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Then & Now – National Indigenous History Month

June is National Indigenous History Month. The federal government website describes it as “a time for learning about, appreciating and acknowledging the contributions First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have made in shaping Canada.” It must also be a time when we acknowledge that the history of colonization has an enormous, pervasive influence on the present. When settlers pushed Indigenous people onto smaller and smaller portions of land, took away their rights and placed their children in residential schools or with white families, they—we—created trauma that continues to this day and will do so for generations to come.

That reality can’t be denied when you look at the work of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Its gut-wrenching work of truth-gathering resulted in a powerful report released in 2019 that laid out specific calls to justice. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the federal government finally released its national action plan on the issues the inquiry identified. Our local Member of Parliament, Jamie Schmale, is the Conservatives’ critic on Crown-Indigenous relations, and has promised his party will release its own plan.

Indigenous women and girls, trans and two-spirit folks are assaulted and killed at a much higher rate than their proportion of the Canadian population. When they go to hospital, as the case of Joyce Echequan in Quebec showed the rest of us, they often experience discrimination and substandard health care.

Earlier this year, the family of 22-year-old Cileana Taylor of Curve Lake First Nation made the devastating decision to take her off life support. She had been in a coma and on life support for six months. Her boyfriend was charged with aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm. Her story is just one in a much too long list that stretches back through generations of pain.

There finally seems to be an awareness that ending the disproportionate violence against Indigenous women and girls will only happen in conjunction with a wide range of other changes to the way we do things in Canada, from providing clean drinking water, safe housing and good health care in Indigenous communities to preserving and promoting Indigenous language and culture.

In this Indigenous History Month, we can start to do our part by educating ourselves about Canada’s past, how it continues to affect the present, and what we can do to help create a just future where Indigenous women and girls can live in safety.

By Nancy Payne