Student - April 22, 2016

Meanwhile in… Canada

In the news: In the remote Canadian village of Attawapiskat, there have been 101 suicide attempts since September, 11 of them in one day. The village is located in a First Nations reserve. What is driving so many people there to such despair?

Commentary by Alexandra Drozdowska, student of Environmental Sciences

‘When the colonists arrived in Canada, they made agreements with the First Nations. The indigenous population did not know what they were getting into and were severely disadvantaged. They were assigned small reserves to live in and they could not continue their way of life. The living conditions in these reserves are often poor. They are polluted by industry and the water is usually not drinkable.

The children of the First Nations were forcibly taken away from their parents and sent to boarding schools. According to the Canadian government, that was necessary "to kill the Indian in the child." They were often abused. When they returned they had forgotten their native tongue and culture, and felt westernized. Many of them drifted to the cities. But they did not feel at home there either, because people look down on the indigenous population. This leads to alcohol addiction, substance abuse and depression. This group had children themselves, but broken homes usually lead to broken people. This is a vicious circle which this community is trapped in.

The last boarding school closed in 1996 and the government offered formal apologies in 2008. Yet it is still a deep wound.

Currently, there is the 'Idle No More' movement, which is dedicated to stopping the legislative and social subordination of the indigenous population. The government is trying to improve the situation too. At last there is funding for mental health care and for clean drinking water. But until real improvements are visible, I have my doubts. After all, the politicians have been talking about this for many years.

During carnival many people dress up as Indians. People do it for fun, but they do not live with the stigma that the First Nations live with. I think it would be better if people stopped dressing up like Indians. First Nations will then not feel they are a joke.’