"Why are native peoples struggling?"
It's a short, simple question, usually asked with deep and sincere looks of confusion.
I've become very familiar with his question, which many well-meaning Canadians have been asking me for many years.
In our country's 148-year history, the government of Canada has caused almost exclusively harm to First Nations. It has done so through forced settlement that destroyed traditional economies, through residential schools breeding resentment of education for generations to come, and through a perpetual funding gap that leaves First Nations communities in 'third world' conditions. First Nations still have not seen a government ready to accept the treaty obligations they are responsible for — to deliver prosperity for all peoples.
It's up to all parties today to do their part to right those wrongs
That's the 'Coles Notes' answer I usually give — it's by no means a history of everything that's happened between First Nations and newcomers, but often I find it's enough to satisfy the curiosity of those who ask that question.
Days away from our 42nd election, I can't help but think back to those who have asked me this, or similar questions over the years. I wonder about that Coles Notes answer, whether it's been at a party, a conference, or just running into an acquaintance... if it's allowed them to view Indigenous peoples not simply as 'poor people' with needs, but instead as distinct nations with rights.
First Nations today are struggling. It's not the fault of any one political party or ideology, but because of institutional racism, historical injustice, and the collective amnesia that has given us the luxury to forget about sacred promises we made to each other through treaty — the reason for Canada's existence.
It's up to all parties today to do their part to right those wrongs. With the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its 94 Calls to Action, there's much for the next government to do.
Significant action in the areas of justice, language, treaties, economic development, education and health, will build the strong foundation that First Nation need in order to get to the same point as other Canadians.
First Nations people have held out a hand of partnership for a long time
Once there, the meaningful work of reconciliation begins — transforming Canada's institutions to finally, and meaningfully, include First Nations. Naming the first Indigenous Supreme Court Justices, including First Nations languages as official languages, and introducing mandatory education on treaties, rights and the history of residential schools.
Lets suppose the next government does embark down this path toward social, economic and political justice. In 20 years, what will be different? The gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Canadians will have shrunk greatly, and continue to do so. There will no longer be a disproportionate number of diseases and health problems in First Nations communities. Canada will see a culture of education inspire a new generation of First Nations. This will only be the beginning.
First Nations people have held out a hand of partnership for a long time, ready to help grow the economy, step in for an aging workforce, and add to the scientific and cultural communities that already exist in Canada. All we want are economic policies that care for people and the environment, with a workforce that allows for more opportunity for First Nations youth, and a willingness from the scientific and cultural communities to recognize our ways of knowing.
First Nations people are still extending that hand, waiting for a willing partner. Here's to hoping we find one on October 19th.
Max FineDay is a nêhiyaw activist from the Sweetgrass First Nation. He is passionate about youth leadership development, theories of change making, and increasing the accessibility of post-secondary education. Max is currently based in Ottawa and can be found on twitter, @MaxFineDay.