On Monday I will stand before a group of my peers and attempt to lead a discussion about Indigenous rights in Canada. It’s an issue that is as important as it is complex.
Despite the dissolution of the residential school system, systemic injustice continues to afflict the aboriginal peoples of Canada. In the aftermath of the official (and long overdue) governmental apology, we should be brave enough to explore the connection between the stolen childhoods of the past and the current living conditions of aboriginal peoples.
Around the date of the apology–before apprehension over the weakened economy eclipsed all other issues–I proposed this topic to the rest of the “Save the Children” (York University chapter) executive team. We decided it would be a perfect issue to discuss at one of our Coffee House talks.
At that point in time, I was rather quixotic in believing that Canadians would finally acknowledge and address the legacy of oppression that our nation has offically ignored and unofficially rationalized.
With the apology had come a media blitz. I heard horrifying stories about residential schools, human rights infractions, and struggling communities. I learned more about the First Peoples then I ever had in school. (My formal education made me aware that many tribes had built long houses and did not waste any part of the animals they hunted, but it left me ignorant about the dynamics between Native peoples and the Europeans that didn’t involve the pretty cornucopias in our colouring books.)
The central question of our discussion group on Monday is this:
If today’s aboriginal children still face disproportionate challenges, shouldn’t we be asking why? What is the link between past and present, and how can we make sure that true change is really on the national agenda?
The only problem is that the more I read, the less capable I feel of tackling this question. As a well-meaning outsider, I know that there are various gradations that I do not fully understand. I am also aware of the problem of “speaking for” people that have been speaking for themselves for a long time.
But the question of who has been listening is a different issue altogether.