National Post (National Edition)
Virtue signalling to First Nations
Ahistoric moment happened earlier this month, when the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced it had reached an agreement with the federal and provincial governments to take control of its child welfare system and receive support and funding from both levels of government over the next two years.
“Today is an example of how reconciliation is possible in Canada. For over a year, over many long hours, Cowessess First Nation was empowered to exercise our full jurisdiction over our nation's children, youth and families, to lead in creating the vision and design of a child welfare system that reflects our culture, values and priorities, and to lead all discussions on the transition plan outlined in our co-ordination agreement,” said Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme in a press release.
“Our discussions weren't always easy; turning the page on past injustices that we all inherited never is. But with Cowessess First Nation in the driver's seat, supported by our federal and provincial partners who worked hard to enable our vision, today we stand ready to enter a new chapter of our history that will bring new support, hope and opportunity to Cowessess First Nation children and youth. Our agreement commits each government to their role in our healing journey and this new chapter, as one braid of sweetgrass.”
The Cowessess First Nation is heading in the right direction by bringing its children home to the reserve, instead of having them placed in care in other communities. This will allow the children to immerse themselves in their culture and establish relationships with their families. Growing up with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins was an integral part of my childhood. The phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child,” could not be truer in a First Nations community.
The recent findings of 751 unmarked graves has shown us that mental health, social and healing programs are necessary in many First Nations communities. Yet our communities are often hindered by red tape, meaning that it can take years, if not decades, for many of these programs to get up and running.
We see this in every area, from land claims, to Indian Act amendments, water, education and mental health and social services. It took the Liberal government six years to implement eight of the 94 Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action. Averaging one item per year, it will take 94 years before we see any kind of meaningful change in First Nations communities.
Seeing the prime minister kneeling at these gravesites was disrespectful in so many ways. I come from a strict traditional upbringing and we are not allowed to take pictures at our loved ones' gravesites. Seeing these pictures circulated online and used for political purposes or sold as memorabilia made me furious.
We do not know how these children died, if they experienced horrific abuse or sickness, or if they died alone. When we pay our respects to those who have passed, we lay down some tobacco and say prayers for them. Laying a teddy bear and kneeling beside a deceased child while continuing to fight Indigenous children in court, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is doing, is infuriating.
If our prime minister believed in reconciliation, we would have made more progress on Indigenous issues over the last six years. What we are now seeing are growing tensions and acts of violence that are benefiting no one in this country.
We need more than empty gestures and promises. We need to start addressing the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We also need to address the fact that there are still 51 long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities, despite Trudeau's pledge to end them in his first five years in office.
Instead of kneeling, Trudeau could have upheld his promises and addressed the calls to action that have already been proposed, or the water advisories in First Nations communities. We have a lot of work to do and we are dealing with unnecessary delays for every program administered by Indigenous Services Canada. We have two options: we (Canadians) can be stewards of change; or we can continue to see tensions and anger boil over in this country.
Political leaders need to stop virtue signalling and start bringing meaningful change to our country and to Indigenous people. Kneeling for us means nothing when many communities do not have basic services like water, housing or reliable internet.