For a burgeoning underclass of marginalized indigenous youth, legislation to implement the U.N.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is a death sentence. They live in squalor in remote settlements and urban slums. Here’s a statement from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples’ 1995 report on suicide, “Choosing Life”:
“Aboriginal youth described both exclusion from the dominant society and alienation from the now-idealized but once-real “life on the land” that is stereotypically associated with aboriginality. The terrible emptiness of feeling strung between two cultures and psychologically at home in neither has been described … in testimony given before the Commission. If they have few positive role models or clear paths to follow, Aboriginal youth may be forced to turn to one another, building tight bonds against a hostile world. This inward-looking subculture may reinforce hopelessness and self-hate, and their exits may appear to be the oblivion of drugs and alcohol—or death.”
With the fur trade long defunct, multigenerational welfare and make-work have superseded life on the land. Today, therefore, Canada’s indigenous community has the world’s highest male youth suicide rate, with some suicides by children as young as 10. If there were youth suicides in Toronto in the same proportion, at the rate of five every day of the year, there would be an uproar. There’s also the greater number of desperate youth who don’t bring themselves to tie the noose or to pull the trigger. And today, there are more disposable indigenous in hell-hole prisons, about 12,000, than at peak enrolment in residential schools.
- Should indigenous youth carry forward a separate culture, a separate identity, and a separate livelihood based on the traditions of the hunter-trapper? Or
- Should indigenous youth become fully enabled participants in all aspects of the high-tech economy?
“States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential. … States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right … on the basis of equal opportunity.”
In remote settlements, it’s impossible to meet that commitment for indigenous children living in a tent or in a packing case smaller than a single car garage. Or where 15 people live in a three-bedroom house of 1,200 square feet, and no one leaves for work. In one case, a man in Iqaluit, who actually had a job, shot and killed his wife and two children, and then himself, after his family was turned away from an emergency shelter full to bursting. And this is typical.
For all the grievances about colonialism, as happened in Africa, today’s indigenous oligarchs now walk in the shoes of those they denounce. None of the indigenous commissioners for three multi-million dollar federal reports suggested that marginalized youth should get the education and skills training, sports and recreation, and opportunity for a rewarding career that they had in their own childhood and youth. It eluded them that those in or preparing for satisfying jobs seldom commit suicide or disappear. They’re seldom murder victims or perpetrators. They’re seldom down-and-out or homeless. And they seldom go to jail.
Except for ceremonial functions, oligarchs would be out of a job if indigenous youth became the engineers and managerial professionals, doctors and dentists, and qualified for all the jobs in the lands they claim. Retired Alberta judge John Reilly wrote of the Stoney tribes in his recent book “Bad Law”: “The salaries for the chiefs, councillors and administration staff total millions of dollars, but the schools are underfunded and the Stoney Medicine Lodge, which used to be a transitional centre for alcohol abuse, has been closed sine 1996.”
Some provincial premiers deny that UNDRIP would change Canada’s political structure, but they overlook the human impact. Here’s what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report says: “We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as the framework for reconciliation.”
In turn, the declaration says: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
This replicates a 1958 speech by the architect of apartheid in South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd, who said, “The policy of separate development is the basis of the happiness, security and stability which are maintained by means of a homeland, a language and a government peculiar to each people.”
There have always been some indigenous leaders promoting equality of opportunity for next generations in the mainstream society. They include Chief Poundmaker; Bill Wuttunee, lawyer and co-founder of the Assembly of First Nations; former AFN chief Matthew Coon Come; and Inuit Peter Pitseolak and Abe Okpik. But here, in vain, was Chief Dan George in his 1967 “Lament for Confederation” speech:
“Oh God! Like the thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man’s success—his education, his skills—and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society.”