Gross inequality is
a fact of Canadian life
I would like to take some time to reflect on my connection to my mother’s birth nation of South Africa.
My mother’s family fled apartheid when she was 11 years old. I have been back once, when I was 17, 10 years after the horrors that apartheid ended.
I have, however, had the opportunity to witness the disparity still impacting aboriginal communities, especially now as I work for a First Nation government. As a young child, the elders in Sto:lo traditional territory where I grew up would take the time to come to our school and teach us. They would tell us Creator stories, teach us how to make button blankets in the Coast Salish tradition and sing us songs.
The beat of those large coastal skin drums still rings in my heart. Although there were no visible First Nation children in our school, I knew about the long house, but I didn’t realize the long and terrible history behind those kind elders’ smiles.
When driving into Calgary from Vancouver, you pass through a reserve called Stoney Creek and it’s like entering a third-world country. It never even occurred to me that people would live in houses as decrepit as what you can see from the highway.
As a wealthy, young city, Calgary shows all the promise and opportunity that Canada has to offer: big trucks, skyscrapers and bright lights. But it also clearly demonstrates the wealth disparity that exists between those with “white” privilege and those who were deemed wards of the state under the Indian Act.
As a coloured woman, I have experienced a far more privileged life than my mother before me. Here in Canada, it is illegal for me to be discriminated against based on my sex or the colour of my skin. I walk into whatever restaurant I please and expect to receive the same level of service as all of my friends. But this reality does not exist for all citizens of Canada.
I cannot list all of the reasons I feel this is true, but I will mention a few. The existence of a piece of race-based legislation such as the Indian Act is the first piece of evidence. The Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples says aboriginal children on reserve receive $2,000 less per year than those in the public school system among many other disparities. The horrors of residential schools are too many and devastating to properly give credit to.
Nelson Mandela’s work was not done. I personally witnessed the wealth disparity that still exists between white and coloured districts in Cape Town. The multi-generational effects of racism and oppression are clear in the high prevalence of violent crime. It will take time for wounds to heal and equality to prevail. The truth and reconciliation process, in both Canada and South Africa, is only the first step.
The mechanisms by which oppression continues for aboriginal communities in Canada and marginalized populations worldwide are pervasive and complex. There aren’t any easy answers for how natural resource development contracts could mitigate negative impacts and proceed only for the benefit of local communities, or how legislative and regulatory regimes could serve to protect citizens from corporate greed, but there are many ways we could work towards a fairer future. It is time for resource projects to be developed for the benefit of those who will be most impacted.
Manager of Lands and Resources
Liard First Nation