Earlier this month, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir informed the world the remains of 215 children had been found near the city of Kamloops in southern British Columbia. Each child found had attended Kamloops Indian Residential School. This is just the beginning of the story: thousands of children died in residential schools and their bodies were not returned home. The entire country is in shock, and the image of Canada as a multicultural, accepting society has been torn. We are now able to see the true fabric of the country: a state that was founded upon settler colonialism, and its history which continues to seep through everyday interactions.

Indigenous people have the right to self-determination, and the state of Canada instead chooses to honor its tradition of genocide and strangle many rights of Indigenous people – regardless of the International community recognizing the plight of Indigenous people. Article three of the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People states, “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.”

 Canada’s Indian Act itself coddles violence: upon its foundation in 1856, discrimination became law. Section 14 of the legislation banned potlatches along with other ceremonies such as sun dances. The explicit policy of discrimination continues to reign supreme in the country. The living conditions of Indigenous people are determined by the Indian Act-the reserve band system designates Canada as an apartheid state. Apartheid is defined as a policy of discrimination based on segregation or different laws for different people. It continues to remain an integral component of Canadian legislation:  Indigenous people live in a divergent world, far removed from other Canadians.

Reserves are littered with poverty: a study by Upstream Institute determines that 53 percent of children who reside on reserves are living in poverty. This affects a majority of Indigenous peoples: almost half of Indigenous adults and children live on reserves. Crowded housing and poor infrastructure on allocated land cause health problems and contribute to social crises. Tuberculosis, bronchitis, and influenza are dominant on reserves. Poor housing conditions have led Indigenous children to their death: studies have shown Indigenous people are 10 times more likely to die in fires than non-Indigenous Canadians.

Housing is also scarce: it is estimated between 35,000 and 85,000 new houses are needed on reserves. The atrocities do not end with housing- Indigenous children are neglected in their most critical years. Indigenous children often do not finish high school. A study by C.D. Howe Institute of Indigenous people in their early 20s found that only 48 percent finished high school compared to more than 90 percent of non-Indigenous Canadians. Canada nurtures apartheid through the band-reserve system and controlling identity.

The Canadian government promotes cruelty toward the first people of this land through various means: one form of this savagery takes the shape of identity control. The state of Canada determines Indigeneity. The government continues to employ a registry system to decide who has legal status as an Indigenous person rather than allowing diverse groups of  Indigenous people in the country to discuss identity amongst themselves.

 Canada must recognize the wrongs done in the name of colonialism. And how apartheid continues to fester in the country. The Indian Act discriminates against Indigenous peoples and continues to promote segregation, and it must be abolished. Self– determination must prevail, and Indigenous people have the right to govern their own affairs. Honoring the treaty rights of Indigenous people is an important stepping stone to independence: oil pipelines cannot invade Indigenous territory. Indigenous people must be empowered through their own communities and support systems. Indigenous people are the youngest and fastest-growing population in Canada and I am confident the future will see change.

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  • Aisha Malik

    Aisha Malik is currently finishing her BA in Political Science. Aisha’s interests include South Asian and Middle Eastern history, philosophy, writing poetry and learning about different religions.