Equity and Equality for Indigenous People

By: The Hon. Dawn Anderson

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Hon. Margaret Dawn Anderson: Akana, Your Honour and honourable senators. I rise today to speak to Canada’s inaction to create lasting and substantive equality and equity for Indigenous people. Neville Bonner stated:

We as Aboriginal people still have to fight to prove that we are straight out, plain human beings — the same as everyone else.

On February 14, 1831, Edward Everett — a politician, diplomat and orator from Massachusetts — rose in the House of Representatives. These are his words:

Here, at the centre of the nation, beneath the portals of the capitol, let us solemnly auspicate the new era of violated promises, and tarnished faith. Let us kindle a grand council‑fire, not of treaties made and ratified, but of treaties annulled and broken. Let us send to our archives for the worthless parchments, and burn them in the face of day. There will be some yearnings of humanity as we perform the solemn act. They were negotiated for valuable considerations; we keep the consideration and break the bond.

Historical records support that Canada’s policies and legislation mirror that of the United States — from the treaties, Department of Indian Affairs, Indian agents, residential schools and colonial practices.

Indigenous lands, homes, culture, families, languages, heritage and all that defined us as distinct Indigenous peoples were violently taken from us by Canada. With historic and modern treaties; land claim agreements; Indigenous and self-government agreements — bolstered with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP; Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages; Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families; Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or TRC, recommendations; and the Calls to Action of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — Canada has the means to right the wrongs of a nation. Yet, we as Indigenous people face ongoing and entrenched inequality and inequity that profoundly impact all areas of our lives.

It is not the responsibility of Indigenous people to right a nation’s wrong. It is Canada’s responsibility, and this responsibility extends to us under our role. When we pass legislation in this place, we must consider Indigenous people’s reality and the impact of the bill where equality and equity fail to exist and thrive. Treaties, agreements, recommendations and reports must be consequential and create concrete, substantive and deliberate actions leading to positive and effective change.

Mr. Everett’s words are as telling today as they were 191 years ago. We all must do better.

I close this statement with the following words of Brené Brown: “Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

Quyanainnimáhsi, thank you.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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