All the Royal Proclamation did was recognize that. If you read the Proclamation they say why they had to recognize those rights. It was the only way their colony could be secure, or have any justice, is if they recognized and protected those rights because we weren’t giving them up.”

 

Some people think Canada should just walk away from its obligations under those treaties. But those are contracts made between sovereign nations.  How can the government which is presumably law-abiding walk away from its own legal obligations? How can we even have the rule of law in this country if we did that? Would people who live here respect the law if the government didn’t? Those obligations and those rights Canada received as part of the bargains with First Nations were to exist “as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow.” Canada still has those obligations to this day pursuant to those treaties.  Many people think Canada is always “giving” money to First Nations people but to pay money Canada has promised to pay in return for substantial benefits which Canada continues to enjoy is not a gift.  It is the fulfilment of an obligation.

Does Canada want to give the right to share the land back?  I doubt that too many  Canadian would be in favour of that.

I know i am very happy the first nations of this wonderful country agreed to share it with Europeans.

 

The Doctrine of Discovery: Who owns the land?

 

As I said earlier. I stopped at Lyons Lake right on the Ontario and Manitoba border to photograph the lake, the trees, and the autumn.  This is a photograph of a mountain maple. It is a lovely little spot.  The mountain maples of Manitoba are not as spectacular as the red and sugar maples of Ontario, but I like them. It is a more plain Jane maple, so I gussied up this photograph a bit with a double exposure of the same image in the computer. With some adjustments to each photo I like the effects you can get. Reality in art at least, in the eye of the beholder.

In the documentary film  Colonization Road I saw about this area, Professor Jeff Denis explained the Doctrine of Discovery this way in the documentary Colonization Road:

in the 15th century papal decrees of the Roman Catholic Church decreed that the first European nations to discover new lands, uninhabited by civilized people, by which they meant Christian people, or people who were not using the lands in an efficient manner as determined by Europeans, that the European nations who discovered those lands would have first dibs and sovereign ownership.

 

Really this idea was not that dissimilar from Mennonites and other settlers of the land in Canada, who believed indigenous people were not using the land so they could just take it.  Plain and simple. To them the notion of land in the natural state, without subjecting it to cultivation as in the case of grasslands, or draining wetlands, was an anathema. It was their duty to change the land and make it useful. It is part of the European attitude that nature is there for humans to dominate.  It has Biblical origins and has had powerful effects on the landscape of North America as a result. That doctrine has led to a lot of ecological harm. The indigenous people of Canada had a very different attitude to nature.  I intend to blog about it.

Eventually that doctrine of discovery was disavowed to some extent by the Catholic Church, but that did not diminish its profound influence on European colonialism. It has been cited in numerous court cases in North America. Even though it made no sense.

Here is what the doctrine provided with clear references to the fundamentals of Biblical doctrine in Psalm 72:

He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him and his enemies shall lick the dust… Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.”

 

In the documentary,  Professor of History Heidi Bohaker said that this doctrine was “the source of full legal title for Canada after Confederation in 1867, the Dominion of Canada. We may have forgotten in the secular age just how predominantly Christian, overwhelmingly Christian, Canada was.”And some parts of that Christianity Canada inherited was downright ugly. There really is no other way to describe it.

For 4 days on this jaunt, from Manitoba to North-west Ontario,  I drove through and photographed this land I love—Canada. It struck me that this doctrine was a pretty wobbly foundation for claiming dominion over the country over the objections of people who inhabited the land before the first Europeans arrived. Later King George III in England claimed a large portion of this land for the English crown in 1763 through a Royal Proclamation, (now called “The Royal Proclamation) but admitted indirectly that the rest of this land, basically all the land west of the Mississippi and outside of land already occupied by Europeans in 1763, belonged to indigenous people. He also said no Europeans could acquire title without acquiring it by way of agreement between the first nations involved and the English crown.  All people could then only acquire land from the Crown and were forbidden to buy land directly from indigenous people.

 

It is also a fundamental principle of English law, inherited by the country of Canada when it became an independent country in 1967, that no one could convey better title to land than he or she had. That has been a fundamental principle of Common law for centuries. So what really is the basis for Canada claiming dominion over this wonderful land? I submit the basis is shaky, except to the extent that title was obtained from the people who owned it by voluntary agreement with them. This is thorny stuff.

Yet as Professor Denis said, “That is really at the root of the Canadian legal system, the American legal system, the Australian legal system, any of those former British colonies.” I taught real estate transactions for 10 years at the Law School, and always felt the legal basis of our title at least when not based on treaties was shaky. Surely just taking it was not enough?

The fact is that Canada realized all along that this root of title in Canada on which it was relying was dubious. It was not a sound basis of developing Canada.  Canada needed a firmer legal foundation for its society. Canadian government officials saw how the Americans were struggling with this problem too and basically how they decided to base their claims on power. That is how Americans have traditionally operated. Canadians saw how that led to Indian wars in the United States. They saw how at one time that country was spending 25% of its annual revenue on these Indian wars. Canada thought it could not afford to spend so much as its wealthier neighbour to the south could spend. So, Canada sought a better way. They decided to negotiate treaties with indigenous people as a sounder and firmer foundation for title to the land. Frankly, this made a lot of sense, but there were problems with this approach as well.

The land I drove through on this trip was subject to Treaty No. 1 and Treaty No. 3 the first and third treaties negotiated by the new government of Canada.

The Real Prince of Darkness and the False Gods

 

When Marlow found Kurtz in the centre of the heart of darkness, he had already given in to the powerful forces of darkness. He fell under the spell of the prince of darkness within his own heart. This was no bogey man devil created by religious zealots to scare us into submission. This was the real prince of darkness who resides in us all and who can conquer us as he did Kurtz if we allow it to do that.

Joseph Conrad, through his protagonist Marlow, described Kurtz this way,

“The wilderness has patted him on the head, and behold, it was like a ball—an ivory ball; it had caressed him, and—lo!—he had withered; it had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation. He was its spoiled and pampered favorite.”

 

Kurtz had become the pampered favorite of the forces of darkness.  As a result, he found unimaginable heaps of ivory. Stacks of it. “You would think there was not a single tusk left either above, or below the ground in the whole country,” Marlow said. That was his ivory.  That was what he got in exchange for his soul.

When the Europeans arrived in Africa, as when they arrived in the New World, they were seen as gods. At least some Europeans thought they were seen as gods. Evil gods perhaps, but gods nonetheless. That is what happened after the good intentions of men like Kurtz failed. Many white men succumbed to this dangerous illusion that compared to the indigenous people they were Gods.

This was the original sin! The sin of believing they were superior!

 Some whites still suffer from that sin. It continues to stain some of them.

Deja vu All over again: Whites and Indigenous Fighting over Lobster

 

We are experiencing another hey-rube over treaty rights and the rule of law in Canada. This time the issue is the treaty right of indigenous people to fish. The  protesters this time are white. Funny how the rule of law means something different when the protesters are white. Whenever first nations such as the Wet’suwet’en blockade access to their land, or their supporters do that same across Canada, many Canadians complain bitterly that they don’t respect the rule of law.

This is what Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said in February of this year about the “illegal blockades” across the country that supported the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, “We respect the rights of protesters…. But laws need to be applied.” Alberta’s premier Jason Kenney was even  harsher.

What about non-natives? I have not heard either Premier complaining about the non-native fishers vandalizing the Mi’kmaw fishers’ traps in the Maritimes.

The Mi’kmaq on the east coast of Canada are again embroiled over a dispute fishing rights and treaty rights with white fishermen. This brings memories of what happened 21 years ago in Burnt Cove.

I know when I first heard about Mi’kmaw fishers fishing out of season 2 decades ago I was appalled. How could they do that? Aren’t first nation fishers concerned about maintaining the fish and lobster stock on which they rely? Later I realized things are not that simple. They seldom are.

In 1999, the Supreme Court in the Marshall case upheld the Mi’kmaw right to hunt, gather and fish in pursuit of a “moderate livelihood” as a result of those treaties. The court did not define what they meant, leaving it to the parties to settle by negotiation. They have never managed to do that. The Harper Conservatives was not interested in negotiations. The Trudeau liberal government has agreed to negotiate but as always it is moving slowly.

Recently in 2020, a number of non-native protesters removed about 350 lobster traps off the coast of southern Nova Scotia. They took matters into their own hands again by attacking the native fishers. The non-natives claimed the actions of the natives were endangering lobster stocks. As a result, they took the law into their own hands and cut lines to native lobster traps and vandalized their traps. That is certainly not lawful.

Niigaan Sinclair described the dispute this way in a Winnipeg Free Press article:

“The fishers are angry that the Mi’kmaw have a right to fish “out of season” due to the 1760-61 treaty they share with the Crown — a right recognized 21 years ago by the Supreme Court of Canada.

At issue are approximately 350 lobster traps — which Mi’kmaw from nearby Sipekne’katik First Nation say gives them a barely liveable income. More traps would be set but Canada has used “conservation” as an argument to limit Mi’kmaw rights and impose a quota.

It’s a sham argument. Commercial Nova Scotia fishermen are allowed more than 325,000 traps during fishing season — and most companies break the law and overfish.”

 

Canadians claim the rule of law is sacred.  It should be. As Sinclair said, the rule of law

“The “rule of law” is universally loved by Canadians, politicians in particular. It’s evoked every time there is an Indigenous “protest,” march or action that expresses Indigenous and treaty rights and disrupts the comfort of Canadians.”

It seems the only ones who respect the law are the indigenous fishers. The Supreme Court of Canada, the highest authority in Canada when it comes to the law, declared the Mi’kmaw have the right to obtain a moderate living from fishing. The non-natives and their supporters across the country refuse to follow that law. The non-natives are the ones who are lawless, not the poor Mi’kmaw fishers.

Premiers Pallister and Kenney, if they want to be credible, should speak up for them too.

 

Mi’kmaw, Treaties, and the Rule of Law

 

The Mi’kmaq indigenous people on the east coast of Canada were among the first to make a treaty with Canada, and among the last to go to the Supreme Court and yet, as I write in 2020 their treaty rights are still not as clear as they should be and there is another dispute in the Maritimes.

 

The first Mi’kmaq treaty (though some say this was more of a Maliseet treaty, their cousins) was agreed upon in 1713. That treaty was called the Treaty of Portsmouth and was made in New Hampshire. It was followed by a second treaty in 1752 basically reaffirming what had been agreed upon. At that time of course, there was neither a country of Canada nor a country of the United States. It was a treaty between some of the east coast indigenous people and Great Britain. It was referred to as a treaty of “peace and friendship.” It permitted the indigenous people (as if they needed permission) the “free liberty for Hunting, Fishing, Fowling, and all other their Lawful Liberties and Privileges.” But what did that mean? Did provincial fishing laws apply to them?

 

In early cases that treaty was held to require certain actions on the part of the Mi’kmaq, such as obeying provincial  laws, but there was no mention of the obligations of the British. Those were conveniently forgotten. Funny how that happens. In 1984 the “other side” of the agreement was “discovered” in the public archives. Then it became clear that the British (now Canada) had to respect the right of the Mi’kmaq to hunt and fish. Before then the Canadian courts held that they did not guarantee aboriginal rights at all.

This matter was heard by the Supreme Court in 1985 in the case of R. v. Simon, where the court held that the law recognized that the treaty took priority over provincial hunting laws. This is what the court said,

“In my opinion both the Governor and the Micmac (as their name was spelled at that time) entered into the Treaty with the intention of creating mutually binding obligations that would be solemnly respected. The Treaty was an exchange of solemn promises between the Micmac and king’s representatives entered into to achieve and guarantee peace. It is an enforceable obligation between the Indians and the white man and, as such, falls within the meaning of the word “treaty” in s. 88 of the Indian Act. (emphasis added)”

 

But as so often happened the “white man” forgot about this again. In 1988 14 Mi’kmaq were arrested by a Nova Scotia Lands and Forests officer charging them with hunting illegally contrary to provincial legislation.

The charges against the Mi’kmaq were dismissed after the Supreme Court held that the Mi’kmaq did have the aboriginal right to hunt and fish for food and were exempt from provincial regulations when they were doing that. That was a right given to the Mi’kmaq by a Treaty freely negotiated with the British Crown in the 18th century and was still binding law in Canada. That is how Treaties work. They were not gifts granted to them by the crown, they were negotiated agreements  that resulted in a treaty that had the force of law. Ordinary provincial laws could not just override those treaty rights.

Again, non-native fishers were not done trying to overcome these rights. In 1996 in a case that made international news when white fishermen destroyed some of the boats of the Mi’kmaq fishers. Donald Marshall, Jr. who was also the subject of another famous case in which he had been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 11 years, was now convicted of catching eels out of season. This case also went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where the court declared that the treaty right “…is not a right to trade generally for economic gain, but rather a right to trade for necessities.” The court also determined that catch limits could be imposed on the Mi’kmaq by the province provided they allowed for a moderate livelihood for individual Mi’kmaq families. The treaty rights did not give absolute right to disobey provincial laws.

When this decision was made the lobster season was starting and the Mi’kmaq began to set up lobster traps. Many non-native lobster fishers objected vehemently as they felt this would threaten their livelihoods. At first the white protesters relied mainly on harsh words but then moved up to destructive actions. They destroyed more than 3,500 Mi’kmaq lobster traps and processing plants that were believed to be processing Mi’kmaq caught lobsters were vandalized. 3 Mi’kmaq were injured and a Mi’kmaq arbour used for sacred ceremonies was burned. These non-native fishers were not too keen on the rule of law. The rule of law was for natives, not them. Some of the Mi’kmaq also retaliated by burning some trucks of the non-native protesters as well as an Acadian flag. Neither side was perfect.

33 of the 35 Mi’kmaq communities agreed to a 30-day moratorium to allow negotiations to proceed but 2 did not. One of those was at Burnt Cove in New Brunswick. At that site there was a major confrontation and was watched by a large contingent of international press. Canada was in the news. I remember hearing about that case and wondering why indigenous fishers would be damaging their own fishery. I was ignorant in other words.

Later I learned that the reaction of non-native fishers, besides ignoring the law, was out of all proportion to the numbers of lobsters caught by the Mi’kmaq. At the time in the Maritimes about 2 million lobster traps were set. After the Supreme court decision the Mi’kmaq added about 12,000 traps. Burnt Cove, with a population of between 1,200 and 1,300 people was allowed 600 traps. The second Mi’kmaq community Shubenacadie Nova Scotia with a slightly larger population was permitted to have 800 traps. The non-native fishers however treated this as a flagrant attempt to decimate the lobster fishery on the east coast. As John L. Steckley and Bryan Cummings reported, “Generally, commercial lobster fishermen are permitted 300 traps each.”

The non-natives broke various laws to support their crybaby protest. The Mi’kmaq complied with the laws. Their Treaty rights by law gave them the right to fish for a moderate living. There can be no doubt that their actions were moderate. Hardly destructive of the fishery.

Of course the issue was never finally resolved. The federal government was given the right to regulate the fishery by the Supreme Court. As usual, as soon as the press left, and people stopped reading about the issue, successive federal government chose to do nothing more to avoid problems in the future, leaving the problems to reoccur again, as it did recently in 2020.

Government Response to over representation of indigenous people in jails and prisons

 

I remember when the Truth and Reconciliation (‘TRC’) report was delivered in 2015 and how Justin Trudeau said immediately, without any hesitation, he accepted all of the calls to action of the Commission. I was very impressed, though I wondered a bit how he could say that. The Report was lengthy. Had he even gone too far, I wondered.

Remember that across Canada, 25% of all incarcerated people are indigenous while they make up only about 4% of the Canadian population. In Manitoba the situation is even much worse—more like 75% of those incarcerated when the population of indigenous people is about 11% in Manitoba. Those statistics say a lot more about this country than fine words. This is a big deal—a big problem. Everyone recognizes it. Well almost everyone.

In Call to Action #30, of their report  the TRC called on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the over representation of aboriginal people in custody. On the CBC radio program The Sunday Edition which aired on August 2, 2020, 5 years after the TRC report was delivered to near unanimous approval, guest host Elamin Abdelmahmoud asked Senator Murray Sinclair who had been the Chair of the TRC, “How would you evaluate the governments’ commitment to that?”

Senator Sinclair’s answer was swift, simple, and clear: “Zero.”

Senator Sinclair went on to say, “They say they are doing something about it but their numbers belie that. The rates are still the same. The agencies have not changed how they do things. The use of healing lodges for women has stopped.”

Everyone acknowledges these are good ideas and should be done, but the governments have not committed the money needed. So, of course, the problems continue as before. This is what Senator Sinclair said:

“I was generally quite disappointed by their response that it was going to cost a lot of money to do these things. And yet there was virtually no hesitation for the government of Canada to come up with 7 billion dollars, now almost 11 or 12 billion dollars to buy a pipeline. I thought when they need the money to satisfy a corporate lobby they can find it. J When they need the money to in order to save lives or change lives they can’t find it. It really tells you what the priorities of the government are.”

 

Indeed, given the lack of demand by the Canadian public I would have so say we know the priorities of the Canadian people. Fine words are pretty cheap beer.

 

Over Representation of Indigenous people in Canadian jails and prisons.

 

In April 1988, the Manitoba Government created the Public Inquiry into the Administration of Justice and Aboriginal People, commonly known as the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (‘AJI’). The co-Chairs of the AJI were Associate Chief Justice Hamilton of the Court of Queen’s Bench and Judge Murray Sinclair at the time the Associate Chief Judge of the Provincial Court. Murray Sinclair later served as the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is now a Senator of Canada.

The Inquiry was created in response to two main incidents:

  • the trial in November 1987 of two men for the 1971 murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas. Allegations were made that the identity of four people present at the killing was known widely in the community shortly after the murder.
  • The death (March 1988) of J.J. Harper, executive director of the Island Lake Tribal Council, following an encounter with a Winnipeg police officer. Many people, particularly in the Aboriginal community, believed many questions about the incident were left unanswered by the police service’s internal investigation.

The Inquiry issued its report in the fall of 1991. I was a bencher of the Law Society of Manitoba at the time. The Law Society is the governing body of the legal profession of Manitoba tasked with regulating the legal profession in the interests of the people of Manitoba. I am not proud to say what our governing body did with that report after it was delivered in 1991. The short answer is not much. Our inaction is part of the problem. I understand that now. I did not really appreciate it then, as did few of my colleagues.

The report of the AJI was one of the first reports to draw serious attention to the over representation of indigenous people in Manitoba’s jails and prisons. Almost 30 years later on the CBC radio program The Sunday Edition, which aired on August 2, 2020, guest host Elamin Abdelmahmoud asked Murray Sinclair, now a Senator, some pointed questions. He asked him this, “Senator you were one of the first judges to write about the over representation of indigenous people within the criminal justice system. You did this way back in the 1990s. Why has so little changed this since?”

The answer might surprise you. It surprised me. This is what he said in reply,

“Actually there has been quite a significant change, but the change has been upwards. When we reported on the over representation of indigenous people, the number of indigenous people in provincial jails in Manitoba was just around 60%. About 62%. Now it’s over 77%! And in the case of indigenous women represented about 78% of those who are incarcerated in the case of the AJI report, now its well over 90%! And youth numbers have gone up as well.”

Of course even these glaring figures don’t tell the whole story. In Manitoba  75% of all prisoners are indigenous and across Canada indigenous people make up a 25% of the prison population despite the fact that they represent only 4% of the country’s population. I think the percentage is about 11% in Manitoba.

Not only is this horrendous we have to understand the intergenerational impact of locking up so many indigenous people. Some more shocking numbers might make that clear too. Whether or not indigenous children themselves get involved with the Canadian justice system, indigenous children are 12 times more likely to have their family life disrupted by an agency of government such as a police officer or Child Welfare officer or some official who shows up at their house and takes somebody away or threatens to do so. These are horrendous disruptions and affect children powerfully. As Senator Sinclair said,

“You become the subject of a social control system virtually from the time that you are born until the time you yourself become an adult. So that impact is quite dramatic. You basically come to dislike or distrust those agencies who are doing that because as a child first of all you don’t understand what is going on, but more importantly you often get to resent it because you know that the person being dealt with often is a person that you don’t want taken away and you don’t want to lose in your live and yet you do. Or you yourself get taken out of the household and you don’t want that to happen and you know that things can always be fixed if only somebody would do the right thing and help the family”

Helping families is that not what it should be about?

Does anyone out there suggest that such massive over representation of indigenous people in jails  and prisons is a sign of systemic racism? Is there any other reasonable explanation?

Health of Children in Indian Residential Schools of Canada

Two faithful readers have asked me to comment on issues relating to the health of indigenous children in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools (as they were called). (See my post “Manitoba makes New York City  look good” The issues are incredibly important and reflect very poorly on Canada so I have chosen to respond in a separate post.

According to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC Report ), “The Death rates for Aboriginal children in residential schools were far higher than those experienced by members of the general Canadian population.” It must be remembered and emphasized that indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities against their will presumably to be educated for their benefit. To then learn that while under the custody and control of the national government and its agencies, such as various churches, children were dying at staggering rates is incredibly disturbing. I will be blogging about this again in the future.

Tuberculosis was a particular problem for indigenous children. According to that TRC Report,

 

“The tuberculosis health crisis in the schools was part of a broader Aboriginal health crisis that was set in motion by colonial policies that separated Aboriginal people from their land, thereby disrupting their economies and their food supplies. This crisis was particularly intense on the Canadian Prairies. Numerous government policies contributed to the undermining of Aboriginal health. During a period of starvation, rations were withheld from bands in an effort to force them to abandon the lands that they had initially selected for their reserves. In making the Treaties, the government had promised to provide assistance to First Nations to allow them to make a transition from hunting to farming. This aid was slow in coming and inadequate on arrival. Restrictions in the Indian Act made it difficult for First Nations farmers to sell their produce or borrow money to invest in technology. Reserve land was often agriculturally unproductive. Reserve housing was poor and crowded, sanitation was inadequate, and access to clean water was limited. Under those conditions tuberculosis flourished. Those people it did not kill were often severely weakened and likely to succumb to measles, smallpox, and other infectious diseases.

For aboriginal children, the relocation to residential schools was generally no healthier than their homes had been on the reserves…”

 

In April 2007, Bill Curry and Karen Howlett reported in the Globe and Mail as follows:

“As many as half of the aboriginal children who attended the early years of residential schools died of tuberculosis, despite repeated warnings to the federal government that overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of o medical care created a toxic breeding ground for the rapid spread of disease.”

Think about that. Half the children died from TB!

Anthony Hall in his book Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism referred to the schools as “death traps.”

Dr. P.H. Bryce prepared astonishing reports to the federal government about the schools in 1907 and 1909 in which he drew to the government’s attention the shocking death rates of children and that these death rates could be drastically reduced by the implementation of simple and inexpensive changes such as improved ventilation and sanitation, filtering entering students for contagious illness, and isolating sick individuals away from crowded dormitories. He called Canada’s administration of the Indian residential schools  a “national crime.” That is precisely what it was.

The government responded that it was “too expensive”. After all why spend so much money to save the lives of Indian children?

 

Manitoba Makes New York City Look Good

 

I recently posted about children in care in Manitoba about some amazing statistics. The statistics were pretty grim. (See Children in Care http://themeanderer.ca/children-in-care ) Manitoba has more children in care than any other province of Manitoba. In fact it has about 25% of all the children in care in Canada. About 90% of those are aboriginal children. And Manitoba is far from the largest province. Why is that?

A friend of mine then commented that this was worse than New York City. I want to repeat this so it sinks in. Things are worse—much worse—than New York City. This is what he said,

 

“for purposes of comparison……
new york city – population 8.5 million, foster care population 8,300.
manitoba – population 1.3+ million, foster care population 11,000.

in other words manitoba total population adjusted for comparison to total nyc population would mean an “equivalent” foster care population in sunny manitoba of 75,000+, or a stunningly increased rate in comparison.”

no doubt, as 1st nation peoples throughout the humane country of canada have said repeatedly, this stinks and reflects ongoing racism ala the residential school debacle among many other things.”

Manitoba with less than 20% of the population has more children in care than New York City! And most of those children are Indigenous Children. To have the same percentage of children in care compared to its population , New York City would have to increase is population of children in care 10 times. What is up with that?

How can anyone deny that we have systemic racism in Manitoba?

Whose fault is that so many indigenous children are “in care”?

 

Some people might say it is clearly the “fault” of Indigenous peoples that so many indigenous children are “in care.” But even if it is true, what is the context of that “fault”? In other words, I would suggest the context is the colonial history of Canada and its powerful legacy in which Indigenous people have been subjected to colonialism for generations in a system in which they were systematically disrespected, marginalized, and taught to disparage their own child caring abilities and self-worth while undermining their cultures, independence, and capacity to  for care for children. Children were taught that their parents were incompetent parents. It cut the bond between parents and children with resulting immeasurable harm.

So the children were taken away “into care” as earlier they were taken away from their parents and put into residential schools. For generations, many of the  indigenous children were taken away from their parents and sent to Residential schools where indigenous youth were not allowed to speak their own language, to participate in their own culture, while they were separated from their families. Often they were not allowed to speak to other members of the family. They were taught that their parents were not worthy parents.

As a result, the indigenous children lacked role models for parenting as a result. Therefore, later, when they in turn became parents they did not know how to be good parents. Most of us in white society had good models. We were lucky. We benefited from the system. Indigenous children were victims of that same system. At the same time, as if that rupture was not enough, in residential schools the indigenous children often suffered the debilitating effects of abuse, exploitation, and resulting trauma. The awful results have cascaded through the generations and all of us are paying the price for that trauma.

The modern system of putting children “in care” is not a big improvement over the residential schools. Some people even think it is worse. The children are often not put with loving parents or family members. They are given to the custody of people who are paid to care for them. Often the transactions are cold. Not the best situation for young children. As the former federal minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott said,

“This is very much reminiscent of the residential school system where children are being scooped up from their homes, taken away from their family and we will pay the price for this for generations to come.”

 

This is not what commonly happens to white children. White children are treated differently in the system than indigenous children. That is what a racist system is all about. It exists. It is real. But many whites don’t see it. We don’t see our own racism.