Illustration: Sheri Kim

Illustration: Sheri Kim

There is a lengthy history of mistreatment of Aboriginal people in Canada. Abuse in residential schools, missing or murdered Indigenous women, continued lack of support for mental health problems—the list goes on. First Nations communities deserve basic human rights, and it is wrong to deny anyone, least of all the first people to inhabit this land, access to something as vital as, say, clean drinking water. Issues concerning First Nations’ safety, health, and families existed in the past, and it is shameful that they continue to exist to this day. Why haven’t these problems been fixed?

Previous governments have failed miserably to solve problems regarding Canada’s First Nations population. Attempts to amend the government’s relationship with Indigenous people, such as the Kelowna Accords, have failed. Even international powers have admonished Canada for its inaction towards solving Aboriginal issues: a recent report by the United Nations harshly criticized Canada for its treatment of its Aboriginal people [1].

With the election of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister, this was all supposed to change. Throughout his election campaign, Trudeau promised that he would change the tone of politics in the House, and that he would warm the frosty relationship between Aboriginal communities and the government. He campaigned on a platform that included solving First Nations problems, such as vowing to end boil-water advisories on reserves. Soon after Trudeau was elected, he organized several meetings with Aboriginal leaders, and appointed various people of Aboriginal origin to prominent posts in his cabinet. The prime example would be the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, the current Minister of Justice and Attorney General. Especially at the beginning of his tenure, Trudeau focused on the state of Aboriginal politics, meeting and speaking with many Aboriginal leaders.

However, actions speak louder than words. Trudeau has yet to offer, much less execute, an effective solution to Aboriginal problems. The issues that he criticized his predecessors for not taking action on are the very same issues that he is ignoring right now. Trudeau has turned his attention away from the concerns of First Nations communities, and in doing so, has walked away from his own campaign promises. He pledged to institute the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within Canada, but didn’t follow through—Minister Wilson-Raybould announced on July 13, 2016 that this goal would no longer be pursued, calling it ‘unworkable’ [2]. Similarly, Trudeau promised to implement all 94 recommendations outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Act, but this has yet to occur [3].

Despite inaction by the government, the movement to recognize First Nations’ issues has not disappeared. During morning announcements, Toronto District School Board (TDSB) schools have begun acknowledging Canada’s First Nations, recognizing the traditional territories on which the schools are located. Long-overdue amendments to the history curriculum are coming to teach students about the mistreatment Aboriginal people have faced, and remind them of their historical contributions. Literary works are emerging which recount stories of Canada’s unjust past; Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip recently released a graphic novel and musical album titled “Secret Path,”which tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old who died attempting to escape abuse at his residential school in 1966 [4].

These actions are important—they indicate an interest in taking steps to help raise awareness of, and eventually resolve, Aboriginal issues. But it begs the question: how will people react to this knowledge? Hopefully, it will inspire us all to take action, and encourage our government to do the same.

First Nations issues are Canadian issues, and they should be treated as such. Sadly, Trudeau’s government has yet to fulfill its promises to Canada’s Indigenous population. Trudeau has repeatedly claimed that First Nations people have been neglected by the government, yet he does nothing to change the fact. During the election, and immediately afterwards, voters and the media pressed Trudeau on these issues, and Trudeau took some action, if, perhaps, more symbolic than effective in nature. But as the media spotlight faded, so did Trudeau’s commitment.

It is up to us to pick up the slack, and push the government into action. It is horrifying that Aboriginal communities have been wracked with so much abuse and treated with such little care in the past, and it is truly a tragedy that such atrocities continue to this day.