September 27 2022
We must also make space for Indigenous people in our unions. This includes reevaluating union practices and traditions that might other members, or prevent them from fully participating in the union, or from joining union management as elected officers and members of staff.
Ottawa (27 Sept. 2022) — At its recent Triennial Convention, the National Union of Public and General Employees released a paper called Justice for Indigenous Peoples. Covering topics such as colonization, violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQIA+ people, child welfare, and the justice system, the paper makes linkages between colonial policies and the injustices Indigenous people experience in the present day. The paper concludes by discussing what unions can do to be better allies and partners in reconciliation.
Colonization present in socioeconomic discrepancies
It would be a mistake to claim that there has not been any progress in the standard of living for many Indigenous people in Canada. However, it is also undeniably true that a substantial gap persists between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people with respect to a wide range of socioeconomic factors in Canada. According to a 2011 Fact Sheet by the Assembly of First Nations,
- 1 in 4 children in First Nations communities lives in poverty. That’s almost double the national average.
- The life expectancy of First Nations people is 5 to 7 years less than for non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, and infant mortality rates are 1.5 times higher among First Nations.
- Tuberculosis rates among First Nations people living on a reserve are 31 times the national average.
- A First Nations youth is more likely to end up in jail than to graduate from high school.
- First Nations children, on average, receive 22% less funding for child welfare services than other children in Canada.
- A report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability found that 148 women and girls were killed in Canada in 2018. That’s a rate of one death every 2.5 days. Indigenous women and girls represent about 5% of the population of Canada, but made up 36% of women and girls killed last year.
In addition, we must acknowledge the differences in experience amongst Indigenous peoples. These include the differences in socioeconomic status and living conditions
- among First Nations, Inuit, and Métis,
- between Status and Non-status First Nations people, or
- between those living on a reserve and those living off a reserve, and
- between rural and urban residents.
What can unions do?
NUPGE doesn’t have the solutions to ending systemic racism and colonial policies against Indigenous people. But we and our Components are committed to supporting Indigenous-led initiatives, policies, and organizations that give Indigenous people sovereignty over their own affairs. Part of this commitment is educating non-Indigenous people (particularly white Canadians) on the history of colonization in Canada and how it connects to present inequalities experienced by Indigenous people.
We must also make space for Indigenous people in our unions. This includes reevaluating union practices and traditions that might other members, or prevent them from fully participating in the union, or from joining union management as elected officers and members of staff. We must provide proper education to union staff and elected officers on understanding cultural differences and how to better support Indigenous union members.