STATEMENT FROM FORT ALBANY FIRST NATION ON SYSTEMIC RACISM IN CANADA
June 12, 2020
We are an Omushkego First Nation located on the west coast of James Bay (Weeneebako). Our homelands stretch across the muskeg of what is now called northern Ontario.
On June 8, 2020 the Chiefs of Mushkegowuk Council, which includes Fort Albany First Nation, released a statement on systemic racism, following on recent weeks of heightened racial turmoil and statements from some Canadian leaders questioning the existence and severity of systemic racism in Canada. In that statement, the Chiefs confirmed the systemic racism we experience every day in our own communities and homelands.
It is bitterly painful for Fort Albany First Nation to see people with power and influence suggest that systemic discrimination is not a serious problem in Canada.
It is painful because we live in the shadow of the notorious St. Anne’s Residential School, to which many of our people were taken away as children to be neglected, abused, tortured, denied their culture, and even killed. We have many living members who attended there, and we believe there are still unmarked graves in our community that hold the remains of others who did not survive their time there. We know that the memories and impacts of this school still haunt our whole Nation. This legacy is the product of systemic racism.
It is painful because of the wounds of our Indian Day School survivors are being ripped open right now, as they are forced to revisit their experiences in order to receive settlement funds. Our members who were harmed by the Sixties Scoop, Indian Hospitals, and other racist practices and institutions carry their own wounds too. These traumas carried by entire generations of our people is a product of systemic racism.
It is painful because we have overwhelming problems with drugs and alcohol in our community, which are directly tied to the impacts of these schools and so many other racist policies and actions that have hurt our people’s lives. For years we have been calling for help, including funding for an in-community, culturally appropriate healing center. Last year we declared a state of emergency, which remains in place. These problems and the lack of serious commitment to helping us deal with them are symptoms of systemic racism.
It is painful because this lack of equitable infrastructure and resources in our community has been made even clearer by the Covid-19 pandemic. Our people protected one another by leaving our overcrowded reserve and moving to harvester camps throughout our territory. We are grateful that our culture provides us with this resilience, and for many of us it is a joy to spend time on the land. But it is not right that this costly and disruptive step was our only safe option because our living conditions make us so vulnerable to the spread of disease. Many in Canada talk about a “return to normal” after Covid-19. Our normal is systemic racism.
It is painful because we are told that Covid-19 is the reason that the Canada has not yet delivered a national action plan to implement the Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released over a year ago - calls that are meant to address an ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples. Many of these calls have already sat on shelves for years in other reports. Yet Covid-19 has not stopped the steady march of assessment processes for major projects on Indigenous peoples’ lands at a moment when our Nations are especially unable to engage - projects that often lead to increased violence against Indigenous women and girls. These priorities reflect systemic racism.
It is painful because the assessment and approval processes for these major projects pay lip service to our inherent, Aboriginal, and treaty rights, but remain grounded in colonial values and imposed timelines, disregard for our right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, and tell the demeaning lie that the Crown has rightful authority over our Nation and lands. It is through various versions of these processes that the Crown has already allowed the pollution, diversion, and extraction of our resources without our consent for decades, and may soon allow our homelands to be changed forever by opening up the Ring of Fire through a strategy of patchworked project approvals and divide-and-conquer tactics between the surrounding First Nations. These processes perpetuate systemic racism.
It is painful because our people have to leave their homes and community and go south to cities to access the education, healthcare, and other services and opportunities not available to them here. When they go, they often experience discrimination. The 2018 deaths of our community members Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland in Timmins show that this discrimination can be fatal. Their lives and deaths were marked by systemic racism.
It is painful because when Indigenous people are harmed, we often see no accountability or justice. The Ontario Court of Appeal’s recent decision to allow extreme intoxication as a defence for acts of violence, including assault and sexual assault, has special significance for Indigenous people given the frequent relationship between intoxication and violence committed against us. While we understand that this issue is complicated - and know well the discriminatory impacts of overzealous criminal law approaches - we are disproportionately impacted by almost any gaps in protection for victims of violence. The failure of Canadian law to find just and restorative ways of addressing this vulnerability is a form of systemic racism.
And it is painful - exceptionally so - to see the recent questioning of whether systemic racism exists in Canadian police forces. The history of Canadian policing is inseparable from the oppression of Indigenous people, through the theft of our children, lands, cultures, freedom, rights, dignity, and lives. The recent days’ stories of violence against Chief Allan Adam and Freda Courtoreille in Alberta, Chantel Moore in New Brunswick, and the Inuk man in Nunavut who was struck by the door of a moving police vehicle all remind us of this. Further, as Senator Murray Sinclair has explained, the police system is founded on racist beliefs, attitudes, and policies - addressing the brutality itself is not enough. We stand with all of those calling for justice and change in policing, including the Black community which has also been at the frontlines of this struggle. Canadian policing is a form of systemic racism.
For these and many other reasons, we know that systemic racism in Canada is real and serious. We call on all Canadians to acknowledge this fact, and move away from denial and toward just and lasting solutions that respect our rights as a Nation and treaty partner.
All my relations,
Chief Leo Metatawabin
Download Statement here