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opinion

Susan Bardy is a member of the Tyendinaga Mohawks of Bay of Quinte Territory, Ont.

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"Why don't they just move?" That's what many Canadians, including former prime minister Jean Chrétien, are asking when they read about people like me. Indigenous, living on the land, our home. International attention is on the crisis in Attawapiskat, Ont., a native community just like the one I live in, and more and more Canadians are asking why those in indigenous communities don't leave.

The aboriginal communities certainly have issues, and we need help and we need understanding in addressing those issues. But we do not need to be asked to move. The issues we face aren't the fault of the land. I don't believe that leaving would cure the depression or mental illness that is so prominent in our community. Asking indigenous people to move shifts blame unfairly onto our people.

How about asking yourself if you would leave your home, your land, which you grew up on, land that was walked upon not only by your grandparents but also your ancestors from 140 years ago? This is sacred land where brothers became men and fathers, sisters became women and mothers, land used for ceremonies honouring the sun, moon, earth and Creator.

It's a disrespectful question accompanied by racist, narrow views.

I refuse to leave because that would mean leaving my culture, and traditions, my family and friends. Our society is so peaceful. We are at peace with nature, and there is great hunting and fishing where we live. When someone grows up in a rural area, it is difficult to adapt to living in a city that is loud and crowded. Believe me, I've tried – I ran back so fast, I could have broken the sound barrier.

Last year, I left. I went to Hamilton, Ont., because I was getting cabin fever and feeling anxious. I could sense, within me, a deep desperation and anger. I believed, incorrectly, that leaving would make me less anxious. Just the opposite happened: My anxiety went through the roof. I didn't last a month. City life was too crowded for me. It was spring, I could almost smell the flowers back home, and all I saw around me were buildings and cars and unrecognizable strangers. And it was spring: A time of great beauty at home. It was almost time to go fishing.

I came back quickly, and my mind was at ease. I learned then that these issues my people face is not about changing physical location, about leaving what we love, but about bettering our situations – politically, financially, emotionally, mentally. We need to feel supported by our fellow Canadians.

What Canadians should be asking are more serious questions, such as: Why wasn't any action taken earlier? Why start paying attention only now, since the suicides of First Nations peoples have been happening for at least 25 years all across Turtle Island?

Or: Why have we all tolerated such inexcusable health care in our country? Or: Why do some communities not have a school; or why do their children have to travel long distances, some having to stay in the city, to receive an education? Parents are panic-stricken every day living with the fear of their children not making it back home from school.

Another reason people don't want to leave? Our brothers and sisters might not come back, hearing all about our missing and murdered.

Indigenous peoples are still trying to heal from the forced leaving: Being taken from their parents, culture and traditions, then forced to go to residential boarding schools and to endure horrible abuse. It should be no wonder why leaving our homes isn't an option.

We live in Canada, not a developing country. People need to start treating one another with compassion, understanding and more love. Indigenous people of Canada have had decades living with oppression. The hate needs to stop. And that includes the unfair stereotypes endured by indigenous peoples. Stop judging and come together to rally around us.

If you want to see for yourself I propose coming to one of the native territories – Attawapiskat, James Bay, Pimicikamak, Cross Lake – to stay for a week. You'd be welcomed with open arms, and perhaps you'd feel the same peace that I do.

The next time you hug and kiss those you love most, stop to think about all the heartache and pain indigenous peoples have gone through. Imagine if they were your loved ones, and you will hold them a little closer – not ask them to leave.