Colonialism, strong and free in Attawapiskat

The grim spectre of colonialism continues to cling onto first nation reserves like Attawapiskat, across Canada.

It continues to thrive in the contaminated drinking water and in the rotting, overcrowded and mold-infested homes, and the single shrinking schoolhouse meant to educate hundreds of children in Attawapiskat.

Most recently, the gruesome effects of the colonial narrative have been personified in the attempted suicides of 11 people at the northern Ontario reserve, this past Saturday alone.

There are reports that over 100 people have attempted to take their own lives in the last seven months in Attawapiskat, a community of 1,900 persons.

It is no wonder that the combination of isolation and substandard living conditions could cause the kind of misery able to push large numbers of people to the edge.

This was not the first time a state of emergency was declared by a chief of Attawapiskat and it sadly will not be the last.

The pathetic living conditions on the James Bay reserve pushed Theresa Spence, the former chief of Attawapiskat to go on a hunger strike where she subsisted only on liquids in 2012.

Spence said she was prepared to die if the former prime minister, Stephen Harper did not agree to meet with chiefs and discuss the deplorable living conditions on First Nations reserves.

Spence’s hunger strike was met with a deafening silence by the Canadian government.

Harper’s muted response to the plight of Attawapiskat was not unique but rather perpetuated the Canadian government’s long held tradition of negligence towards First Nations.

And it only presists.

In the midst of the crisis in Attawapiskat, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was too bogged down by book launches of former party members and making arms deals with one of the world’s most notorious human rights violators to make an appearance at the emergency House of Commons debate on the issues plaguing Attawapiskat.

The negligence continues, Mr. Trudeau and so does the violence of colonialism as it has worked through the years to erase First Nations lives and their culture, leaving disfigured cultural identities, abused minds and bodies in its wake.

Colonialism is far from dead. The continued existence of the Indian Act is evidence of this.

The perpetual mistreatment of First Nations has effectively carved out a silent caste in Canadian society, which most Canadians will outright deny exists.

As Canadians we should look into the dark and uncomfortable elements that make up our national identity.

One of these things is our dependency on the oppression of First Nations to legitimize the Canadian government’s claim to Aboriginal land.

If not, why do we continue to leave Aboriginals in largely isolated locations with minimal resources? Why hasn’t there been sufficient funding committed to the growth of First Nations communities? Is it too much to ask that aboriginal children have proper access to education and counseling? Why is the most recent photo taken of Attawapiskat dated from 2012?

How else can you explain that Attawapiskat, a community in Ontario was forced to campaign and crowd fund to be able to afford to build a school to educate its children?

There are times when doing nothing can have far more nefarious implications on the lives of human beings.

Many Canadians will feign ignorance on the subject of Aboriginal rights in Canada and the extent to which First Nations peoples are abused and mistreated by the state.

History shows us that First Nations have never held social citizenship in Canada.

If you don’t have that, what do you have? What rights, what value can you have in the country that you live in?

And then there is the case of Canadians that are vaguely versed on the politics of Aboriginal affairs who maintain that the situation is complex and cannot be fixed so easily.

They cite various issues of state interference but disregard the blatant cries for help by First Nations leaders and members of their communities.

The truth is, there is a relatively easy fix to alleviating the disturbing living conditions of First Nations and in particular, Attawapiskat, which would also defuse the alarming numbers of attempted suicides.

Step one: Strike down the Indian Act.

Step two: Build homes that do not rot with mold that might well pose more of a health threat than living outside, in absence of shelter.

Step three: Build schools (yes, plural) to educate the hundreds of children living in Attawapiskat.

Step four: Build up to date, modern health facilities where both the health of bodies and minds can be addressed.

These are not revolutionary ideals. They are just plain common sense.

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