We all need healing

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These are difficult times for First Nation people as we are trying to move ahead, heal and recover from the colonization of our people and the tragedy of the residential schools system. Although we are doing our best at our Native leadership levels and we seem to have entered into a more friendly political environment with the current Liberal government, recent events remind us of how there is still so much work to do.

Recently two people – Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland – died at the hands of police in Timmins, Ontario. Reports say that 21-year-old Knapaysweet, of Fort Albany, was shot and killed by a member of the Timmins police department during an incident February 3 on Gillies Lake located in the city. Agnes Sutherland, a 62-year-old woman, also from Fort Albany, had been in the Timmins jail after being arrested at a local shelter. While in jail she was discovered in a very critical health situation. The wheelchair-bound woman was taken to hospital where she later passed away. It is believed that both of these individuals were dealing with health and mental-health problems.

Following on the heals of this tragic news, it was announced that an all-white jury delivered a not-guilty verdict to Gerald Stanley, a white Saskatchewan farmer who had shot 22-year-old Colten Boushie. Stanley had claimed to be defending his property when he shot the young Cree man in the head.

I was happy to see that former Chief Walter Naveau and Elder Maurice Naveau led a protest in Timmins recently to make people realize that something is wrong with our society when our people are dying as a result of misguided violence. Native people always have to contend with the stereotype or misconception that we are always ready to be violent, even if our people are mentally unwell, wheelchair-bound or elderly. I know both these leaders and I realize how much strength and courage they have when few others will rise to defend First Nation people. They know what it is like to be part of a visible minority, what it means to be treated unfairly and negatively because of the colour of one’s skin. Both these men are traditional people who are survivors. They are upset, as I am, that such situations are developing in Canada in 2018. Things have to change.

I think we were all relieved to some point when Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government decided as a result of the public outcry over the Colten Boushie verdict to provide a broad-based review of the criminal justice system. It seems that Stanley’s defence lawyers may have used its peremptory challenges to reject First Nation people from the jury pool. At the very least the Trudeau realizes that the justice system is not working for First Nation people and that although we are a minority in terms of population in this country we are disproportionately filling the nation’s prisons.

We will always have rightwing, bigoted and racist people who want to keep the status quo when it comes to how minorities are treated in this country. However, there are a lot of good Canadian people who really understand there is a problem in terms of racism and we have to do something about it. We also need people like Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay, and Gilles Bisson, MPP for Timmins-James Bay, to keep up the pressure to ensure our governments at the federal and provincial levels are dealing with these important issues of race.

A few years ago while on a train with a white friend in New Delhi, India, I witnessed a special situation. We managed to board a crowded train and we were packed in like sardines in a tin can. My friend looked up at me and whispered that he felt uneasy, a little intimidated and a bit fearful. He realized at that moment that he was the only one on that train of hundreds of people who was white. He shook his head and said that he suddenly realized what it felt like to be a member of a minority. Although he is an open person who is not racist, he had never physically felt what it was like to be alone and different from everyone else. I have felt like he did in that short train ride for my entire life. Racism is still around us in pockets all over the place and we need to all join together to educate and heal from it. We need action from government at all levels and the will of the people to make this happen.


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