Canada’s federal election campaign was out of step with reality as soon as it began.
If you turned on the news in the past couple weeks, you’ve seen slick images of leaders travelling around the country in planes and colourful buses, giving their soundbites to make promises that will inevitably be broken.
This, however, is what has defined my past couple weeks: On Aug. 17, a 20-year-old youth died in Wunnumin Lake First Nation, an Oji-Cree community 360 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout, Ont., after he fell more than 300 feet from atop a communications tower.
Horrified community members watched from below, including one of his cousins, a 25-year-old man. Unspeakably, that cousin died by suicide the very next day.
Meanwhile, a Wunnumin Elder passed away in a long-term care facility in Thunder Bay, but the Nation said that no one from his family was notified of his passing until many hours later. That meant he died alone, displaced from where his friends and family live because there is no appropriate long-term care housing and support in the community.
That marks three deaths in 36 hours, in a community of fewer than 700 people. That marks another First Nation community in crisis, crying out for any kind of mental-health support to handle the psychological trauma of what has just occurred – again.
How many times have Indigenous peoples been forced to beg for assistance or notice from politicians and bureaucrats who hold the purse strings and decision-making power over Indigenous bodies and minds?
I can immediately think of the case of Wapekeka First Nation, where the deaths of two young girls by suicide in January, 2017, sent the small community into a tailspin. They asked for help from Health Canada – only to be told that it was an “awkward time” in the federal funding cycle.
And lest we forget the issue that was apparently, not so long ago, at the forefront in Canada: the near daily discoveries of Indigenous children’s bodies in unmarked graves near Indian residential schools, with searches continuing at more than 140 sites.
Our lost children and the wicked fallout from the country’s foundational policies of extermination should be the first and last issue every single leader tackles in this election. Why are we no longer talking about them?
If you do not think the suicide crisis plaguing our communities is linked to residential schools, then you have not been listening. The federal government’s policies led to the confinement of children and in many cases their spiritual or bodily deaths. Families were ripped apart. The fallout is all around us and Canada has yet to truly tackle it.
“It is unfortunate that work on the many issues facing our communities is on hold during this election campaign,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s newly elected Grand Chief Derek Fox, who represents Wunnumin as a Treaty 9 community. “First Nations people continue to suffer, and we look forward to hearing more from federal leadership candidates on their plans to fix these issues.”
Once again, the urgent reality of Indigenous inequity in this land of plenty is not the main focus of a federal election campaign – one that no one wanted, in the heat of summer, as a variant of COVID-19 spreads and wildfires continue to burn in the West.
I will never understand why those who purport to lead this country fail to look clearly at the reality of genocide and confront it head-on. Why won’t they visit the communities, such as Neskantaga First Nation, where there hasn’t been clean water for 26 years? The only Leader to do this, so far, is the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh.
Every time a crisis happens, says Wunnumin Deputy Chief Dean Cromarty, communities from coast to coast to coast are left with no other option but to cry out because there are no permanent solutions. “We always have crisis upon crisis, not just in Wunnumin but in all remote Northern communities. When this happened, there was no permanent or dedicated government support to help us in these times,” Mr. Cromarty said.
Front-line workers have helped more than 100 people so far in Wunnumin, and the First Nation’s leaders are trying to do all they can to stabilize the situation there. But that is difficult when there are not enough nurses, no doctors nor specialists.
“We need a revenue source put in place rather than crying out every time. That should not happen,” Mr. Cromarty said.
Canadian leaders: Speak the word genocide and confront it. There can be no false promises of reconciliation before the work of accepting the truth begins. And an election campaign that doesn’t address these issues is no campaign at all.
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