Thank you, Mr. Chair, and honourable members.
My agency represents an urban population in metro Vancouver, which is estimated to be about 70,000 indigenous people. We believe and most people believe that indigenous people have experienced systemic and government-sanctioned racism for hundreds of years. The residential school system wasn't really about educating. It was about Christianity conversion and taking the Indian out of the Indian.
When we're speaking to these historical influences, many people wrongly think we're talking about first contact when, in fact, we're talking about more current realities. I'm coming up to 56 years old in December, and it has been within my lifetime that I've experienced certain things. For example, the right for first nations to vote came in only about two years before I was born. The Davis Inlet Innu, for example, were relocated during my lifetime. These forced relocations are examples of how government-sanctioned racism occurred. So we're not really talking about hundreds and hundreds of years ago. We're talking about now, even though things started back then.
Recently we've been hearing a lot about historical name changes. For example, in Halifax they want to take down the Cornwallis statue, and there has been talk about changing some schools that have Sir John A. Macdonald's name on them. For those who don't know, Cornwallis was not a good person. He issued bounties on the heads of Mi'kmaq people. When we talk about trying to change these names, we need to ask what purpose doing that serves.
In my opinion, two things need to happen when we're looking at that. The first is a locally driven response. An example is that in Vancouver, there's an aboriginal focus school ironically named after Sir John A. Macdonald. The local community wants to change that to an indigenous name, and there's no major opposition to that. If a local community wants to make that change, and there's no major discord, then I think that's one thing we need to look at.
The second, though, I think is an opportunity for us to educate about those impacts. For example, rather than taking down Cornwallis' statue, why don't we have a plaque there that educates about that era and the impacts and the views that were held, and that says we don't agree with those things anymore? I think that would serve a better purpose than just trying to erase history.
I think a lot of Canadians think that we somehow were defeated in war as indigenous people, yet if you know your history, you know that Canada was formed largely because of treaties. You guys wanted to put a railway across the country to stop the Americans from moving up, and so you formed treaties. I think sometimes people think we were beat or defeated in war, and we should just take our lumps of coal, but I don't think that's the answer. We need to teach history in a proper context.
I think there's extreme polarization going on right now, and it's something I haven't seen in a long time. When I grew up in New Brunswick, there were segregated schools. It seemed like the English and the French couldn't get along, so at the school I went to there was an invisible line. French were on one side and the English were on the other. Because my community spoke English, we got lumped in with the English. Honestly, there were days when it seemed as though we were like rabbits being chased around by hound dogs, because people were bullying us. My reserve currently has only about 200 registered band members, but when I was growing up it was quite a bit smaller. Going to school there might have been four or five of us, and so we would be chased around.
I think that kind of polarization, with everybody in their own corners and not really wanting to get along, I'm seeing again today. I don't think it's so much about the Trump effect. I think it's more that there are enough people who think that way to elect someone like that. Those reality shows that have been out there have had that impact of slowly eroding away a certain morale or public standard. Social media, which I like to call anti-social media, also puts people in corners. There's a tendency that if you are friends with certain people who share your values, then you tend to see only those kinds of opinions, and so people are becoming more segregated in that way.
Fake news pops up every now and then, including on social media. One of them is about how new immigrants coming to Canada are paid these Treasury Board rates that are common for public servants or people who are travelling on government business, thinking they're making way more than people who grew up here and are on old age security or disability, that type of thing. When that polarization occurs, then I think those kinds of things have more opportunity to take hold. I think the Canadian government, regardless of who is governing, needs to play that leadership role and really make explicit efforts to educate people and bridge those divides.
An example in the United States is the trans people who were told not to use certain washrooms. Here in Canada I see signs going up saying “All genders welcome”. That's the Canadian way, where we are more embracing of differences. Even though racism does exist, we are generally not the same as our neighbours down south. We see these neo-Nazi or fascist rallies going on, and yes, people have a right to assemble and to voice their opinions. We do have laws that protect people against hatred, and we're seeing the counter. In Vancouver there was a rally, and there were literally thousands of people who spoke up to say they didn't accept this kind of hatred. We had a few hundred people who showed up to express their views, and we had thousands of people who opposed that.
I think Vancouver is a shining example of leadership at the civic level, where they have endorsed the principle and name themselves the city of reconciliation. They have gone out of their way to show that indigenous people within that area have a place. This racism discussion also needs to include a discussion about perceived racism. Indigenous people are overrepresented in almost every negative health and social indicator in this country, whether it's homelessness or substance use or children-in-care rates, incarceration, you name it. What comes with that sometimes is stigma and discrimination, where people think we are the architects of our own problems, that if only we'd get a job and pay taxes, then we'd be okay.
There are two papers in my references that talk about racism within the health care system. One was done by the Wellesley Institute and another by The College of Family Physicians of Canada. Perhaps you don't think racism exists. When those reports came out, if you look at the comments section on those posts, you see the racism was blatant. Sadly, this stuff does exist. We hear stories and stories, whether it's Frank Paul, who died from hypothermia in 1998, in Vancouver; Adam Capay, the young first nations' person who's been in solitary confinement for four years; Curtis Brick, who was taunted by first responders in Vancouver before he died of extreme heat; Barbara Kentner, the young woman in the Thunder Bay area who died after being hit by a trailer hitch.
When Barbara Kentner was hit by a trailer hitch, for us as indigenous people, we see that as racism. Somebody did that because she was an indigenous woman, but we know in law it's harder to prove that, so the man was charged with something else. The woman has since died.
Perceived racism has eroded our confidence in the system over hundreds of years. An example that these things still live with us is that in the Atlantic, people still commonly refer to social assistance cheques as rations, which is what Innu nations used to give out. They talked of it as their ration cheque. These things stay with us as part of our psyche.
In closing, I'd like to say, we believe more needs to be done around reconciliation, about ensuring that cultural competency is delivered in various areas. We also speak against Islamophobia, because if we were to say that one group is okay to discriminate against, then it takes away what we've been standing for so many years. Our teachings talk about the four colours of mankind in the medicine wheel: the red race, yellow race, the white race, the black race. Christians have the Ten Commandments. We operate under one principle, respect, respect for all life.
I think that what the Canadian government needs to do in terms of showing its leadership is to bridge those divides and work with the community to make sure that we welcome people coming in and educate people on the current realities.