Statement by Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day:
- The debate on the tragic health social conditions at Attawapiskat First Nations in the House of Commons could not happen soon enough. Yet on the eve of this debate one must underscore an important date in the history of Canada – April 12, 1876.
- The Indian Act ("An Act respecting Indians"), is a Canadian statute that concerns registered Indians, their bands, and the system of Indian reserves. First passed in 1876 and still in force with amendments, it is the primary document, which governs how the Canadian state interacts with the 614 First Nation bands in Canada and their members.
- Throughout its long history the Indian Act has been an ongoing source of hardship and has been interpreted in many ways by both Indiginous and non-Indigenous Canadians. The legislation has been amended many times – and in some cases has been the subject proposed major changes; even abolishment.
- In a Statistics Canada report released this morning, it said: Over 60% of First Nations people reported being diagnosed with at least one chronic condition, compared with 49% of the total Canadian population. About half (49%) of First Nations people rated their general health as very good or excellent, compared with 62% of the total population. In turn, 60% reported their mental health as very good or excellent, compared with 72% of the entire population.
- The numbers don’t lie – there are some very glaring issues that are evident across the board regarding health conditions of First Nations. We must also note that these numbers are from 2012 data – demographic, economics, and the natural environment has changed in the remote north where these communities are experiencing some of the worse social conditions known to the developed world.
- The suicide crisis in Attawapiskat – and far too many other ongoing crises across the country – are rooted in the poverty and despair that was created by the Indian Act. Our Peoples signed Treaties with the intent to share the lands and resources equally with the new Canadians. We did not expect to be exiled to reserves. We did not expect to be placed under the power of Indian agents, who controlled when and where we could leave our tiny parcels of land. We did not expect to be subjected to forced assimilation and cultural genocide.
- All levels of government need to take action directly with the First Nations affected and support them and their efforts to move their communities forward. Crisis will continue until we end the reactive approach governments take.
- Canada must recognize and begin to deal with these issues on three levels:
- The downloading of investments needs to happen ASAP, First Nations have been under a 2% cap since 1996 – this has resulted in a 25B$ shortfall in just two decades. In perspective, 8.4B$ over the next five years is merely backfilling resources that should have been there in the 1990’s. We are witnessing a backlog of 15yrs of investment. First Nations needed this money yesterday. The questions that we need this debate to target is How do we get money to First Nations now? And, what can central government do to help expedite getting resources to First Nations for things like housing; medical supplies and travel, and extra boots on the ground to help with crisis?
- Secondly, immediate resources must be applied to the most affected First Nation regions – in this case, the remote north is living in 3rd World 20th century condition – this is 2016. First Nation need to have the complete spectrum of “social determinants” of health addressed education, training; and mainly speaking about road access, full connectivity, electrification and access to clean drinking water. Infrastructure North is a framework approach to targeting the hardest hit remote geography with the much-needed investment in infrastructure.
- The Nation-to-Nation relationship means fundamental relationship issues in Canada with First Nations must change. The 94 Calls for Action in the TRC lay a good roadmap and foundation for measured targets and measured change. The need to make reconciliation an institutional principle here in this parliament and in the policies that are generated, affecting First Nations, must be developed with First Nations in a government-to-government process. Chiefs in Ontario would like to propose that a Post-TRC strategic plan be developed with all levels of government and First Nations.
- Overall, the realities that First Nations are forced to live with are not of their doing – the blame rests solely on this governments past – the legacy of the Indian Act and Indian Residential Schools must be recognized, reconciled – repairing the damage done where we can and using resources and new relationships to create a new national dignity and reframe a future history for the next generations for all that live on this land; treaty partners – Canadians and First Nations.
- The recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal also puts a harsh spotlight on how our children have been devalued by governments, and how we need to have a concerted Federal effort now to make First Nations kids aware of their true value and potential.
- All levels of government need to listen directly to the First Nations affected, and support them and their efforts to move their communities forward. These crises will continue until we end the reactive approach governments take.
The Chiefs of Ontario is a political forum and a secretariat for collective decision making, action, and advocacy for the 133 First Nation communities located within the boundaries of the province of Ontario, Canada. Follow Chiefs of Ontario on Facebook or Twitter @ChiefsOfOntario.
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