Updated: Jul 15, 2021
This post was written with contributions from SLPs Michelle Dolmaya, Mikyla Grau, and Janessa Tam.
Today, June 21st, is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. Taking place on the summer solstice which many Indigenous communities have celebrated for hundreds of years, this is a day for all Canadians to celebrate the contributions, achievements and diverse cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
As a team of Speech Language Pathologists, we are inspired by the resilience of Indigenous communities in their efforts to preserve traditional languages and will continue to do our part to help maintain their presence. While it's great to admire the beauty of Indigenous cultures and traditions, it's important that we also acknowledge the struggles that these communities have faced throughout history and continue to face today.
We want to highlight some of the movements that Indigenous peoples in Canada have fought for and provide ways for non-Indigenous Canadians to be allies, not just on June 21st, but every day moving forward.
Establishing a Voice
In 1969, the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy was published – it would eventually become known as the White Paper. Under then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's "Just Society" initiative, the White Paper called for all Indigenous people to have access to "full and equal participation in the cultural, social, economic and political life of Canada” claiming to be working against discrimination and toward equity with other Canadians.
Indigenous communities looked beyond the surface of this message and highlighted how the White Paper was just another way for the Canadian government to try to assimilate its First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations to the white majority. Instead of acknowledging their unique identity and independence, the White Paper could eventually lead to the loss of treaties, land and status.
What became known as the Red Paper was published by Harold Cardinal, an activist and the president of the Indian Association of Alberta, in response to the White Paper. An excerpt reads:
"The new Indian policy promulgated by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government [...] is a thinly disguised programme of extermination through assimilation. For the Indian to survive, says the government in effect, he must become a good little brown white man. The Americans to the south of us used to have a saying: 'The only good Indian is a dead Indian.' The MacDonald-Chrétien doctrine would amend this but slightly to, 'The only good Indian is a non-Indian.'"
Thanks to people like Harold Cardinal speaking out against this initiative, the White Paper policy was not put into action. This set the tone for Indigenous activism in the modern era and helped to reinforce the message that Indigenous voices will not be disregarded.
Another well known demonstration of Indigenous resistance is the Oka Crisis of 1990 in Québec where plans to expand a golf course and begin construction of a residential area on Mohawk land (including a burial site) was approved without consulting the local Mohawk people.
Protestors began to grow in number as members of other reserves joined in. Police were sent to intervene after the first blockade was placed on the road, though they were unsuccessful in their attempts to get the protestors to leave despite using tear gas and gunfire. Eventually a second blockade on the Mercier bridge was formed cutting off access to Montreal. The RCMP and the Canadian army would eventually become involved as tensions increased throughout 78 days.
Demonstrations took place across Canada in support of the Mohawk people which helped to bring awareness to the infringement of Indigenous land rights throughout the country. In the end, the construction plans were cancelled and the federal government would purchase the land and give it to the Mohawk people. This famous grassroots movement once again demonstrates Indigenous peoples' resistance to the loss of their traditional land and cultural identity.
Current Movements and Mobilization
As we read about Indigenous movements throughout history, we must remember that these issues are not just in the past. Due to long-held misinformation and stereotypes, Indigenous people in Canada still face discrimination and overt racism.
For example, despite making up just 4.5% of the population in Canada, Indigenous people are overrepresented in the prison system: 29% of men and 41% of women in federal corrections are Indigenous (Statistics Canada, 2020). This suggests racial prejudice in Canadian policing, which has been well documented – here are just a few resources to read through:
Yellowhead Institute on Police Brutality
Ontario Human Rights Commission on Racial Profiling of Indigenous People
With the rise of social media, Indigenous resistance and advocacy has reached a broader scope of people than ever before. Anyone with internet connection now has access to many first hand accounts of what it means to be Indigenous in Canada as well as in other countries around the world.
Through platforms like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and more, Canadians who wouldn't have otherwise learned about certain Indigenous issues are able to benefit from this knowledge. Here are two examples of Indigenous creators using their platform to spread awareness:
The Idle No More movement is one example of a campaign that has spread immensely due to social media awareness. What first began as four women in Saskatchewan fighting against policies that would harm Indigenous rights and traditional lands has now spread across the country, shared in thousands of posts on all social media platforms.
The campaign to raise awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (girls and Two-Spirit people), MMIW or MMIWG2S for short, has also gained mass attention through social media. There have been 1200 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada according to a report by the RCMP, but accounting for unreported cases and information gathered from Indigenous communities, the actual number is estimated to be over 4000. The CBC put together profiles of 307 of these cases which you can read here.
Statistics Canada reported that Indigenous women over 15 are 3.5 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. These atrocities cannot be separated from Canada's long history of sexualizing Indigenous women and creating policies that isolate them from safety networks and community resources.
In June 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report that contained 231 Calls for Justice. At the time of writing this post, the government is in the process of working on an action plan, though no measures have been implemented yet.
Connection to SLP Practice
Despite the inc