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Chief Vern Janvier: Reflecting on lockdowns, psychological well being and the Indian Act

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There isn’t a query that the final 16 months have been laborious. COVID-19, the financial system, isolation and concern have affected folks in a large number of the way. The one good thing about struggling, if there may be one, is the chance it offers to supply a touchstone for understanding very completely different experiences. Now we have all suffered in a roundabout way or one other. However the world into which we’re born actually dictates the dimensions of that struggling. 

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For instance, in the course of the pandemic information tales have highlighted tales of Canadian males and girls who ordinarily get pleasure from good psychological well being however have struggled with anxiousness and despair arising from emotions of isolation, confusion, and hopelessness because of public well being restrictions enforced as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. Some inside this similar group of individuals had been additionally consuming growing quantities of medication and alcohol to deal with their lockdown-induced anxiousness and despair. 

On the similar time, and perhaps because of this, there have been hundreds of thousands of social media memes filling up our feeds exhibiting Canadians railing in opposition to perceived authorities interference of their lives as a menace to their freedom and independence. The tough commentary we should all acknowledge, and ably identified by Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi, is these livid few had been overwhelmingly white and male. It leaves marginalized folks—girls, Indigenous folks and different racialized communities—muttering “first time?”

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This second gives an incredible lens to highlight the impact of restricted freedoms on the well being and wellbeing of individuals. There’s no query the COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty had been tough. However think about if these restrictions had been generations lengthy, dehumanizing, arbitrary and utilized due to your heritage. Let’s take this second to higher perceive the impacts of the historic remedy of Indigenous peoples.

Too many Canadians know far too little of the laws that has restricted the freedoms of Indigenous peoples in northern Alberta for greater than a century. 

Indigenous folks confronted a real lack of company

The Indian Act as soon as required First Nations folks to acquire a cross from the native Indian agent to go away our reserves; to be off the reserve with out such a cross may result in imprisonment. The act outlawed a lot of our conventional ceremonies and the act made it unlawful to rent a lawyer to problem these restrictions.

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At the moment, Indigenous folks stay ‘wards of the state’ and our rights—or lack of them—are facilitated, managed and interpreted inside colonial programs that resist the concept we’re able to deciding for ourselves what could also be finest for us. 

Indigenous folks confronted a real lack of financial wellbeing

The switch of jurisdiction of pure sources from the federal authorities to the Prairie provinces in 1930 has, for many years, stripped Indigenous peoples of any significant potential to guard our potential to hunt, fish, lure and collect meals and medicines important to the train of our constitutionally acknowledged and affirmed Treaty rights.

These impacts are usually not merely historic. In northern Alberta, our off-reserve conventional territories are managed by a provincial authorities whose slim interpretation of our rights, and lackluster strategy to consulting on impacts to these rights, has allowed them to be slowly eroded by the cumulative results of commercial growth.

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In essence, our livelihoods and well-being has been “balanced” in opposition to the tax and employment advantages to be loved by Canadian society at massive and repeatedly come up brief. 

Indigenous folks have had their identification stripped away

Now we have been confined to our reserves, had our kids taken away and despatched to residential faculties (many by no means returning house), and had our conventional livelihoods diminished irreparably, and we battle to defend what’s left. This assault on our tradition and traditions, nonetheless largely unacknowledged besides by way of symbolic gestures, is enough to depress whole communities.

What Canada has proper now’s the most important teachable second in current historical past. Over the past 16 months, many Canadians have realized simply how weak their psychological well being is when put in conditions through which they lack management over their very own lives.

As Canadians turn out to be extra conscious of and develop larger empathy for psychological well being points attributable to authorities restrictions, we ask that they mirror on the seven generations of Indigenous folks in northern Alberta who’ve suffered and proceed to undergo underneath the Indian Act and different laws that disenfranchises a whole folks.

What vaccine will finish our lockdown, and how lengthy will our restoration take? What can Canada do to make sure the following seven generations are accorded the company they deserve? That relies upon largely on you. 

-Chief Vern Janvier, Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation 


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