“This National Indigenous Peoples Day, in the midst of protests by social movements around the world, we must work even harder with our allies to ensure our Indigenous sisters and brothers enjoy the equity and social justice we continue to strive for.” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (21 June 2020) — In 1996, Canada's governor general proclaimed June 21 as National Aboriginal Day. Recent federal governments have signalled a new opening towards reconciliation, but there has been little concrete action. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) believes that action is the test of true commitment and must be the standard by which we judge ourselves. Hundreds of years of oppression cannot be undone, this is the truth. Still, we must take responsibility and resolve through deed to do better so that we do not continue to live in the injustice of the past.
“I am encouraging our 390,000 members across the country, and all Canadians, to reflect on the issues of systemic racism and abuses. The past weeks of global protest sparked by historic oppression compels us to recommit to combating continuing acts of oppression and racism. In Canada, we must seek reconciliation for acts historic and modern. This means demanding action for governments and even from each other to move forward”, said President Brown.
Racism against Indigenous people is not a relic of the past
When talking about anti-Indigenous racism, it's important to recognize past offences, but also the ways our present-day society is racist towards Indigenous people. Reported by The Globe and Mail, from April 2020 to the present, 6 Indigenous people have been killed by police in Canada. Chantel Moore, a young woman from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, was shot five times by a police officer during a routine wellness check in New Brunswick. The involvement of the Toronto police in death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a black Indigenous woman, is currently under investigation by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit. The Globe and Mail recently reported that, "more than a third of people shot to death by RCMP officers between 2007 and 2017 were Indigenous, despite Indigenous people only making up 5 per cent of the population."
Racism exists in Canada and it exists structurally within our society. It infects our institutions and undermines any aspiration toward equity of opportunity. It shows up in our all facets of life. It impacts those who interact with our criminal justice system, in seeking employment, in our education system, even in health care; the weight of racism and inequality continues to be a stain on our society.
“Canadians must bear witness to our history and legacy on race and oppression. We must all begin by challenging ourselves and each other to do better and by insisting our institutions take action to overturn the impacts of current and past racism,” said President Brown.
From protest to action
It is not enough to acknowledge and celebrate the unique heritage, traditions and contributions of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. Recognition is the first step, but action is the test of our commitment and the test of action is that governments invest in equity and take action to address inequality and the barriers that continue to exist. Today, in the midst of unprecedented global awareness about systemic racism, Canada must address these historic and ongoing wrongs.
The recent wrongs can propel change
The recent rise in awareness on issues of race and oppression are just the most recent in a long list of recent red flags. The US President has engaged in overt attacks on migrants, going as far as to place families and children in cages without adequate care. Killings of people of colour in the US, especially black people, have further highlighted the role race plays in law enforcement and criminal justice. The RCMP and our governments ignored the Supreme Court's ruling on the rights of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and occupied traditional land to facilitate the construction of a pipeline which the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs opposed. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls both outlined the brutal history of abuse and injustice borne by Indigenous peoples in Canada. From residential schools to the 60’s Scoop to the ongoing violation of treaties, Canada has a long and sordid history to atone for. These recent wrongs also clearly provide us the opportunity to choose a new path towards justice and equity but it requires strong leadership and effort.
Structural racism requires a structural solution
We can no longer deny the harm of racism or that we have allowed structural racism to become embedded in our institutions and governance. As public servants, our members deal with the fallout of the long history of failed government policy and associated injustice. Real people are impacted by the past and current situation. The future does not need to follow these past wrongs, but the path of structural racism will require structural solutions to allow change. This means taking a very hard look at our institutions and doing things like following the Canadian Human Right Tribunal ruling which called on Canada to treat First Nations children on reserve with the same care as given to other children. We must follow these basic elements of justice such as treating children equitably before we can move forward. We can and must do better and NUPGE is committed to continuing to stand with our Indigenous sisters and brothers.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 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