Don’t confuse all the homeless with Kamloops’ street menagerie

A few deranged, mentally ill and brain-addled addicts on Kamloops’ streets get a lot of attention. But don’t label all the homeless as troublemakers.

Image: Mel Rothenburger, Kamloops

Kamloops RCMP superintendent Syd Lecky shares in the frustration of residents and business owners who notice the same people committing crimes repeatedly.

“When you have them back on the street in a short period of time, it is frustrating,” said Lecky. “And it does challenge us in terms of being able to manage the risk… whether the risk for these offenders to continue offending, whether it be violence or property crime. It’s really going to create some pressure on us to be able to put an end to that.”

Some of the homeless are just regular folk who choose to live outdoors. I get that.

I first met my neighbour Paul when he was living in a river bank one block from my house in Westsyde. I say “my neighbour” because, except that he lived outside, he was friendlier than some of my neighbours.

Although he lived nearby, Paul was hard to find.

I discovered his campsite when I noticed that the grass had been disturbed down a steep river bank. Curious, I carefully descended the bank and found myself in an almost impenetrable thicket.

A voice came from my left: “Come around this way, it’s easier,” as he welcomed me to his humble abode. Paul, in his forties, had notched a level spot in the river bank and strung a tarp over his shelter; his modest belongings arranged around him. He introduced himself and I sat down to chat.

Years ago, Paul had been a sheltered neighbour just a few blocks away. After his divorce, he lost his house and wandered around from town to town before returning to Kamloops. He was outgoing and happy to tell me his life story. We exchanged cell phone numbers and I left.

When I went back a few months later, Paul was gone.

I understand the appeal of living outside. When I hitchhiked in Australia, I used to set up camp in the bush near small towns. I’d walk into town; my gear stowed in what I hoped would be in an undetected spot.

It was a great way to travel. I’d buy groceries and hang out with locals in the pub.

However, being homeless and living on the street is not so idyllic. It can be a living hell. According to the most recent survey of Kamloops’ homeless, 40 per cent of those surveyed were first homeless from ages 10 to 19. Many of those “aged out” of foster care with few survival skills.

Almost one-half of respondents indentified as indigenous.

Not only do many of these teenagers have few life skills, they can have disabilities such as Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). That leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous individuals. They become a resource in the quagmire of street life; in prostitution and dealing drugs.

For indigenous street people who have aged out of the foster care system, the loss of identity is debilitating. They are doubly resentful of a system that is rigged against them –stripped of their culture and exploited by a toxic street culture.

If young people weren’t mentally ill and addicted to begin with, the gritty street life will soon make them so.

Regrettably, low-cost housing will not solve their devastating problems. At one time they might have been cared for in institutions such as Tranquille.

Now their future looks bleak.

Colonial Schools maybe, colonial monuments no

Some of Canada’s Indigenous people have decided to keep their Residential Schools despite the fact that they hold so many painful memories.One of those is the largest Residential School in Canada on the Kamloops Indian Reserve.

Image: Woodland Cultural Centre, Six Nations

Former Kamloops chief Manny Jules said there have been many debates over the years about the future of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School but band members have decided to keep it as a reminder to future generations that their children will never go through such an experience.

Jules said the federal government offered Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc $70,000 in the 1970s to tear down the school but they declined the offer.

“What we said at the time is we want to turn these buildings into a legacy for language, history and culture, for education and all those other aspects,” said Jules. “Why tear it down?”

Not so for the Okanagan Indian Band in Vernon. They want the federal government to remove three former day schools for Indigenous children that the Chief Byron Louis called “symbols of trauma.”

“A number of our community members won’t even set foot in there unless they absolutely have to,” said Chief Louis. He would like to see the structures replaced with “places of healing.”

The Six Nations of the Grand River reserve in Brantford, Ontario, has restored their Residential School as a “site of conscience.” Now called the Woodland Centre, they plan on guided tours that will take visitors through the building from the perspective of a child, separated from parents, language and culture to arrive in this foreboding place. Different rooms – such as the dining hall and the dormitories – will be restored to different periods in the long history of what was the first residential school in Canada.

While the preservation of colonial schools is debatable, the preservation of colonial monuments is not.

The recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc has sparked a debate about what to do with one of the remaining statues of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, in Kingston, Ontario. That’s where Macdonald grew up, practised law and served as a Member of Parliament.

Both monuments, architectural and artistic, evoke a painful chapter in the lives of Indigenous people. Both represent Canada’s colonial past.

The difference is that schools are built on Indian Reserves where Indigenous people have control of them. For those Indigenous people who support the schools, they are not monuments to colonialism but living monuments to the resilience of the survivors.

Statues of Macdonald are located in non-Indigenous locations and open to attack by groups with agendas other than the legacy of colonialism.  On July 19, 2020, a group of about 30 people gathered at Ryerson University in Toronto, organized by Black Lives Matter-Toronto, and defaced another Macdonald sculpture with paint. One protester said:

“Defacing the monuments and having the art display done is actually I think a really good way of showing Canada’s long-standing history of violence of both Black and Indigenous communities on these lands.”

For non-Indigenous Canadians, monuments to Macdonald are a painful reminder of the way we treated Indigenous people. It’s best that they are stored away out of sight, out of mind.

Tearing down and vandalizing statues is barbaric

Now that we are enlightened, we clearly see the errors of the past. Such is the case with every generation. Regrettably, that enlightenment doesn’t seem to distinguish systemic racism from the value of art from the past.

image by comradejaggi (Instagram) August 29

Statues are works of art. As an artist, and as someone who has studied sculpture at the University of Alberta, I am keenly aware of the hundreds of hours that go into producing a sculpture. Sculptures are particularly difficult to produce because they are made of materials durable enough for future generations to appreciate.

Also, I sit on a committee mandated by the city of Kamloops. We review applications for funding and creating public art. The job involves evaluating the application and allocating meagre funds for artists to make public works.

I’m a strong believer in public art. Art is more than decorative; it inspires and makes a statement about a place. Public art gives testimony to the vitality of a city.

Have you seen Kamloops’ largest piece of public art? It’s truly awesome. Artist Bill Frymire assembled a shimmering mosaic of 80,000 aluminum tiles on a parkade, transforming it from a grey concrete tomb into a mirage that ripples in the sun at the slightest breeze.

I imagine being on a Regina city arts committee in 1966. We’ve received an application for a statue of John A. Macdonald to be built at a park entrance. The plaque is to be placed underneath the sculpture is to read “John A. Macdonald, Father of Confederation.”

I suspect that support for the Macdonald statue would have been unanimous. Because we were not yet woke it’s unlikely we would consider how inappropriate it to be, considering Macdonald’s role in the assimilation of Indigenous people and his racist views of Asian immigrants.

The Macdonald sculpture was built in Regina, in 1967, and cast in bronze using a centuries-old lost wax technique. It has vandalized at least three times since 2012 and is now the only one of Macdonald still standing in a major Western city in Canada.

On July 19, 2020, a group of about 30 people gathered at Ryerson University in Toronto, organized by Black Lives Matter-Toronto, and defaced another Macdonald sculpture with paint. One protester said:

“Defacing the monuments and having the art display done is actually I think a really good way of showing Canada’s long-standing history of violence of both Black and Indigenous communities on these lands.”

I find the equation of violence against people equal to violence against art puzzling. And as an artist, I find the notion of defacing a sculpture in the name of art galling.

In one hundred years, enlightened citizens will reflect on our backward ways. What we now regard as enlightened will then be seen as retrograde.

Perhaps one of our stupid ways, as seen through the lens of future woke generations, will be the way we treat animals raised for slaughter. Will they then vandalize the handsome bronze sculpture of a bull by Joe Fafard that sits at the entrance of Riverside Park in Kamloops?

Our perceived virtues are ephemeral, ever drifting into sin as seen by future generations. Art meant to last millennia should not be a victim latest expression of self-righteous barbarism.

Kamloops BLM demonstration offficially cancelled due to intimidation

The Black Lives Matter demonstration in Kamloops on June 4 was well-attended considering that it was officially cancelled just before it was about to start.

image: Kamloops This Week, Dave Eagles

The organizers were apologetic about organizing it in the first place. In their notice of cancelation, they said on Instagram:

“We want BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) to lead these protests. The original idea was to create a space for people to express their feelings of injustice and for us to be able to be there to protect the BIPOC in this space. The goal of this protest was to open conversation and change for local and international individuals. The goal of our organizers and all non-BIPOC is to create a safe space for them. We do not want to speak over them, we want to amplify them.”

Since they refer to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour as “them,” I can only assume they are white and that was a factor in the cancelation.

Being white, I guess they felt uncomfortable about organizing a demonstration for an oppressed people that they were not a part of. Or perhaps it seemed patronizing –as if Black, Indigenous and People of Colour couldn’t do it themselves.

Maybe they felt they were appropriating the culture Black, Indigenous and People of Colour by assuming to speak for them.

It’s paralysis due to political correctness.

I would have liked to ask the organizers these questions and why they felt intimidated but they have pulled down their Instagram account and I had no way of contacting them.

Allegations of cultural appropriation and insensitivity are rampant. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the Ottawa BLM demonstration, calls of “blackface” could be heard directed at him; in reference to his now-shameful 2001 yearbook photo of him dressed as Aladdin in blackface and in a turban at an Arabian Nights-themed gala. Dressing up in costumes that represent other cultures is now seen as cultural appropriation.

Is it cultural approbation to show up at a demonstration in support of Black and Indigenous people? Can white Canadians not “feel their pain?”

Cultural appropriation was on the mind of Kamloops resident Sarah* who attended the demonstration. “I try to be very mindful of cultural appropriation as well,” she told me by email.

Her Facebook photo shows her smiling in front of three RCMP of colour at the demonstration. She was hesitant about asking permission for the photo but:  “They were good sports and took no issue.”

The colour of a people organizing a demonstration should not be a factor.

We are long past the biases developed by Europeans when they first encountered various colours of people around the globe and thought they were a different species.

As I have argued in this column, we are all Homo sapiens, the last remaining species of humans. There is no “them” and “us.”

Says Sarah of her photo with the police:

“I hope you took note of the ‘We are All African’ T-shirt I was wearing…as in we can all be traced back to a common humanoid ancestor in the rift valley…this is why Racism makes zero sense! Love that message, that t-shirt!”

*name changed on request.

The language of Indigenous protest infiltrators

Infiltrators of the pipeline protest intend to shut down dialogue and perpetuate the divisions between us.

image: Al Jazeera

What was once the sole grievance of hereditary chiefs is now a basket in which agitators can throw anything. They have no other agenda other than to stick it to Canadians and take great pleasure in creating an angry reaction, seeing us squirm.

The activist groups that have infiltrated the movement have high-jacked media coverage; groups such as Extinction Rebellion whose cause is climate change and the Marxist Red Braid Alliance. The Red Braid say that they stand for de-colonialism, a socialist revolution and anti-imperialism. According to their website:

“We prepare to take the power away from capitalists and colonizers by increasing the autonomous power of communities where we are, as part of the insurgent working class and Indigenous people’s movements of the world.”

As long as these agitators have the chiefs as a shield, they can run around shutting down traffic or blocking rail lines, spouting their rhetoric of colonial oppression, with little repercussion.

The goal of the infiltrators is to shut down dialogue. They do so by use of labelling opponents as “colonialists” for which there is no defence. While it’s true that North America was colonized and that much of B.C. is unceded territory, the colonialist label is meant to shut me up. It makes me a representative of something I can’t possibly defend.

What’s needed is the opposite. Rather than posturing, dialogue is needed says Abel Bosum, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Northern Quebec:

“The only way to bring down the barricades that separate us is by truly listening to one another. The solution can only come from the individuals that face each other across barricades or negotiating tables.”

The dispute that the Chief Bosum had with the Quebec government was over development on their land. “The Cree Nation is no longer relegated to the sidelines as just protesters or agitators. We have become a nation of deciders,” says Bosum (Globe and Mail, February 27, 2020).

Another word used that is intended to leave me dumbstruck is “privilege.” I was once told to “check my privilege” because I am a white, middle-class male. The message to me is to “Shut the F**k up,” STFU in text-speak.

Privilege has actual meaning. It is a right earned by merit. When I’m told to “check my privilege,” my supposed privilege is not a result of merit but by simply being born.

Colonialist has actual meaning and I am not one. As I argued in another column, colonialism has long since been replaced by globalism as a means of subjugation.

Reconciliation has actual meaning. It opens dialogue but the agitators want none of that with signs reading “reconciliation is dead.” They prefer to accuse and belittle.

Thank goodness the agitators were not part of the discussions between government leaders and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in Smithers, B.C. last weekend. The parties issued a joint statement saying they had reached an arrangement to implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title, pending ratification by Wet’suwet’en clan members.

Settlement of the pipeline issue is the last thing agitators want. They would prefer to silence well-meaning Canadians with labels of colonialist and let grievances fester.

The pride, politics and tokenism of Indigenous land acknowledgements

While some Indigenous Canadians take pride in the acknowledgment that we live on their un-surrendered lands, others are not so sure.

The facts of our occupation are clear from both a legal and archaeological standpoint. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Indigenous land rights have not been extinguished in the Delgamuukw decision of 1997.

Indigenous archaeological sites in Kamloops. Image: Kamloops this Week

The discovery of human remains beneath a Kamloops street that predate European colonizers are further evidence of the first people who lived in the Thompson valley. Kamloops archaeologist Joanne Hammond says:

“The area along the river from Kamloops to Chase has been called the ‘cradle of Secwepemc culture’ –cultural traits that first appeared here are found through Secwepemcúl’ecw [Secwepemc territory]. Among B.C. cities, Kamloops is only second to Victoria in number of known archaeological sites within 10 kilometres of the city centre (Kamloops This Week, July 26, 2019).”

Land acknowledgments take on a ceremonial quality in the opening of parliament, school days, concerts, university events and even hockey games.

While some land acknowledgments are well-thought out, others border on the silly, like the recent one at Toronto’s Pride that didn’t even mention First Nations at all. It included vague statements, such as “no matter what part of Mother Earth our family originates from, we all have a relationship and a responsibility to the land. Let’s build a healthy relationship together.”

A panel of three Indigenous leaders spoke about Toronto Pride’s statement and land acknowledgments with the host of CBC’s The Current, Megan Williams (July 2, 2019).

Hayden King, an Anishinaabe writer at Ryerson University:

“I think I was, for me it was a little bit absurd I guess. Yeah it’s a token gesture that ultimately can become symbolic, merely symbolic and meaningless.”

Sheila Cote-Meek, Anishinaabe and associate VP at Laurentian University, agreed that they are token gestures and added:

“I think we should be doing them but being more thoughtful about how we do them. . .”

Emily Riddle, Vancouver writer from the Alexander First Nation in Treaty 6 territory in Alberta, said some Indigenous people welcome them:

“I think for lots of indigenous people, particularly in the interior, they would say it means a lot to hear that their territory is being recognized in their presence.”

Politics puts those Indigenous Canadians who doubt the sincerity of land acknowledgements in the uncomfortable position of being on the same side of the issue as Conservatives.

Under the new Alberta government, land acknowledgements are now a matter of “personal preference.” The Minister of Indigenous Relations for the United Conservative Party of Alberta, Rick Wilson, says:

“We’re kind of leaving it up to everybody on their own accord; it depends on the situation (Edmonton Journal, May 29, 2019).”

Emily Riddle was asked what she thought of the Alberta government’s approach:

“I don’t think that they have any intention to acknowledge or move forward with treaties. I know Jason Kenney said in his campaign that there are no treaty lands in Alberta. So it would be disingenuous for him to do acknowledgements in my opinion.”

Alberta is located on Treaty 6, Treaty 7 and Treaty 8 territories.

Canada’s first constitution of 1763

 

More than a century before the confederation of Canada in 1867, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 established a basis of government in North America. Peter Russell, in his book Canada’s Odyssey: A Country Based on Incomplete Conquests, calls the proclamation “the formal beginning of Canada’s constitution,” and adds:

King George III. Image: Wikipedia

“Accordingly, the Proclamation called for that essential institution of Anglo-American liberal government: a representative assembly. This plan of government reflected the fact that, in terms of constitutional and representative government, Britain was the most advanced European state of the day. …France was still an absolute, not a constitutional monarchy (p.29)”

It’s odd now to think of England as a model for government now, but at the time a progressive King George III empowered the colonies of North America to form government comprised of citizens empowered to: “make laws for the Public, Peace, Welfare, and good Government.” Colonial courts were set up as well for hearing “all cases, criminal as well as civil, according to Law and Equity, and as near as may be agreeable to the Laws of England.”

The force of the proclamation reverberated through the centuries.

The first shock wave was the revolution of the thirteen colonies of what is now the United States. They were not happy with the lines drawn on the map of North America by the King. Land west of the colonies as far as the Mississippi was assigned to Indigenous peoples. The thirteen colonies saw the proclamation as hemming them in from expansion to the west. Two years after the proclamation, the American Revolution started which led to their independence in 1776.

Treatment of Quebec had a better outcome. With the winds of independence drifting through the colonies, Britain decided to accommodate their new colony of Quebec. Wisely so, since Catholic French-speakers outnumbered the English. In the Quebec Act of 1774, French property and civil law was introduced and French-speaking Catholics held public offices.

Recognition of Indigenous land title took a little longer. Two and one-half centuries later, Canada is finally recognizing Indigenous entitlement laid out in the proclamation. Reactionary Canadian governments ignored the proclamation and proceeded with the subjugation and assimilation of Canada’s first peoples.

As one of the three pillars of the founding of Canada, Indigenous peoples were left out of the British North American Act in 1867. The French and English pillars were there says Russell:

“One of the first challenges for the infant Canadian federation was its relations with the absent pillar, the Indigenous peoples (p.163).”

Two centuries after the proclamation, patient Indigenous leaders reminded us of their exclusion. George Manual was one of those who rallied against the failed colonization of his people. As former chief of the Neskonlith band of the Shuswap nation and participant of the residential school in Kamloops, he collaborated with Michael Posluns in writing The Fourth World: An Indian Reality in 1974.

In a landmark court decision, against the wishes of the Province of B.C., the court ruled that Nisga’a territory had never been extinguished. We live on unceded Indigenous land in most of B.C.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 is referred to in section 25 of our Constitution Act of 1982. And on the 250th anniversary of the proclamation in 2013 was celebrated in Ottawa with a meeting of Indian leaders and Governor-General David Johnston.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

 

The beaver is Canadian

The beaver exemplifies what it means to be Canadian. Rachel Poliquin puts it this way:

“Humpbacked and portly, with an earnest and honest charm, beavers epitomize the Canadian spirit of unpretentiousness, integrity, and industriousness (Canada’s History magazine, Aug/Sept, 2017).”

    image: wordartsme.com

The beaver has not always been regarded as exceptionally hard-working. Canada’s indigenous people viewed them as skilled builders, healers, and earth-makers but not any more hard-working than coyotes or porcupines.

Eurasian beavers were hunted to near extinction. Ancient physicians regarded the beaver’s smelly sent organs as a potent medicine. Beavers would give off the smell to repel attackers, a bit like a skunk. Mistaking the castor sacs that held the scent for testicles, early Europeans thought the beavers bit off their testicles and shed their fur to escape capture. The Greek fabulist Aesop had this to say:

“If only people would take the same approach and agree to be deprived of their possessions in order to live lives free of danger; no one, after all, would set a trap for one already stripped to the skin.”

Eurasian beavers were seen by Christian moralists as models of chastity, austerity, and prudence.

Beavers were so rare in Europe, that by the time that Europeans arrived in North America, they saw them for the first time. They were so impressed by the rodent’s architectural abilities that they imagined a beaver society that could achieve such wonders.

The seventeenth-century French aristocrat, Niclolas Deny, outlined what he saw as a beaver society in which specific tasks were assigned such as cutting down trees, making stakes, with the oldest carrying dirt with their tails. The construction of beaver mansions was overseen by foremen. Beaver carpenters, ditch diggers, log carriers, ensured a high standard of construction. If any workers were neglectful, the foreman “chastises them, beats them, throws himself on them, and bites them to keep them at their duties,” wrote Denys.

Denys’ views mirrored the society in which he grew up. Great public works could only be achieved by keeping the grunt labourers in line. Whipping them into submission was an accepted means of accomplishing a greater good.

Europeans wondered what kind of political structure the beavers preferred. Of course, since only rich aristocrats could afford to explore, beavers must have preferred aristocratic overseers.

Aristocratic beaver society served as a model for settler society. Lazy beaver workers would have the fur stripped from their backs, it was imagined, and banished from beaver society to live their lives, exiled, in holes.

This was a convenient tale to tell independence-minded settlers, many who were escaping social upheaval in Europe. It was to keep settlers under the thumb of aristocrats. Poliquin explains:

“Outcast beavers also offered a moral lesson for habitants who were tempted to go primitive and become coureurs de bois. Venturing into the wilderness to seek their fortune in furs, coureurs de bois were naturally vilified by the ruling classes and bourgeois fur merchants. Living like vagabond beavers, they refused the duties of societies and acquired a taste for wandering and its associated vices. Repent now, the fable almost warns, lest you end up in a dark and dirty hole with no coat on your back.”

Modern Canadian beavers have escaped the tyranny of aristocracy and live in well-insulated homes. They come out of their dens to vote every four years. Unpretentious, yet a bit smug, they imagine their society to be better than others such as the one to the south.

The mysterious Beothuk of Newfoundland

Recent DNA tests have only deepened the mystery the Beothuk people of Newfoundland.

   Beothuk. Image from Mysteries of Canada

The Beothuk were reclusive compared to other Indigenous Newfoundland people like the Mi’kmaq. Their solitary nature may have contributed to their extinction.

Like all Indigenous people, the Beothuk had good reasons to avoid the settlers. The last Beothuk, Shanawdithit, died on June 6, 1829. Shanawdithit’s aunt died in captivity nine years earlier. Her aunt was captured by settlers in a raid on a Beothuk camp in which the aunt’s husband and infant child were killed.

The Beothuk thrived on marine mammals and other coastal resources but they were driven inland when the coast was occupied by Europeans. One thing that the DNA record reveals is the relatively poor land-based diet that resulted compared to the nutritional coastal marine food.

I first wrote of the Beothuk in 2014. After I wrote my column, I received an email from a man I’ll call George. He had lived in Newfoundland and thought that I might be interested in some things he had learned while living there. I was. We exchanged a number of emails and we had lengthy phone conversations.

George moved to Fogo Island years ago -it’s a small island off the coast of Newfoundland.  He got to talking with the great grandson of John Soper Holmes, a settler on Fogo Island at the time of the Beothuk. The great grandson told George that Holmes had killed and buried twelve Indians. As the story went, the Beothuk had stolen gear from his ocean-side camp. Holmes buried behind Indians behind his house. The mayor of Fogo told George that, as a child, he was told not to play up in the hills behind Homes house because Indians were buried there. George thought that these allegations should be investigated, and if true would contribute to the account of the Beothuk.

I thought so, too. I wrote up the story and sent it to George to look over before it was published. To my dismay, he recanted the story completely and I never published it. I suspect that George feared retributions from the close-knit Fogo community. I’m revealing details of the story for the first time but changed his name.

DNA analysis of the three distinct Indigenous groups of Newfoundland people deepens the mystery. Here’s what we know so far:

The last common ancestor of the three groups lived 10,000 years ago. The first group, the Maritime Archaic people, moved into Labrador and Newfoundland about 8,000 years ago and lived there until 3,200 years ago. Researchers speculate that a cooling climate made Newfoundland less hospitable to the Maritime Archaic people who were living off marine resources.

For the next 2,000 years, Paleo-Eskimo groups moved southward from the Arctic. They may have been the “skraelings” described by Norse explorers who tried to settle on the northwestern tip of Newfoundland around 1,000 A.D.

Then came the Beothuk. But from where they came is not clear. They are not related to any of the others. “I didn’t expect that,” said Vaughan Grimes, an archaeologist at Memorial University and a team member on the study. “I thought there would be more biological relationship between the groups (Globe and Mail, October 12, 2017)”

I have a feeling that there are many more stories of the Beothuk to be told. Maybe Beothuk are not extinct but survive in the lineages of Newfoundland people walking around today? Stay tuned.

Indigenous labour is an untapped resource

Canadians opened their hearts and homes to Syrian refugees last year. It was a warm humanitarian gesture as well as an economic imperative: Canada relies on immigrants to sustain our work force.

    image: Government of Canada

Treatment of our Indigenous people is puzzling in both regards. Refugees from Indian Reserves do not receive a warm welcome. Communities don’t sponsor Indigenous families and put them up in homes. They are not being bombed but they are fleeing abominable conditions: mouldy housing, undrinkable water, poor education, appalling health care and little hope for employment. Instead of being helped, First Nations refugees often end up on city streets with few options for integration into society.

Not only are Indigenous Canadians uninvited in cities but the labour resource they represent is wasted.

The Centre for the Study of Living Standards released a report earlier this month entitled “The Contribution of Aboriginal People to Future Labour Force Growth in Canada.” The 36 page report outlines the wasted labour resource of Indigenous Canadians.

Indigenous citizens are the youngest, fastest growing demographic in Canada.

To start with, all Indigenous people are underemployed. More critically, participation of the 15-24 age group is 12 per cent lower than average. Only one-half of Indigenous youth are employed. That untapped resource could contribute to future labour force growth. It’s worse in the North where participation in the labour force is one-fifth the average.

If Canada’s Indigenous work force were developed, they would contribute to one-fifth of the future national labour growth. That contribution could be in the North, where they are most needed. As the global climate change warms and the climate of the North warms disproportionately, opportunities will open for jobs in resource extraction, infrastructure, housing and tourism. The expansion of the Indigenous work force In the North could comprise 83 per cent of total northern growth.

What would it take? The report states rather dryly:

“Indigenous people also face deficiencies in hours worked, employment, income by level of education and health among others. Progress must be based on Indigenous autonomy and this in turn will require strengthening administrative and managerial capacities, most likely under new institutional arrangements.”

In more vital words, it will take a reversal of our colonial past which was designed to dominate and assimilate Indigenous peoples. The Trudeau government made a good start when it divided the Indigenous portfolio in two with Jane Philpott becoming minister of Indigenous services and Carolyn Bennett becoming minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and Northern Affairs.

Some criticise the move as increased bureaucracy but the split was recommended in 1996 by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Both ministers are capable I can only hope they will succeed in ending the anachronistic Indian Act.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations is optimistic:

“First Nations are working to move beyond the Indian Act and re-asserting our jurisdiction and sovereignty over our own lands, title and rights.”

Let’s bring our Indigenous brothers and sisters in from the cold. And if compassion doesn’t motivate Canadians, maybe a bleak economic future without them will.