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Delay in national action plan to tackle anti-Indigenous racism disheartening: former grand chief
TORONTO -- As anti-racism protests continue across the U.S. and around the world, Ottawa has announced that it has delayed its national action plan to tackle systemic racism facing Indigenous people in a move activists say will allow discrimination to continue.
Sheila North, the former Grand Chief of Northern Manitoba, said the delay is disheartening as Indigenous people have dealt with racism for generations. In an interview with CTV's Your Morning on Thursday North said it is concerning that some of Canada’s political leaders have said that systemic racism does not exist in the country like it does in the U.S.
"Go meet the mothers and the sisters and family members of the ones that have been taken. It is a very, very sensitive and touchy subject and for people to be blamed and to be so dismissive like that is just reminiscent of what [indigenous people] have been dealing with for many generations and it's very hurtful to hear," North said.
Despite geographic and racial differences, North said there are parallels between the experience of black Americans and Canada’s Indigenous people in their interactions with police.
"I'm not going to take away what has happened to black people in America, but it happens every day also to black people and Indigenous people and people of colour in Canada," North said. She added that the biggest difference in racism between the two countries is that the recent death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer held his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes, was caught on camera.
North said racially motivated incidents are happening daily to Indigenous people in Canada out of the public's eye.
She acknowledged multiple officer-involved shootings in Winnipeg during the month of April that resulted in the death of three Indigenous people. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is calling on the Manitoba Police Commission to investigate the structural causes that led to these deaths.
"We don't know the results of the investigations of that yet or the findings, but it does seem to appear just by optics that there is still this tension between police and indigenous people in Canada," North said.
North said she has had her own experiences being on the receiving end of racism since she was a young girl. North said she has been called a "dirty Indian" by strangers on multiple occasions throughout the years.
"Being a young mom with my little kids on their little tricycles and somebody came running out [of their house] saying that we were on their lawn and we weren't, but he was just looking for an excuse and called my kids 'dirty Indians'," North said. She said she has also been followed by employees in stores and been accused of shoplifting.
North said the incidents were like a "gut punch" and made her feel horrible.
"You think that you've done something wrong at first, but now I realized that this is a problem that persists," North said. "Racism is hard and it's hard to deal with, but it's harder to live with it and it does lead to death and we have to find ways to do away with it."
North said she believes that Canada's younger generation has the power to create change, but said it will be challenging given how embedded racism is in the country.
"Our young people are the biggest hope. I think they have the possibility of changing the narrative going forward, but this has been persistent for generations… Now, we're seeing this being played out in all forms in all industries and businesses so it's not a surprise, it is a systemic problem," North said.
North said anti-racism protests across the world can act as a catalyst for change not only regarding racism facing black people, but any minority.
"We have to look at finding a way to change policing policies of policing culture, and even government policy. Right now is a perfect time to start changing these kind of policies and regulations because politicians need support from the public to make big changes and right now they have it in a big way," North said.
DELAY IN NATIONAL ACTION PLAN
Ottawa announced last week that it had delayed its national action plan to tackle systemic racism facing Indigenous people following its inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The federal government said the delay is due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada said that should not have halted work done prior to the health crisis.
"There could have been something. The [federal government] did have nine months before the pandemic and at least there should have been some document as a starting point. We know it's a 'living document,' and there's changes to be made, but there's been no document to even start those changes," Lorraine Whitman said in an interview with CTV News Channel on Wednesday.
The MMIWG inquiry delivered its final report June 3, 2019, concluding that decades of systemic racism and human rights violations had contributed to the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of Indigenous women and girls and that it constituted a genocide.
In a report card released Wednesday to mark the anniversary of final report's release, the Native Women's Association of Canada gave the federal government a "resounding fail," saying little has been done to address the inquiry's 231 calls for justice in the last 12 months.
Whitman said she is disappointed for the families who gave their testimony over the last three years into the inquiry and were promised change.
"They had hope and they had faith in the government that there would be change and it wouldn't just be talk, that there would be action, and they're very disappointed because there is no action," Whitman said.
North said she is "cautiously optimistic" that change will be implemented after the pandemic.
"I'm not totally disappointed because I'm not surprised but I know that many families are disappointed… They're crying because they're being reminded again that there is failure and a lack of action shows that lack of empathy and caring," North said. "The government, no matter what they do going forward, they're going to not look good in the end because of all these false starts.
"I know that there's lots of good people in the government, but at the same time, there are lots of hurting people on the ground that need answers and justice," she added.
North said the "only way" for Indigenous people to get those answers is if the federal government turns over its inquiry to an independent body to implement the changes.
"I think that's where it needs to go because no matter what the government does or plans in the end, it'll never be enough because it's their plan and so I think they have to take it outside," North said.
Despite the delay caused by the coronavirus, North said the extra time to decide on how best to tackle systemic racism facing Indigenous people may be an advantage.
"I know that one of the reasons that the government says there's been a delay is the pandemic, and I could see that for sure, but at the same time maybe this is good, so we can all keep pausing and see what the best [move] forward is, and I don't believe it rests solely on the government," North said.