Close to the edge


The organisation, REAL Women of Canada (acronym for Realistic, Equal, Active, for Life), has released a statement calling for an audit on Federal Indigenous Funding, claiming that the Trudeau government “is pouring billions and billions of dollars into a bottomless sack held out by Indigenous activists with no accountability”. The statement is typical of the general understanding among Canadians of the position of Indigenous peoples, and reflects the false idea that “Indians get everything for nothing”.

The REAL perception of the state of Indigenous societies in Canada contains true, half-true, and totally false statements which only serve to add confusion and increased prejudice on the subject. If there is one issue in Canada that desperately needs clarification and dependable information, it’s the whole issue of Canadian-Indigenous relations, the oldest relationship we have in this country.

The REAL Women statement compares federal funding on Indigenous peoples with that spent in the federal budget: “Canada’s federal budgeted expenditures for 2023‑2024 are estimated at $10 thousand per Canadian but Indigenous Department expenditures are expected to be $27 thousand per Indigenous person”. This almost implies that each and every Indigenous person in Canada is getting $27,000 from the Canadian Government. But a great deal of the funds involved is going to pay for the bureaucracy that has grown up to administer Indigenous affairs, including two full government departments and various social and cultural organisations and initiatives. 

The statement states that: “These grants were not made on the basis of evidence or proof of actual harm, a standard required by the courts, but were based on the proposition that all government policies relating to the Indigenous were made with genocidal intent”. This is very misleading, even completely false. There are Treaties, signed in good faith by various Nations, and usually not implemented fully by the Crown, which require funding for Indigenous peoples in return for the vast lands, minerals, fish, timber and other natural resources ceded to the Crown across Canada. They are not grants, they are treaty obligations.

Another area misrepresented by the REAL Women statement concerns the topic of unmarked graves connected to Residential School across Canada. On the one hand, the statement correctly points out something not understood by most Canadians, largely thanks to the very dramatic and misleading stories published in the media. There have been no missing graves discovered, no hidden mass graves, not a single body discovered that was not already recorded in official death certificates, reports, and school records. The statement points out that: “These death certificates indicated that the children who had died while students at the residential schools had all died because of disease or accidents and were buried either on their home reserves or on hospital property”.

However, the statement goes on to talk about the amount of money being provided by the Canadian government to help communities locate and record where their children, who died whilst registered at a Residential School, are buried. The statement claims that “Only one Indigenous band, the Pine Creek band in Manitoba, actually carried out a search for the graves. It found no evidence of buried bodies or that any crimes had been committed. No other band has undertaken a search for the ‘missing graves’”.

This is completely false. For example, three communities in Ontario have hired consultants to research the location of their children’s graves. I, myself, am working on two school cemeteries, on Manitoulin Island and the North Shore of Lake Huron (though not using government funding to do so). The real problem here is that a number of non-Indigenous companies are making a great deal of money by claiming to be able to “bring the children home”, even where no children are lost in the records.

Finally, the statement deals with the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Two sentences follow each other in the REAL Women statement, to show doubt about the Inquiry’s Report: “According to Chief Commissioner, Marion Buller, there was a ‘deliberate race, identity and gender‑based genocide’. In December 2023, Statistics Canada reported that nearly all of the murdered women (86%) were killed by Indigenous men”. Was it “genocide”, or internal community violence? If the women are missing, how can anyone know who killed them?

The conclusion of the REAL Women statement lays the blame for everything at the feet of Indigenous people, ignoring the very real impact of history, colonisation, the Indian Act, and decade after decade of racial and ethnic discrimination: “It is simplistic to blame Aboriginal crime and violence on suffering due to ill treatment by society. However, there seems to be something seriously disturbing about Indigenous culture that may be the cause of so many social calamities – a noticeable absence of stable family life”.

The only simplistic thing here is the conclusions of this statement. Reality tells a very different story, and Canadians need to know the truth, not the half-truths, or outright falsehoods. The real truth will paint no picture of saintly victims and evil bureaucrats: the truth is never that simple. But until Canadians know the facts, the history, the reality of Indigenous history in this country, there will be no Truth or Reconciliation. We all deserve better.


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