Colonization is a ‘book,’ not a ‘chapter’ in Indigenous history, says Nunavut MP
Qaqqaq says foster care is the ‘new residential school system’
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass grave at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., should not be regarded as a closed chapter in Canadian history, says Nunavut member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, but an ongoing reality for Indigenous people.
“Colonization is not a dark chapter in Canadian history. It is a book that the federal institution continues to write,” Qaqqaq said in the House of Commons June 3.
The NDP politician was responding to a May 28 tweet by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that called the discovery a “painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.”
But Qaqqaq said, “We are tired of living in someone else’s story and refuse to continue to have it written for us.”
Qaqqaq spoke specifically about foster care, which she said is the “new residential school system.”
Indigenous children account for more than 50 per cent of those in foster care but make up less than eight per cent of the child population, according to the 2016 Census.
The result, Qaqqaq said, is trauma.
“Just like suicide and death, losing children to foster care is becoming the norm for Inuit families. This is a direct outcome of basic human rights being violated,” she said, recounting stories of friends and family who have found loved ones who died by suicide.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller pointed to a law that came into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, as an example of the government’s response to the over-representation of Indigenous children in foster care.
The Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families is said to help keep Inuit children with their immediate or extended families, ensure youth services are culturally relevant and that Inuit children who have been sent outside of Inuit Nunangat for special care have contact with their home communities, said Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed when Bill C-92 was introduced in 2019.
But even Miller has said that the bill is not the whole solution, and called the child and family services system “broken.”
“The number of Indigenous children who have been taken away in care in recent years far exceeds the number who attended residential schools,” he said. “Removing a child from their family or community must be an absolute last resort.”
The bill was in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, which included a demand that the federal government “enact Aboriginal child-welfare legislation,” according to a 2019 government news release.
Qaqqaq’s comments came a few days after both she, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and a number of parliamentary leaders questioned the Liberals’ commitment to the rest of the TRC’s 94 calls to action, of which Singh said only 12 have been completed.
“The question comes down to why are the calls to action not being implemented. The only answer I can think of is because of a lack of political will,” Singh said. “This is an absolute denial of justice.”
Liberals said that reconciliation is on the way, but it takes time.
Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal said “reconciliation is our government’s number one goal,” adding that the government has, in partnership with Indigenous communities, invested more than $30 billion into educational and health care infrastructure.
“We are on the cusp of transformative change,” Trudeau said.
But Qaqqaq said there continues to be plenty of talk and little action, and that it’ll be 2062 by the time each call to action is achieved, at the current pace.
“Indigenous peoples do not want their shame, guilt or even, to an extent, the thoughts and prayers of non-Indigenous peoples,” she said. “What Indigenous peoples are calling for throughout the country is action.”