Thursday, August 23, 2018

Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp - Thank you for Standing Up for our Children

The violent deaths of Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan and Tina Fontaine in Manitoba hit their families, communities and First Nations pretty hard. These were youths who had their whole lives ahead of them. The fact that deep-seated institutional and societal racism and violence against Indigenous peoples is what led to their deaths is a glaring injustice that we have seen happen many times over to our people. But the other glaring injustice is how institutional and societal racism and violence allows the killers of our people to walk free. The high level of impunity for lethal race-based violence against Indigenous peoples serves only to reinforce the racist idea that Indigenous lives don’t matter. Without intervention from federal, provincial and municipal governments, agencies and police forces, our people will continue to be at risk.

Canada’s failure to act on this crisis means that First Nations must continue to take action to stand against these injustices which are killing our people. At a time when our hearts were collectively breaking over the non-guilty verdicts in the Gerald Stanley murder trial of Colten Boushie and the Raymond Cormier murder trial of Tina Fontaine, First Nation members from Saskatchewan got together and created the Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp. On February 28, 2018, they raised a traditional teepee and lit a sacred fire in Treaty 4 territory at Wascana Park, just across from the Saskatchewan Legislative building. These grassroots community members used their most powerful tool to bring attention to this crisis – their voices and their traditions.

But the teepee and the sacred fire not only attracted media attention for our issues, but it also turned into something special. This camp became a gathering place for those who had lost children to violence, foster care and the justice system. Mothers, fathers, aunties and cousins with broken hearts came to the camp to share their stories, release their emotions and start their healing journeys. Far from creating any safety risk to the public, this camp offered hope, comfort, solidarity, a sense of collectiveness and empowerment. The longer the camp remained at Wascana Park, the more the media took notice and started to highlight the many injustices faced by First Nations. The core message from the camp was that we need justice specifically for Indigenous youth in the wake of the Stanley and Cormier not guilty verdicts; and justice for the many Indigenous children stolen from our communities by child welfare agencies, the justice system and societal violence.

For many months, it may have appeared to outsiders looking in, that they were alone and that their camp would eventually fade from attention. They occupied the area peacefully for four months, supported by donations from First Nations and allies. It wasn’t until the Province of Saskatchewan thought the camp would interfere with its planned location for its Canada Day beer gardens that they took legal action. On June 5, the camp was issued and eviction order and ten days later, the Regina Police Service began their eviction procedures by removing the tents. On June 17 the teepee was taken down and on June 18 six of the campers were arrested and removed from the area, though charges were never laid. Many of us watched with anger as the province carried out this heavy-handed action, trampling over the wounded hearts of those who have found some temporary peace at the camp – all for the sake of beer gardens.

But if there is one lesson from our elders that we have to remember, is that we can never give up hope. Our ancestors died protecting the rights of future generations not yet born. We inherited the obligation to face each barrier put in front of us by colonial powers, with the same commitment to overcoming it, as our ancestors had. So, on June 21 National Indigenous Peoples Day, when we saw videos of the campers returning to Wascana Park, re-erecting the teepee and joining together in a round dance, our collective hearts were lifted again – this time with a renewed sense of resistance and empowerment. On June 23rd, a second teepee was erected and others joined in solidarity after that until there were many teepees side by side. People made donations of cash, food and water to support the campers and the healing continued. We owe so much to the spirit and determination of those who have stayed at the camp for long. Their commitment is why we are still talking about justice for our stolen children.

There is a real and growing crisis in Saskatchewan that demands an emergency, crisis-level joint response by federal, provincial and First Nation governments, experts and advocates. It doesn’t matter what the federal or provincial governments say they have done, what programs they have funded, or who they talk to at various discussion tables – what matters is that what they have done to date has not worked and the crisis continues to get worse. Therefore, a radical shift from the status quo is required to save the lives of our children. They don’t have a whole childhood to wait for the slow, drawn-out process of policy change. Our children are dying and the statistics present a dire picture for their life-chances if we don’t change this now.

Child Welfare

In Canada, Indigenous peoples make up 5% of the population and Indigenous youth make up 7% of the youth population. Nationally, Indigenous children make up 48% of all children in foster care – a number that is 3 times higher than during the height of residential schools. However, in Saskatchewan, an alarming more than 70% of children in provincial care are Indigenous and the numbers continue to increase. We know that less than half of those children will graduate from highschool and more likely to end up in youth corrections. The statistics also show that that Indigenous girls in foster care are 4 times more likely to be sexually abused; more likely to be targeted for human sex trafficking and are over-represented in murdered and missing Indigenous girls. The theft of our children into foster care does not just impact the children. Indigenous mothers who lose their children to foster care are more likely to die from heart disease and suicide.

Justice System - Prison

Canada has had the lowest crime rate since 1969 with a reduction of 34% since 1998. Yet Indigenous people make up more than 26% of those in federal prisons and Indigenous women make up 34%. Saskatchewan’s numbers are frightening. Over 76% of admissions to Saskatchewan prisons are Indigenous – the highest rates in Canada. Nationally, 41% of youth in corrections are Indigenous, with 51% being Indigenous girls. In Saskatchewan youth corrections, 92% are Indigenous boys and 98% are Indigenous girls. They have the highest youth incarceration rates in the entire country. More than 1/5 of Indigenous prisoners were in residential schools and 2/3 were in the child welfare system. It is important to remember that Indigenous peoples represent 1/3 of all suicides in prison and more than half of those who suffer in solitary confinement/segregation.

Violence – State & Societal

In 1996, the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples noted that racism is rampant from police forces to the courts. Saskatchewan policing in particular has a long, violent history of racism against Indigenous peoples. In 2004, the Saskatchewan Commission on First Nations and Metis Peoples and Justice Reform found that racism in policing was a “major obstacle” in relations with First Nations. The well-known police practice of “Starlight Tours” where police detain and drive Indigenous men to the outskirts of town where they freeze to death doesn’t seem to have ended with the Neil Stonechild inquiry. Indigenous women are often targeted with sexualized violence – including from police. The Human Rights Watch report from 2017 documented instances of excessive use of force, abusive strip searches and other sexual harassment against Indigenous women. The statistics also show that Saskatchewan has the highest rate of police involved deaths (beatings, chokings, shootings) of Indigenous peoples (62.5%).

The RCMP report into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls showed that nationally Indigenous women and girls make up 16% of those murdered, but in Saskatchewan, that number jumps to 55%. Societal violence comes from the places most people do not suspect: priests, farmers, police, corrections, doctors, lawyers, judges, social workers, teachers, and foster parents. Very few of those who sexually violate or murder Indigenous women and girls are serial killers. The statistics also show they are less likely to be murdered by their spouse than Canadian women. The high level of impunity (non-conviction) for those perpetrators in society who continue to commit violence against Indigenous peoples is exacerbated by the many reports that document how police fail to protect Indigenous peoples or properly investigate their cases.

We have a real crisis in Saskatchewan. What has been done isn’t working. We need a new approach – one that is led by First Nations and their experts and advocates. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the campers at the Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp who have sacrificed their time and energy, and risked police arrest and jail, to keep the light on this crisis. We don’t want to lose any more of our children and we want to bring the rest of our children who are in foster care, corrections, trapped by human traffickers, or missing – back home. Bring our children home.

In memory of all those precious lives those and sadly, too many to name:

Neil Stonechild, Leo Lachance, William Kakakaway, Leonard Paul John, Colten Boushie

Nadine Machiskinic, Shelley Napope, Melanie Dawn Geddes, Amber Redman, Danita Bigeagle

Haven Dubois, Brandon-Bee Ironchild, Evander Lee Daniels

Please see my YouTube video that I have created in support of the Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp:

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Maxime Bernier's "Extreme Multiculturalism" Twitter Rants Sound More Like Sour Grapes

Last week, Conservative Member of Parliament, Maxime Bernier posted a series of tweets on Twitter espousing his opposition to “extreme multiculturalism” and the “cult of diversity” in Canada. According to Bernier, diversity will “destroy” the cultural identity of Canada and worse, will result in “cultural balkanization” that leads to social conflict and even "violence". These tweets were not the usual fair commentary offered by elected officials on matters of public policy. No – there was something a bit more frantic, even desperate about these tweets. These tweets sounded like the rantings of a wayward politician who, having failed in all of his political endeavours to date, couldn’t think of any other way to get attention but to ride the populist white supremacy wave.

A combination of deep-seated racism and white superiority, together with Trump-like fear-mongering seems to be the current populist recipe for manufacturing hate and division for the purpose of political gain. It also seems to reward the instigators with gratuitous attention on social media.

If we are to understand Bernier’s Sunday night tweet rant better, we have to understand that Bernier is a failed politician. He was a separatist from Quebec who voted in the 1995 referendum for Quebec to separate from Canada, but that vote and his efforts, failed. He was later successful in being elected a Conservative MP from Beauce, Quebec and was even appointed Foreign Affairs Minister under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. However, he was forced to resign in scandal when he left classified documents at his girlfriend’s place for nearly a month. After Harper’s Conservatives were devastated in the last election, giving Trudeau’s Liberals a majority government, Bernier ran for leadership of the Conservative party and lost to Andrew Scheer. Soon after, he released portions of a cry-all book about how he lost the leadership bid, but publication was halted. His own peers said this cry-all book was more about “sour grapes” from losing and his “vanity” and need for attention. Most recently, he was silently kicked from Scheer’s shadow cabinet.

If ever there was a recipe for some hateful sour-grapes, this would be it. A failed separatist, Minister, leader, author and shadow cabinet member, Bernier clearly wants to make a name for himself in whatever way he can. We all know that Republican President Donald Trump’s sexist, racist, anti-immigrant fear-mongering seems to have appealed to the ultra right-wing and white supremacists in the USA. It also seemed to work for Conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a “fiercely right-wing populist”, who won an election with a “take care of our own” attitude devoid of any substantive public policy - unless you include his buck-a-beer-for-all promise. It would seem that Bernier is once again suffering from sour grapes and has resorted to this hateful, racist rant against every other culture than his own people– the very people that seems to have rejected him. 

It is not the fault of new immigrants that Bernier’s own party have rejected him over and over. Nor can his misery be tied to the legal right of people from diverse cultures to enjoy their traditions in Canada. This is an example of popular white supremacism – the idea that people of other racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds are inherently dangerous and should not mix with “old stock Canadians” - i.e. "white" Canadians. The difference between the white nationalism/supremacy of the past is that those who espouse these views today tend to do so in a less direct way under the guise of public policy debate. 

But his hatefulness doesn’t focus only on new immigrants. Several days later, he was also first in line on Twitter to trash the Trudeau government’s intention to create a statutory “holiday” in remembrance of the atrocities committed in residential schools. Despite this being 1 of the 94 Call to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and represents the wishes of many of the survivors, Bernier accused called this “another sick characteristic of extreme PC [political correctness] and multiculturalism”. To my mind, the wishes of the survivors should be paramount on the issue of whether there is a national day of remembrance. Bernier went on to categorize the day of remembrance as a “cult of victimhood and obsession with past wrongs”. I wonder if he would also apply this logic to Remembrance Day on November 11th, or any of the war memorials that exist in Canada? Somehow, I don’t think so.

The whole point of national days of remembrance and memorials is to ensure that Canadians never forget the atrocities that happened. The idea is to honour those we have lost and make sure history never repeats itself. It is a concept shared by most nations around the world. Germany for example has taken great steps to not only erase any Nazi symbols from their society, but also create memorials to remember the many lives lost. Here in Canada, we hope to have several national days of remembrance that include one for residential schools and memorials to lives lost, like murdered and missing Indigenous women. In recent months we have also been talking about how to deal with statues and other symbols of individuals who, despite being historic figures, were the perpetrators of a campaign of genocide against Indigenous peoples – like Sir John A. MacDonald. The TRC report confirmed that Canada engaged in all three types of genocide against Indigenous peoples – cultural, physical and biological. It is long past time that we talked about how to reflect history accurately and responsibly.

Bernier’s Twitter rants about “extreme PC” couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes the ongoing legacy of injustice against Indigenous peoples in Canada. His Twitter tirades about immigrants who don’t share the same skin colour, religion or culture as him don’t reflect the laws of this country – Indigenous or Canadian. It’s highly ironic that Bernier would advocate against any more diverse immigrants while at the same time demand that Indigenous history be erased. I guess that is the privilege assumed by those whose ideas reflect and promote (directly or indirectly) white supremacy – as if anyone else is not only dangerous, but a threat to whiteness. While Bernier is only the most visible example of this kind of thinking, in fairness, he is not alone.

Senator Lynn Beyak was booted from Conservative caucus after her racist postings about Indigenous peoples. Conservative MP Pierre Poillievre said racist remarks against residential school survivors on the same day as the apology. Former Conservative Indian Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt regularly made racist comments against First Nations, at one point calling First Nation treaty Chiefs “threats to national security”. With regard to Bernier’s most recent comments, Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer has failed to specifically condone them, nor has he removed Bernier from the party – which he should do. This is not much of a surprise given the fact that Scheer’s own campaign manager was the founding director for Rebel Media which promotes white nationalism. 

In the end, the Conservative Party needs to be very clear with Canadians about their party and what it stands for today. Andrew Scheer and the party either stand wholly behind Bernier or they do not – there is no in between. Right now, Scheer seems to stand more behind Bernier than not. It's Scheer's move now.

To watch my Youtube video on this issue and participate in the ongoing discussion, click here: