Canada's Stolen Lives
Updated: Nov 17
by Claire Xu
The long-developed history and mistreatment of the Indigenous peoples of Canada, largely in the form of cultural genocide, is no secret. Despite the widespread fallacy that these individuals have received the proper compensation and awareness for the mistakes of the Canadian government, there is indeed a long way to go in bringing justice and awareness to the Indigenous peoples of Canada. These inequities are prevalent throughout society, and the ongoing pandemic has especially revealed the structural racism within the Canadian healthcare system.
As instructed by federal and provincial governments, handwashing and social distancing serve as two predominant factors preventing the virus’s contraction. However, many Indigenous communities are subject to inadequate funding for space and resources for on-reserve housing, leading to limited access to clean water and critical overcrowding (Amanda Carling and Insiya Mankani, 2020). To catalyze this effect, Indigenous people are already disproportionately represented in populations higher at risk to the virus, such as the homeless and poverty-stricken. The trauma and abuse experienced decades ago have left a trail of scarring that this community is still trying to heal from, also forcing these individuals into a particularly vulnerable position during the glare of the pandemic. This has been demonstrated through the staggering number of Indigenous citizens who tested positive for the virus. One-third of the Canadian population’s positive cases are First Nations living on reserves (Indigenous Services Canada, 2020). To put this into perspective, Indigenous communities living on reserves make up approximately 2.5% of the population.
Not only are Indigenous individuals more susceptible to the virus, but the continual maltreatment and systemic racism also revealed within the healthcare system have sparked an outcry for change. On September 28th, an Atikamekw woman named Joyce Echaquan used her phone to live stream Joliette hospital staff throwing racist slurs and hateful statements as she lay dying on her hospital bed (Peter Zimonjic, 2020). At protests in Quebec for Joyce Echaquan, activists revealed that Joyce’s experience was common among the abuse directed towards Indigenous women within Canadian healthcare. And as recently as 2018, Indigenous women across Canada have come forward to share their forced sterilization experiences (Avery Zingel, 2019). Exhibited, repeatedly, it is evident that the insular and immoral seeds of racism have been deeply embedded within the healthcare system.
Politicians have spoken up and apologized for the racism displayed, with the Quebec premier apologizing for the actions leading to Joyce Echaquan’s death while denying that systemic racism is an issue existing within Quebec. For decades, it has been shown that Indigenous peoples are faced with lower health outcomes, with cases such as Brian Sinclair, a forty-five-year-old Indigenous man from Manitoba who died in the emergency department from a treatable bladder infection because he was ignored and uncared for (Brenda L Gunn, 2017). This case was over ten years ago, demonstrating that the systemic racism present in the healthcare system a decade ago still exists and is just as pervasive. The Canadian government has failed individuals like Brian Sinclair and Joyce Echaquan, representing an entire population of mistreated people.
As Canadian citizens, we have a moral and civic responsibility to do what is in our power, become educated on the Indigenous history within Canada, and take action when we see others wronged. Becoming aware of this issue can be achieved through many means, such as reading Indigenous literature such as Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (True North Aid, 2020) or watching documentaries such as Sober House: A Sign of Change Cree Nation (CBC, 2020). Many powwows have been canceled due to the virus, but they are an excellent way to catch a glimpse into the spirited and illustrious history of Indigenous culture. Attending protests such as Joyce Echaquan and signing petitions that can be found online contribute to the spread of awareness. Many charities and organizations across Canada work in supporting Indigenous communities, and donating if one has the means to do so, helps expand their work to reach more individuals. It is paramount in fighting against the systemic racism present within Canada that we choose to stay aware of and educate themselves. In building an inclusive country for future generations, we must not turn a blind eye to the tragedy and discrimination in front of us.
“10 docs on Indigenous life in Canada”, CBC news, June 11, 2020
Amanda Carling and Insiya Mankani, “Systemic Inequities Increase Covid-19 Risk for Indigenous People in Canada”, Human Rights Watch, June 9, 2020
Avery Zingel, “Indigenous women come forward with accounts of forced sterilization, says lawyer” CBC news, April 18, 2019
Brenda L Gunn, “Ignored to Death: Systemic Racism in the Canadian Healthcare System”, 2017
“Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Indigenous communities”, Government of Canada, Date modified: October 28th, 2020
“HOW TO HELP FIRST NATIONS COMMUNITIES IN CANADA”, True North Aid
Indigenous Services Canada, “Government of Canada COVID-19 Update for Indigenous Peoples and communities”, CISION, October 9, 2020
“Government of Canada COVID-19 Update for Indigenous Peoples and communities”, Government of Canada, October 9, 2020
Peter Zimonjic, “Health care system was designed to subject Indigenous people to systemic racism: Hajdu”, CBC News, October 15, 2020
Zach Parrott, “Indigenous Peoples in Canada”, the Canadian Encyclopedia, updated by Michelle Filice, March 13, 2007