Once again, Indigenous trauma falls off the radar

Hill Times, August 23 2021

If we have to do an election, then let’s talk about things that matter.

What is the role of governments in the new world of pandemics and crisis: passive or active? What are we going to do now about the climate emergency, as we have obviously turned a huge corner?

If we have to do an election, then can we talk reconciliation? What would an election look like if this was one of the central questions? Would candidates even know how to talk about serving Indigenous citizens with respect? Would party ridings even know how to support candidates to knock on doors in Indigenous communities, which have just witnessed the discovery of mass graves of children? The number of bodies is still growing in the thousands.

It is surprising, but perhaps not at all surprising, that the rediscovery of children’s bodies in mass graves at residential school sites has dropped off the radar. It may be surprising to non-Indigenous allies that this weighty issue has somehow dropped from sight, but it is not surprising to many Indigenous peoples. We have been through this before: traumatic findings and news of lost Indigenous lives, followed by flash-in-the-pan rush of tears and words without commitment or action.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples resulted in an embarrassingly small pile of changes, despite its incredible research and work. The TRC Calls to Action languished in the federal government for years as senior civil servants found ways to argue against doing anything different, with responses like “we can’t put real money towards that.” The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report might be sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere while sisters and mothers continue to go missing. Perhaps if the political sector and the civil service as a population group endured the same level of missing relatives as Indigenous peoples, it might be a priority? The Viens Commission in Quebec on racism against Indigenous peoples across the provincial government; the In Plain Sight report in B.C. on racism against Indigenous peoples in healthcare; and the list continues. Each resulted in a spike of concerned words and a few tears, but very little systemic change.

Trudeau and the Liberals decided to call an election literally in the middle of a series of community briefings on more mass graves found, and yet the Liberals have yet to give any real commitment to reconciliation. This is the perfect example of tone-deafness. Most important relationship with Indigenous peoples? No, more of the performative words, while the federal government continues to spend millions in courts fighting the rights of Indigenous kids and families.

But here’s the kicker: it’s not news to Indigenous peoples. We’ve been through this before. We could share some advice on the benefits of a little mistrust in the smiley happy candidates. It’s because Canadians were not on our side before, so we didn’t really expect much.

But more Canadians are on the side of reconciliation now. Canadians believe in the principle of making it right for Indigenous peoples. An increasing number of Canadians want to see governments making it right, whatever it takes.

The alternative bears some explanation. If we don’t make it right as a country for Indigenous peoples, if we don’t demand better from candidates and parties on reconciliation, then we deserve what we get: another term of bandaid solutions, doing just enough to keep people quiet, but never fixing root issues. More lost Indigenous sisters and mothers, more Indigenous people shot by police, more deaths in healthcare related to racism. The collective sense of guilt and shame will continue. That’s the thing—the guilt is a sign that things need to change.

Ask your candidates what their personal and party commitment is to reconciliation.