For thousands of Canadians, colonization is the most significant determinant of health.
Today and Tomorrow, click here to watch the Livestream for Upstream's Closing The Gap: The Next 150 here, where I join esteemed speakers like Tanya Talaga, Jesse Thistle and Jane Philpott to form a strategy for decolonization, reconciliation and better health for Canada in the years to come.
Reconciliation has, deservedly, become a trendy topic in recent years. It is discussed weekly in parliament and in the mainstream media. It is at the top of political agendas from Ottawa to Saskatoon.
Yet as I speak with Indigenous peoples across the country I hear over and over: “at what point does talk turn into action?”
Don’t get me wrong, we have to talk. Conversations about the inequality for Indigenous peoples in Canada have opened the eyes and hearts of many Canadians who were robbed of learning our true history.
But Canada hasn’t yet taken the tangible actions needed to reform the systems that have been used to create, and maintain, the enormous gap in quality of life between what Indigenous peoples experience and what other Canadians enjoy.
"Our greatest source of hope is in the youth of today, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. They recognize and understand that injustice is unacceptable."
The progress being made on bringing clean drinking water to reserves, Indigenous participation at national meetings, and investments in the budget for Indigenous services are things to be celebrated. But you need not look very far to see that the way Canada was built persists and it is still failing Indigenous peoples whether in the justice system, the education system or the health system.
Whatever your politics may be, repairing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples must be your concern. The hard work of repairing the relationship is going to take each of us. It’s a challenge we all have to rise to. And if we have any hope of real reconciliation, it means we have to take a realistic look at the obstacles, and opportunities, ahead of us.
Indigenous youth are the fastest growing demographic in Canada, growing at more than four times the national rate. But the Indigenous high school completion rate is half that of non-Indigenous Canadians. Our university degree completion rate is less than one third.
In my home province of Saskatchewan this year, our justice system showed that it hasn’t lived up to its name when a man was able to walk free after ending an Indigenous life that wasn’t threatening his. Just last year, we heard from two Indigenous women who were coerced into sterilization by doctors and social workers without their informed consent.
These are just few examples of how the systems Canada was built on, continue to deliver injustice to Indigenous peoples.
To reach reconciliation in the months and years ahead, we have to focus on working in the days and weeks ahead, to begin now to tear down systems that are best left in the past. Reconciliation cannot be born while colonialism is still living.
Our greatest source of hope is in the youth of today, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. They recognize and understand that injustice is unacceptable. They recognize that we can tackle inequalities while also reforming systems, and working toward further educating Canadians.
My work at Canadian Roots Exchange allows me to see how youth across Canada, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are tackling racism, injustice, and inequality in their communities. They do it with honest dialogue, working across cultural and socio-economic identities, and with an optimism that Canada should look upon as a gift.
"Reconciliation cannot be born while colonialism is still living."
That’s why we can, and should, be optimistic that reconciliation can be achieved despite all that would stand it our way.
Through my conversations with young people across this country, I’m met with a question that I now anticipate: “At what point does talk turn to action?” At the pace that they’re bringing people together, the answer might be sooner than we think.
Transforming a colonial system isn’t easy, but it will be worth it. We need sustained public pressure. And that means it’s not enough for you to only be moved by these injustices — you have to be moved to act. For my part, I’ll be speaking at Closing the Gap: The Next 150 in Ottawa on April 6th and 7th, an annual conference put on by Upstream, a national health equity non-profit organization. I hope you’ll join me there, and be moved to action together.
Click to Hear Max in a roundtable discussion on Upstream Radio with Cindy Blackstock and Janelle Pewapsconias.
Below: Max was a speaker at Closing the Gap '17: Better Health for All
Max FineDay leads Canadian Roots Exchange, a national non-profit that works with youth to advance reconciliation, and sits as a member of the interim National Council on Reconciliation. He will be participating in Closing the Gap: The Next 150 as a panel moderator.