Government view of crises excludes First Nations

If there’s one truth in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that when governments need to find money in an emergency, they can find it.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/05/2020 (855 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If there’s one truth in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that when governments need to find money in an emergency, they can find it.

The numbers are truly astronomical.

The federal government has spent an unplanned-for $145 billion in “direct support” to Canadians to get through the COVID-19 crisis and an additional $671 billion in health and safety protective measures and financial supports for businesses and other sectors.

This is on top of federal tax deferrals, credit extensions, and loans that add another $500 billion to the cost of this pandemic.

Have you lost track of how much this is yet? Here’s a hint: more than a trillion.

That’s more than a trillion dollars of unplanned-for spending that Canadian governments found, invented, and borrowed to help Canadians get through a crisis.

Indigenous peoples have been allocated portions. Most well-known is the $305-million Indigenous Community Support Plan but Indigenous businesses and Indigenous health units have also received hundreds of millions in dollars. Just this week, the federal government announced an additional $75 million to support urban and off-reserve Indigenous peoples.

Since September, the federal government has been ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) to compensate First Nations children and parents who experienced discrimination that led to children being removed into the child welfare system $40,000 each.

I won’t rehash my analysis of how little these amounts are but I stand by my previous point that when broken down per community, this amount pays for a couple ventilators, a truckload of masks and sanitizer, and maybe one or two health care workers – that’s it.

That being said, it’s important to give governments credit when they choose to serve people over the bottom line. That’s what governments are for. It’s the right thing to do.

The human thing to do.

So, if money can be found whenever a government deems something important, why won’t Canadian governments pay for what they are legally mandated to do?

See if you can see why.

Since September, the federal government has been ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) to compensate First Nations children and parents who experienced discrimination that led to children being removed into the child welfare system $40,000 each.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring.

“For nearly 14 years the federal government fought every step of the way to not accept responsibility or pay anything and they are still fighting the decision, even during the pandemic,” Cindy Blackstock said in an interview Wednesday. Blackstock, the Assembly of First Nations, and the First Nations Caring Society led the fight at the CHRT, which culminated in the order for compensation last year. “The government finds money when they see something is important, but this isn’t,” Blackstock adds.

At most, the compensation from the legally-mandated CHRT ruling is $8 billion.

Speaking of legal requirements, the federal government announced this week that the national action plan to implement the 231 Calls for Justice following the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry will be delayed indefinitely.

This was the inquiry which famously concluded that Indigenous peoples were experiencing an ongoing “genocide” – a claim Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognized and affirmed.

Last I checked, a genocide breaks laws and should be stopped, legally and ethically.

“For nearly 14 years the federal government fought every step of the way to not accept responsibility or pay anything and they are still fighting the decision, even during the pandemic.”
– Cindy Blackstock

This May 31 will mark one year since the inquiry was completed and the calls were accepted by Canada. Beyond acknowledging genocide, nothing has been implemented.

I wonder what genocide costs.

This is not to forget the December 15, 2015 promise by Trudeau to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action. According to the Assembly of First Nations, over half have never gone beyond the discussion stage.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of basic human rights violated by Canada via the Indian Act and in treatment of First Nations. According to Indigenous Services Canada, 61 communities have long-term drinking water advisories (many scholars claim there are more). While fixing tainted and polluted drinking water has been a federal priority, most advisories have been in place for decades.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Stewart Redsky of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, walks past one week's worth of 20 litre water bottles in the community's water storage room in 2015. According to Indigenous Services Canada, 61 communities have long-term drinking water advisories.

Under international law, water is a human right and, while Canada’s constitution doesn’t specifically mention water, it does recognize a right to “essential public services of reasonable quality.”

This constitutional section also includes adequate health care, roads, and other “essential” infrastructure – all of which is mostly lacking on First Nations.

“Canada has normalized human rights abuses on First Nations and, in turn, many of us have too,” Blackstock says. “Human rights violations are not okay, legal, and should not be normal.”

Which brings me back to the common denominator.

Choice.

Canada doesn’t choose to see compensation, equity, and repairing situations on First Nations as a priority – never mind an emergency. The federal government is even willing to go so far as to ignore human rights, the law, and even basic human decency in making this choice.

The truth is Canada can find the money, the time, and the resources to treat Indigenous peoples equitably and fairly if Canadians and their leaders just choose to.

It just has to be chosen to be seen as an emergency.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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