Almost half of Indigenous children – about 622,000, according to national statistics – live in poverty in Canada, a new study has found. This is just another example of how natives have suffered and been systematically abused since the first European settlers arrived in what is today Canada in the 1600s.
Unsafe drinking water, youth suicide, and poor medical services on native reserves, discrimination, and incarceration rates that are much higher than for the general population, are all inherent to Indigenous people.
The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls – a national inquiry – in its June report called the treatment of Indians nothing less than Canadian “genocide.” The final report states that from pre-colonial days, the government of Canada embarked on programs aimed to “destroy Indigenous peoples.”
While many Canadians balked at the term genocide, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted the finding, saying, “the tragic violence that Indigenous women and girls have experienced amounts to genocide.” The report also states: “The Canadian state was founded on colonial genocidal policies that are inextricably linked to Canada’s contemporary relationship with Indigenous peoples.”
It is hard to argue against that conclusion. In the province of Nova Scotia in the 1750s, a bounty was offered on scalps of the Mi’Kmaq tribe – men, women and children. In Newfoundland, the Beothuk Indians were hunted to extinction, and food was withheld from Plains Indians in the 1870s to clear the path for the Canadian Pacific Railway across Canada’s west to the Pacific.
But perhaps the most shameful abuses were the indifference to thousands of missing and murdered aboriginal girls and women and the creation of residential schools.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in 2014 that there were 1017 homicides of Indigenous women between 1980 and 2012. The Canadian government-created National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls that began studying the issue in September 2016 said the number was much higher. Some groups placed the figure as high as 4000. It also found that law authorities tended to give less attention to cases involving murdered and disappeared native women.
The homicide rate for Indigenous females was six times higher than that of non-indigenous women between 2011 and 2015, Statistics Canada reported. While the inquiry made authorities more aware of the problem and police forces vowed to look closer at the cases, the violence has not ended.
“I can tell you it’s still happening, and it doesn’t seem like it’s slowing down in any capacity,” said Kristen Gilchrist-Salles, a researcher with the grassroots organization Families of Sisters of Spirit. The group found that at least 130 Indigenous women and girls were homicide victims between 2016 and 2019.
The other shameful government action was to try to stamp out Native culture through residential schools. Beginning in the 1880s, Indigenous children were taken from families, by duress if necessary, and forced into schools run by Catholic, Anglican, United and other churches, and funded by the government.
The idea was to drive the Indigenous culture to extinction – the inquiry said that children faced “starvation, deliberate infection of diseases, beatings, torture, rape, solitary confinement, assaults and ill-treatment.”
About 150,000 First Nation, Inuit (far north natives) and Metis (mixed Indigenous and European) children were removed from their families and inserted into about 80 schools situated in various parts of Canada. The last school closed in 1996, a mere 23 years ago.
The government agreed to a $1.9 billion (CAN) compensation package to residential school students who were still alive as of May 30, 2005 – $10,000 for the first year they attended the schools, and $3,000 for every year thereafter. It will not erase the wounds. The new study on Indigenous child poverty shows that conditions need to change, but the study did not address how, rather it highlighted the problem.
“It is time to officially acknowledge that poverty exists on reserves and in the (Canadian) territories,” the study says. “The causes of poverty among Indigenous Peoples are varied. Solutions must address this complexity. A necessary first step requires a clear set of goals with transparent criteria.”