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Indigenous official dancing

June 23, 2020

Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day 

Officially recognized in Canada in June of 1996, National Indigenous Peoples Day occurs annually on 21 June and is intended to celebrate the culture and history of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in Canada.

This year, National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations were moved online due to social distancing restrictions.  The Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival held a virtual powwow on 21 June following three weeks of events celebrating National Indigenous History Month.  With nearly 200,000 members, participants in this online group came together to virtually burn tobacco and share photos and videos of themselves in their regalia.  

This day--and indeed this whole month (as it is National Indigenous History Month)--should also be used to learn about the history of Indigenous peoples.  
The Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples came out in 1996 and is the most comprehensive 20th century collection of knowledge about, and collected with, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.  The 4000 pages provided more than 440 recommendations to federal, provincial/territorial, and local governments as well as to international bodies like the United Nations.  However, none of the 440 recommendations have been actioned.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established after the historic residential schools apology issued by the Canadian government in June 2008.  The TRC Commissioners listened to Indian Residential School survivors throughout Canada before collating a response in the form of the TRC Final Report and 94 Calls to Action.  These Calls to Action have recently been echoed in the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Final Report issued in July 2019.

The TRC and MMIWG reports provide concrete actions to speak about the true history of Indigenous peoples in Canada and how to eliminate inequalities that Indigenous people face as part of the genocidal policies that have been in place since before the creation of the country.

Finally, thirty years ago on 22 June 1990, Elijah Harper--the only Indigenous MP--stood up to protest the Constitutional Talks.


Using National Indigenous History Month to Recognize the Health Inequities Indigenous Peoples in Canada Face

Several factors influence people's health and public health systems more broadly.  The social determinants of health are the factors that shape people's living and working conditions and thus influence their day-to-day health.  These factors and their effects differ notably between people, with some groups—such as Indigenous peoples—facing health inequities.  These differences arise in part because health systems perpetuate racism—that is, the system itself is discriminatory towards Indigenous peoples.  It is crucial that healthcare and public health policies consider and are sensitive to the unique lived experiences of Indigenous peoples, including their conceptualization of public health and health systems.

One step towards creating health systems that are more responsive to and are safer for Indigenous peoples is cultural safety training.  Cultural safety training teaches professionals about Indigenous peoples’ cultures and lived experience so that services can better account for these factors.  Cultural safety has been shown to be a viable option for trying to eradicate the systemic racism found in public health systems.

Vlad Tchompalov via Unsplash
Photo credits: Vlad Tchompalov via Unsplash.


Current Events in Anti-Indigenous Racism in Canada: The Trans Mountain Pipeline

The construction of the Trans Mountain (or Kinder Morgan) Pipeline has faced notable backlash from First Nations communities and environmental activists over concerns of climate change, oil spills, and land infringement.  Some people might not understand why First Nations communities are so upset, but here's the thing: the pipeline is just one environmental issue that Indigenous communities in Canada face—another notable issue is that of clean water.  Environmental racism refers to the phenomenon wherein people of colour are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards (e.g., toxic waste sites near First Nations communities that contaminate their water supply).

Right now, Alberta is capitalizing on the pandemic-induced physical distancing restrictions that prohibit large gatherings (read: protests).  Indeed, during a podcast, Alberta's energy minister Sonya Savage has stated that "Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can't have protests of more than 15 people".  More troubling are Alberta's efforts to severely penalize protesters through the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, which "allows hefty penalties against any person or company found to have blocked, damaged or entered without reason any "essential infrastructure."  The catch is that there is a broad array of areas that people can be punished for trespassing through, ranging from pipelines to highways to farms.  With individuals possibly facing up to $25,000 or 6 months in jail, the consequences are steep.  The right to protest is a central aspect of democracy—but these actions are threatening that right.

Notice - COVID distancing
Photo credits: Michael Marais via Unsplash.

COVID-19 Resources for Indigenous People

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH) held a webinar titled COVID-19 and Health Equity for Marginalized Populations, in which a panel of experts discuss the unique challenges people in marginalized groups face during the pandemic.

The DLSPH recorded another great webinar including an Indigenous panelist (Renee Linklater, PhD, Director at Shkaabe Makwa, CAMH) about COVID-19 titled The Intersection of Mental Health and Culture During and Post-COVID-19, which discusses how the pandemic is affecting the mental health of individuals and communities.  Here is one great resource discussed during this webinar.

OISE has a helpful and well-organized page with Indigenous COVID-19 resources that you can find here.  It includes links to wellness resources as well as Indigenous responses to the pandemic.

Yellowhead Institute has a comprehensive section for COVID-19 resources and information, ranging from a closer look at Indigenous COVID data to First Nations communities' responses to the pandemic.


Stay Informed: Resources

Here’s a fantastic PBS Masters video titled “First American Indian Woman Doctor”, which centers around Susan La Flesche Picotte.  At just under 12 minutes, this video is brief (perfect for our quarantine attention span!) and definitely worth a watch.  This short film was part of PBS Masters’ Unladylike2020 Series.  If you’re interested, you can find the series here.

The Champlain Society has a podcast episode about Canada after World War II.  Here's the description of the episode: "Greg Marchildon talks about the evolution of Canada after the Second World War with Dimitry Anastakis, L.R. Wilson/R.J. Currie Chair in Canadian Business History at the Rotman School of Management and the Department of History at the University of Toronto, and the author of Re-Creation, Fragmentation and Resilience: A Brief History of Canada since 1945 (Oxford University Press)."

If videos and podcasts aren't your thing, here's an Indigenous reading list comprising poetry, young adult and adult fiction, and non-fiction works!

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Tenfold Podcast

We’re starting the season with Podcasting in Public Health. Originally a panel scheduled for TOPHC2020, this episode brings together the hosts of two public health podcasts to talk with host Andrea Bodkin about podcasting in public health: the ups, the downs, the should-you-do-its. Listen here or in your favourite podcast catcher. Check out the podcasts featured in this episode: Food and Health Today and Race, Health & Happiness.