June 21st is National Aboriginal Day, a day to recognize the contribution and the struggles of our Aboriginal peoples.
Earlier this month, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada reported details of the shocking and deeply disturbing history of residential schools. It would be challenging to find a more shameful chapter in Canadian history than the forced separation of Aboriginal children from their families and the physical and sexual abuse that accompanied it.
The death rate of residential school students was often double, triple, or even quadruple the death rate among children in the population at large. Worse still, reasons for the deaths were not kept and parents were often never told of the details of their child’s death, or even where their children were buried.
Ripped from their homes and communities, Aboriginal children were treated harshly, without love, malnourished, and forced to abandon their language, culture, and way of life. Even their Aboriginal clothing was taken away from them.
The Commission used the term ‘Cultural Genocide’ to describe Canada’s Aboriginal policy for over a century. If anything, that term may be too mild.
The residential school system (which only fully ended in the 1990s), has left deep scars in the hearts and minds of Aboriginal communities that may never fully heal.
The problems faced by Aboriginal communities are heartbreaking and overwhelming. An RCMP report from earlier this year counted 1,222 missing or murdered Aboriginal women since 1980, a figure many feel is low. Unemployment, alcoholism, substance abuse, depression and suicide rates among Aboriginal communities are far higher than the Canadian population at large.
The challenges our Aboriginal brothers and sisters face are deep and real. They will not be solved easily or quickly. But CUPE Alberta will continue to stand in solidarity, and to work in partnership with First Nations to do our part to bring healing, prosperity and full recognition to all Aboriginal peoples in Canada.