The stabbings that killed 11 and injured 18 on Sunday and the subsequent manhunt in Saskatchewan are an unimaginable loss for many families. While the immediate concern is the safety of the public and the support of those affected, ultimately we must understand this bloodshed. While the brutality is shocking, this heinous act of violence should come as no surprise. In all honesty, we should be rather surprised that a tragedy like this involving tribal peoples has never happened before.
This is not an indigenous problem. It affects every single Canadian. This bloodshed represents our governments’ failure to recognize how inadequate minimal funding, government policies and the provision of public services are to indigenous peoples and their communities. This is how a just society can ensure that these tragedies are avoidable.
We must recognize that indigenous peoples rank at the bottom of every socioeconomic index available to measure health and well-being. Currently, 47 percent of Indigenous children in Canada live in poverty. According to census data, 52.2 percent of Indigenous children are currently in foster care. In fact, there are three times as many Indigenous children in the child welfare system as there were at the height of residential schools. Decades of research on mental health tells us that poverty and illness are inextricably linked; Unless indigenous children live in poverty, they are likely to be in foster care. This shameful overrepresentation is often beyond the control of individual parents: generational poverty, poor housing, underfunded education and, in many cases, unsafe drinking water. dr Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Children’s Action Research and Education Service, has advocated for equal access and levels of service as non-Indigenous children for decades.
Given these factors, is it any wonder that indigenous children struggle as adults?
US News and World Report recently ranked Canada as the #1 country to live in (2021). Although Canada’s reputation for quality of life is unmatched anywhere in the world, many indigenous people have a different experience. If we keep failing this entire population, are we the only ones wondering if we really deserve that top spot? Canada can only rightly earn its status as a world leader if we recognize our mistakes and then act decisively to rectify them. Let’s look at some solutions.
First, we need to build increasingly secure, stable, and nurturing relationships between children and caregivers/parents. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that every dollar spent on early childhood education yields $6 in economic benefits across the board. While the federal government’s universal childcare plan is a big step in the right direction, Indigenous communities need to lead the way in developing culture-specific education programs and curricula. A tough challenge when Indigenous children receive, on average, 30 percent less funding than non-Indigenous children.
Second, we must improve welfare systems and provide support to families in need. Growing up in rural Canada, my mother and I briefly relied on charity while fleeing my father. Savage and I understand the importance of service to those in need. In a 2020 study, Harvard economists found that many of the programs that focused on children and young adults were financially beneficial. When all the costs and benefits were factored in, these programs made money for taxpayers.
These lessons are tough.
If we continually neglect entire swathes of our country, the resulting impact is far worse and far more costly to fix than previous investments. The longer we wait to act, the more it will cost our country.