You live in Canada. You:
- Have been unable to drink the water coming out of your tap without first boiling it, for 25 years in the case of one community (1);
- Are preparing to leave your home on short notice as community leaders consider an evacuation because mould growing in houses is causing skin rashes and respiratory ailments in rising numbers of residents. There is reportedly a list of 100 children waiting to see a doctor (2);
- Have for decades complained about deformed fish being caught in nearby rivers and lakes after a paper mill routinely dumped mercury in the waters in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, kids whose mothers ate fish from those waters are four times more likely to have learning disabilities (3);
- Hope that your community – including your teenage daughter – will not be the next one caught up in a wave of youth suicide. For indigenous people up to the age of 44, suicide is the leading cause of death (4).
Last month another ‘Best Of’ list ranked Canada the #1 county in the world for quality of life (#3 overall). This might have surprised many First Nations and other Indigenous People (IP) living in northern communities, where the issues listed above are concentrated.
Cut off from Canada
While 90% of Canadians live within 200 km of the southern border with the United States, many IP live in small northern communities isolated geographically, and cut off in many other ways from the Canada that the world knows. (Inuit people live in four, far northern territories known collectively as Inuit Nunangat).
Living in a so-called ‘developing country’ (Nepal) I am often jolted when I read about the most recent emergency in Indigenous communities: ‘It’s Canada’, I think, ‘it’s not supposed to happen there’.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy that I was born and grew up in Canada. But like every country, it has its positives and negatives, and I think all of us should at a minimum be aware of them – and if possible try to make things better.
Neglect fuelled by racism
What’s going on with these Indigenous communities? It’s neglect, at the root of which is racism. I know some Canadians claim that ours is not a ‘racist country’ (as if it’s either everyone or no one who resents people unlike themselves) but I haven’t spent time in a place yet that I would say has overcome racism.
What’s happening in Canada concerning IP is also often illegal, as many Indigenous People signed treaties with Canada, which has never delivered on those promises. Other groups didn’t make agreements and are fighting court battles – against various levels of government and resource companies – for control of their traditional lands.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that First Nations communities in northern Ontario, including Pikangikum – which I’ve written about in this blog – are only now getting connected to the power grid: the project was led by a company that includes a consortium of those same First Nations.
In fact, I predict that progress to eliminate boil-water advisories, mouldy homes, mercury poisoning, suicide and other conditions facing IP in Canada will be made only when these communities themselves spearhead the change.
What can you do?
In Canada – If you have the means, visit one of these communities to see for yourself what’s happening, or ask your representative about these issues.
Outside Canada – Ask your Canadian friends about these problems; if they aren’t familiar with them, they should be.
This is not a research article, but I wanted to include at least one source for the examples I noted at the start, or a source that discusses the issues in general. There are many many more:
- Unsafe drinking water
- Health problems caused by mouldy houses
- Mercury-contaminated waters
- Suicide among Indigenous People