Robyn Benson, PSAC

National Aboriginal Day


This past Sunday, members and non-members alike joined together to recognize National Aboriginal Day, taking part in numerous activities over the weekend from coast to coast to coast. My hat is off to the many PSAC Aboriginal Circles. who have showed strong leadership and helped to organize these events.

The day has special and immediate significance this year, as Canadians have received the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and its numerous recommendations to heal the deep wounds caused by the residential school system.

The Commission was established following Prime/Minister Stephen Harper’s apology for that system, where Aboriginal children were seized from their families, forcibly placed in schools far from their homes, and often abused in unspeakable ways, physically and sexually. The aim, not to varnish it, was cultural genocide, to “kill the Indian in the child,” erasing their heritage and their languages. Thousands of children died in those schools, and many were subjected to appalling medical experiments.

Stephen Harper delivered his apology in 2008, seven years ago. Since then, that apology becomes hollower and hollower with each passing week.

  • the Conservative government went to court to deny vital documents to the Truth and Reconcilation Commission, forcing costly legal battles that ended with their release, but too late for them to be fully read and processed by the Commission, under deadline to produce their report.

  • Indigenous children on reserves get a fraction of the social spending that off-reserve children, mostly white, currently receive. A powerful advocate for those children, Cindy Blackstock, has fought for years to achieve equality for them. Her reward was to be spied on and intimidated by Harper government officials. The cost of this legal battle has mounted into the millions as the government continues to fight her every step of the way, on the taxpayers’ dime.

  • Even getting basic education remains an uphill struggle on the reserves. Children on one reserve, Attawapiskat, waited for years to have a proper school built for them. The then Harper minister responsible, Chuck Strahl, shrugged and claimed there was no money for it. It took immense time, effort and energy on the ground to force the government to change its mind. The school was finally opened last year. Why should a basic right like education require more than a decade of struggle to obtain?

  • Canada is now the only country in the entire world that has refused to fully endorse the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

  • The government still stubbornly opposes a national inquiry into the mounting numbers of murdered and missing Aboriginal women.

  • The so-called “Fair Elections Act,” introduced and passed by the Harper government last year, is likely to prevent First Nations people on reserves from even voting in the October election.

What is an apology worth, when the government continues to place obstacle after obstacle in the path of positive change?

Reconciliation? It’s essential. There’s a pressing need for all of us to help release our country from its dark history. National Aboriginal Day, June 21, was a time to rededicate ourselves to that worthy goal. Now, more than ever, is the time for action. In the name of fairness and decency, let’s get on with it.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on June 23, 2015 3:05 PM.

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