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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Rocky roads

BY Will Nicholls May 8, 2022

Ever since the existence of hidden gravesites at some former residential schools were discovered, other First Nations have expressed a desire to check for unmarked graves at residential schools their members attended. Using ground-penetrating radar, more sites have been located but there are concerns about the costs.

It goes beyond the cost of the radar and taking care of the many volunteers. Some First Nations pay for mental health support workers because of the trauma triggered by these discoveries. Without additional funds the money is taken from other departments and projects run by band councils. With already tight budgets, sacrifices mean services suffer. One community has spent $100,000 so far and estimates it will take 10 years to complete their search. Federal funding for the searches is only for five years. 

Hopefully the feds will step up to the plate and extend the funding limit and provide support beyond the search itself.

On another topic, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was seen by many First Nations people as a financial lifeline that would make their lives a little easier during the pandemic. However, for many people it appears to be a trap. The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) has sent what it calls “education letters” to 441,599 people who received this aid to say they may not be eligible and might have to pay the money back. 

The Canadian Press looked at where the letters were going, and it appears that a disproportionate number of them went to residents of First Nations communities. Two of the largest Indigenous communities in Manitoba targeted for these letters have high rates of poverty, with annual incomes averaging about $11,900. The national average is $51,000. 

These two communities received almost 5,000 letters from the CRA, and many are worried they will have to repay the CERB benefits. NDP MP Niki Ashton said that it showed a “lack of fairness from the federal government that is extending significant resources and tracking folks down in one of the poorest parts of Canada.”

The CRA argues it must address untaxed income of on-reserve residents. First Nations people were hit the hardest by the pandemic, losing mostly low-paying jobs and their employment rates have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

Looking for assistance from the federal government is an iffy proposition, apparently.

It’s no wonder the National Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations asked the United Nations to investigate Canada’s actions. Unfortunately, the chief is only asking them to investigate Canada’s role in the residential schools. One wonders why it took so long to do this and why just residential schools? 

What about the lack of implementation from the various commissions and reports the feds and provinces have done over the past few decades? Canada said it would cooperate with any UN probe. We can all assume it will be of the nature that they cooperated with the investigations into the residential schools.

And in the end will it really make any difference, beyond a bit of embarrassment for Canada? Indigenous children will still receive less in services than the average Canadian child. Murdered and missing women will still be left in the dark. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will still be unimplemented. And a host of other injustices will continue as usual. 

The road to equality is a rocky one with government bureaucrats and lawyers tossing more sharp rocks that tear at the moccasins of a First Nations person daring to tread that way…

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.