Under the Northern Sky: First Nation struggles are finding some success

by Xavier Kataquapit

(Under the Northern Sky) – It has been a hot and humid summer in Northern Ontario. However, the political climate for First Nation people in this province and right across Canada has been refreshing. A lot of good things are beginning to happen for First Nations in education, housing and economic development. All this has been possible mostly because of a change in the federal government with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as leader.

Although I was very sad to tune in to the final Tragically Hip concert in Kingston on CBC it was also a chance to witness a little bit of cultural history being made and to pay homage to an incredible Canadian band and of course the creative genius Gord Downie. During the concert a very refreshing thing happened when Downie put Prime Minister Trudeau under the spotlight and urged him to keep moving ahead with making lives better for the people in the north. Of course we all knew that he meant the First Nation people of Canada and in particular up in my home community of Attawapiskat and other locations on the great James Bay.

I was so proud for those moments when the Prime Minister and Downie were connecting and in a way making an informal pact to make a difference for First Nation people. Downie and the band were one of the few major music acts to ever travel north and play for First Nation people while they were in their prime and could have performed on any stage in the world. The Tragically Hip really voiced their concerns and love for First Nation people over the years and they are a favourite band of Native people right across the country. To realize that Downie used his precious few moments at his final concert ever to lobby for my people made my heart swell with pride and hope for the future.

The Tragically Hip really are about what it means to be Canadian. The band is caring, kind, responsible and not afraid to take a stand. That is who we are as Canadians when we are at our best.

As Canadians we care about the weak, the elderly, the children, minorities, the sick and the down and out. We have developed a society with a lot of programs that make sure we are caring for each other. As a First Nation person I can tell you our struggle has been long and difficult and we have had to endure a lot of pain and grief but things are looking up thanks to quality people like Gord Downie and Justin Trudeau.

Gord and all of our First Nation leaders and the public are right to keep some pressure on the Prime Minister and the Liberal government. After all, nobody gets elected as Prime Minister that is not rubber stamped by the very powerful one percent and that small and influential group has a lot of say in what happens in terms of government policy. For proof of that, we just have to look at the presidency of the first black ever elected to power in the United States. That government has carried on the same wars and most of the same policies that the dreaded Bush government ran for years. So our voices must be heard by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make sure he has the will of the people behind him so that he can make lives better, more peaceful and more fair for all of us.

With that in mind I want to note how proud I am and First Nation people across the country are of our very own Chief Marcia Brown Martel of Beaverhouse First Nation. This feisty and articulate woman has been fighting for years to make the Canadian public aware of the 60s scoop. The 60s Scoop, which started in the 1960s and ran into the 1980s was all about government policy that allowed Ontario child welfare services to place thousands of First Nation children with non-Native families over a period of some 20 years. That policy stole children away from their families and robbed them of being brought up in in traditional and cultural settings. The experience for so many people was disastrous.

Chief Brown Martel has been fighting the good fight through the courts to have the government be held responsible through a class action lawsuit with the goal of a fair settlement awarded to those First Nation people who were involved. Chief Brown Martel, the representative in the law case for Ontario, was in Toronto recently as part of a large group demonstrating outside the court house where a hearing on the case was being held. Hopefully, with the new more respectful and fair approach our provincial and federal governments are developing with my people Chief Brown Martel will find success after her years of dedication to this cause. It is good to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Click here for more columns by Xavier Kataquapit.

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