Canadians Aren’t “Checking In” for First Nations at Home

Following the inauguration of President Trump, millions of folks from all walks of life took to the streets around the world for Women’s March on Washington. The show of solidarity was heartwarming and powerful, but also highlighted the dark realities of past and present mainstream feminist movements. Women of colour, Indigenous women, trans folks, Muslims, Sikhs and other visible minorities continue to be disproportionately affected by gender-related forms of violence. In Canada. In 2017.

The election of Donald Trump shocked and horrified many of us north of the 49th parallel. But as a white feminist I can’t help but feel extreme shame for our collective failure to stand  in solidarity with many  of our sisters. White feminists have many times played an active role in the oppression of women of colour. The history of voting in Canada is painfully emblematic of this reality: white women won the right to vote in 1916 while Indigenous women remained disenfranchised until 1960.

We cannot feign outrage for Trump’s banal sexism while accepting that Indigenous girls consistently miss school because they lack access to menstrual supplies. Or continue to accept as a sad reality the horrifically high rates of violence and sexual abuse on reserves, which I discuss below. Are we starting to feel awkward yet? Trudeau’s Liberals cited an “awkward time” in denying mental health funding for the Wapekeka First Nation in northern Ontario resulting in the suicides of 12-year-olds Jolynn Winter and Chantel Fox. Even as we celebrate the success of yesterday’s women’s march in Vancouver, it has come to light that organizers failed to include anyone from the Vancouver chapter of Black Lives Matter.

As white women we must do better. To deny that feminism is inherently intersectional is to be complicit in the continuance of white supremacy in the West. It can be painful and uncomfortable to confront the privilege we enjoy but failing to do so is exponentially more harmful in the end. Without this introspection and subsequent action to remedy the harms we have perpetuated, even unintentionally, in our own lives the policies we craft we continue to be infused with the same oppressive structures of the past and present. Let us stand together as feminists rather than be divided by the thorns of a racist patriarchy.

As we take this stand, let us remember that intersectionality is not easy and it involves confronting our own place in the world. One way we Canadians must reflect is on relations between our immigrant citizens and aboriginal peoples.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to block the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota has been big news in Canada, second only to the insanity that is this year’s Presidential Election. But as Canadians express an outpouring of support and solidarity on social media we forgot something critical – the practically identical struggles that Aboriginal people in Canada are facing against harmful energy infrastructure projects backed by successive federal governments. They say that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy – the effects of which are arguably more insidious than outright animosity.

Northern Gateway. Energy East. Keystone XL. Trans Mountain. The Site C Dam.

The names are familiar and the opposition to their approval by Indigenous groups is all but unanimous. But while PM Trudeau campaigned on a platform of reconciliation and building a renewed nation-to-nation relationship “based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation and partnership”, one year later his government apparently no longer believes in the need to obtain “free prior and informed consent” before proceeding with major resource development projects.

This stark about-face, delivered by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, is not only alarming because it is a  direct contradiction to Supreme Court rulings requiring consent when issues impact First Nations’ rights, title and territory. It also flies in the face of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the ratification of which was a key component in Trudeau’s campaign platform. And it ignores the critical threat to indigenous women and girls posed by extensive and intensive resource development, as outlined by Amnesty International.

What is most jarring in the wake of Carr’s announcement is the lack of widespread outrage among Canadians. Where is the outpouring of solidarity for Canadian First Nations? Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said Canada could face “20 Standing Rocks” in response to this reversal of policy, but I’m not so sure.

The mainstreaming of Aboriginal issues in Canadian society has gathered momentum in recent years as people become increasingly aware of the extreme systematic oppression perpetuated by the state for the duration of our nearly 150-year history.

We were disturbed by the widespread abuses perpetrated against Aboriginal children within the residential school system. We were shocked that a serial killer could operate undetected in one of Canada’s major cities for the better part of a decade, preying on Indigenous women who were forgotten by society. We were horrified by the brutal murder of Tina Fontaine and the subsequent refusal of our government to acknowledge a nation-wide crisis.

Yet we reserve our current outrage for a foreign government perpetrating violence against a First Nation in another country.

We have made important fundamental advances by enacting legislation to redress historical harms and electing a government that promised to embrace the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action. But we are at a critical juncture as a society as our government unabashedly disregards domestic and international law as well as its own explicitly-stated promises on which we elected them. Now, more than ever, non-Aboriginal Canadians need to be unwavering in our support for the legitimate human and environmental grievances raised by Indigenous peoples – both abroad and at home.

Written by: Amelia Duggan

Amelia was born and raised in Vancouver, but has also spent time living abroad in London, UK, and is fluent in both of Canada’s official languages. Amelia graduated from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science before pursuing her studies at UBC. Her academic pursuits as well as her extended experience as a volunteer at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre instilled in Amelia a strong desire to further examine the complex power structures that produce disproportionate levels of poverty, violence, disease and other threats to human security among vulnerable populations. In addition to the intrinsic value of tackling these policy issues locally, Amelia is interested in extrapolating their findings to address global policy issues of human rights, power asymmetries and migration.