National Aboriginal Day: A time for Canadians to join together with Indigenous peoples in their fight for respect, dignity and equality

“We are facing a crisis when it comes to how Indigenous peoples in this country are treated and nowhere is this more evident than the way the federal Government is racially discriminating against indigenous children.” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Ottawa (21 June 2017) – The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) encourages all members to join with Indigenous peoples in Canada in celebrating National Aboriginal Day on June 21. There are 3 main groups that compose the Indigenous population of about 1.4 million across Canada: First Nations, Métis and Inuit — each having distinct heritage, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

Working for respect, dignity and equality for Indigenous peoples in Canada, the main thrust of National Aboriginal Day

First proclaimed by Canada’s Governor General in 1996, National Aboriginal Day provides an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the unique heritage, traditions and contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit. June 21 was chosen as National Aboriginal Day because it is also the summer solstice — the longest day of the year — a day on which many generations of Indigenous peoples have celebrated their culture and heritage.

Larry Brown, NUPGE President, says the day is also a time when we can join together with our Indigenous sisters and brothers in their ongoing fight for respect, dignity and equality.

The federal government’s racist discrimination: Human Rights Tribunal

“We are facing a crisis when it comes to how Indigenous peoples in this country are treated,” said Brown, “and nowhere is this more evident than in the way the federal government is racially discriminating against indigenous children.”

In a landmark January 2016 ruling, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the federal government racially discriminates against indigenous children on reserves “by providing inequitable and insufficient” child and family services compared to the level of services that exist elsewhere across Canada.

The ruling came a decade after the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society took Canada to court because of the under-funding of child welfare on reserves.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, along with the Assembly of First Nations, filed a complaint against Ottawa with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in February 2007. NUPGE and its Components assisted with the human rights complaint.

Despite the ruling, the federal government has failed to act, and so the tribunal has issued 3 compliance orders to the federal government.

"Canada is saying it's above the law, it doesn't owe First Nations children equality in this country. I think it's a sad day for the nation," said Cindy Blackstock.

In 2016, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society estimated that it would take $216 million just to tackle the shortfall in Indigenous child welfare across the country. That same year, the Liberals offered $634 million — spread out over 5 years. They earmarked just $71 million in 2016 and $99 million for 2017.

That discrimination continues today.

Blackstock said the 2017 federal budget offered nothing more.

"Nothing in there despite three legal orders for the government of Canada to comply and make sure that this generation of First Nations children isn't unnecessarily removed from their families because of Canada's inequitable funding," Blackstock said.  "That discrimination continues today."

Creation of statutory holiday

The National Union is also supporting a private member’s bill sponsored by MPP Teresa Armstrong (London-Fanshawe) to designate June 21 of each year as a legal statutory holiday to be kept and observed throughout Ontario. It’s a day to honour and show respect for Indigenous cultures in Canada. As called for in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #92, it can be an opportunity to “provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboringal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations."

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. ~ NUPGE