“Happy” National Aboriginal Day? That might be a stretch
Opinion by Nickita Longman
Not sure if you should be celebrating National Aboriginal Day on Tuesday, June 21?? Me either.
Sure, I love an Indian Taco (the messier, the better) just as much as the next person. I absolutely adore a loud and colourful powwow outdoors on a summer day, and I most certainly am thrilled to celebrate the wide array of indigenous artists, authors, academics and awesome community builders across Turtle Island on a year-round basis.
But if we’re talking history, we can almost guarantee it’s not all calories and colourful culture.
Let’s look at Saskatchewan, the bottom-heavy rectangular compilation of Treaties 2, 4, a wee bit of 5, 6, 8 and 10. For length’s sake, let’s focus in on the past year. Saskatchewan, often late to the party on various accounts, housed the last running Indian Residential School up until 1996.
Perhaps that explains the harsh, and at times, barbaric way indigenous people are still treated in this complicated province of ours.
Indigenous Peoples, Police And Incarceration
In February, the Maclean’s article “Canada’s Prisons are the ‘New Residential Schools’” confirmed that Saskatchewan has the highest number of dangerous offenders — and as Saskatoon Defence Lawyer Jim Scott reported in 2015, 80 per cent of those are indigenous. This overrepresentation is no coincidence. In fact, they give context to high rates of police brutality, carding, and unwarranted stops experienced by indigenous people in this province. For example, Const. Robert Kenneth Power was seen on video forcefully kicking Eddy Stonechild, a homeless man half his size, to the concrete ground in May of 2012 in Regina. In March of 2016, the officer’s job had been reinstated and, in the words of Deputy Chief Dean Rae, he “has been a contributing member of our service since he came back.”
Of course, this news was released a few months after Regina Police Chief Troy Hagen went on record stating “There is absolutely no reason for me to believe that we have racists within the Regina Police Service.”
In January of this year, approximately 115 inmates at the Regina Correctional Centre went on a hunger strike due to the inedible, expired, and undercooked food being served by a private catering company called Compass Group. After national attention, Premier Brad Wall stood by his sound advice: if you don’t like the food, don’t go to prison.
Which completely disregards the path that has been paved to get to prison in the first place.
Further in the Maclean’s article, a doctor — who also acts as a witness across Canada in many cases large and small — said “there is a good reason they call Saskatchewan ‘Alabama North’”
Saskatchewan has built a reputation for its shoddy and untrustworthy justice system, and its relationship with indigenous peoples.
Happy National Aboriginal Day?
Reservations Over Quality of Life
There are 70 First Nations reserves within Saskatchewan. In March of this year, three of those reserves — the Key, Cote and Keeseekoose First Nations — declared a state of emergency after mental health concerns with a combined population of less than 2,000 people.
Outrageously high costs of living and inadequate housing aside, indigenous communities in Saskatchewan often lack the same access to mental health support as urban centres have. This resulted in 18 young people taking their lives in La Loche between 2005 and 2010, plus many more attempts. After four dead and seven wounded in January’s infamous shooting, NDP MP Georgina Jolibois has said the community needs permanent, long-term mental health support. The current situation — where families are pushed to relive and retell the traumatic experiences that took place earlier this year as rotating support-staff temporarily visit the community — isn’t working. But band-aid solutions are all we’ve come up with so far.
Then there’s water. According to Health Canada, on March 31 of this year there were 133 water in effect for 89 First Nations communities. A solidarity camp in Regina (with a two-month anniversary on June 18) has been meeting regularly with the regional indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC) administrations and demanded a list of boil water advisories in Saskatchewan earlier last month.
Saskatchewan has 17 First Nations Reserves with undrinkable water.
Happy National Aboriginal Day?
Missing And Murdered? Nothing To See Here
Saskatchewan has been a leader in missing persons for quite some time. According to CBC’s database, there are 32 indigenous women who called Saskatchewan home before they vanished.
In January 2015, Nadine Machiskinic was brought to the hospital at four in the morning after being found injured at the bottom of a laundry chute of the Delta Hotel in Regina. Police issued a statement saying the “death of Machiskinic revealed no indication of foul play.”A coroner’s report, on May 20 says the 29-year-old mother of four’s death was “accidental”.
“A young aboriginal woman, who lived a high-risk lifestyle in the sex trade, ends up at the Delta Hotel at 4 a.m. CST, and falls down a laundry chute and it’s not anything to be considered suspicious?”Delores Stevenson, Maschiskinic’s aunt, told CBC.
Machiskinic’s death is just another story with details that barely skim the surface of Saskatchewan’s dark, complex problems rooted in the ongoing effects of colonialism. Cases like Machiskinic’s are common across the country. Within the past year, indigenous people are, yet again, faced with a system that continues to fail them.
Happy National Aboriginal Day? The truth is there’s still a lot to celebrate, and celebrate I will.
Let’s just not forget there’s a lot to be mad about, too.