June 21 is National Indigenous People’s Day, a day focused on celebrating the diversity and depth of Indigenous cultures throughout Canada.
Centuries after colonialism moved Indigenous peoples off their lands, and after five generations of Indigenous children being taken from their families and forced to attend residential school, myths and misinformation about Indigenous people still exist in the minds of some Canadians.
Mikinakoos Children’s Fund, a charity that works to deliver food and supplies to remote communities in Northern Ontario, hears these misconceptions daily.
“There’s still a colonial belief that Indigenous people have the same rights as non-Indigenous Canadians and that Canadians don’t have an obligation to help,” said Colleen Martin, Chair, Board of Directors at Mikinakoos. “We’d like to help people understand the history of colonialism and how it impacts people to this day.”
To that end, Mikinakoos Children’s Fund is busting some of the most common myths about Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
Myth: Indigenous people were “savage” before colonization. Colonizers saved them.
Truth: “This was a story perpetuated by colonizers to rationalize taking the land,” said Martin. “Indigenous peoples lived on this land for millennia before contact and had their own sophisticated systems and beliefs. Colonization was simply the beginning of a centuries-long process of erasing traditional cultures, languages and teachings, which were focused on values like respecting the land and cooperation.”
Myth: “If life is so hard in remote areas, or on reserve, they should just move.”
Truth: “We see this one a lot. The issue here is who we hold responsible in different situations. If a city such as Ottawa or Toronto came under a boil water advisory, the onus would be on the Government to resolve the issue quickly. But when discussing challenges faced by many First Nations communities, the onus is placed on the people impacted to solve their own problems.”
Myth: “Residential schools, the Indian Act, it all happened long ago – everyone should move on and take responsibility for their lives.”
Truth: “Think of it this way: one trauma in childhood can impact a person’s mental and physical health forever and there is growing physical evidence that shows the impacts of trauma can be passed down to children. Indigenous people experienced hundreds of years of having their children forcibly taken. Many didn’t come home. Some did but had experienced terrible abuse and neglect. This was inflicted on five generations of people. This unimaginable trauma requires resources for mental health, physical health, psychology, and healing. Resources we don’t have but would be necessary for anyone, regardless of race, religion or creed to “move on” from trauma.
Myth: “They don’t pay taxes. Why should taxpayers help?”
Truth: “This is the most common misconception we see. Tax exemptions only apply to Status Indians who live and work on reserve. In 2016, only 49% of Canada’s total Indigenous population were Status, and only 40% of Status Indians lived on reserve. And this doesn’t include Inuit or Métis. We must work toward a society that is based on mutual respect and compassion, regardless of tax bracket.”
Mikinakoos Children’s Fund works to address poverty by providing basic amenities, such as food, clothing, and shelter to First Nations children residing in remote communities in Northern Ontario. Visit Mikinakoos.com for information on how you can help.