National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2016, gives Canadians opportunity to learn more about First Nations peoples. Major Shari Russell, Territorial Aboriginal Ministries Consultant for The Salvation Army, discusses challenges Indigenous communities face and how people can get involved to help make a difference.
What are the modern-day realities facing First Nations peoples?
There are a variety of social issues that impact Indigenous people.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW)
Ongoing violence continues to happen and Indigenous women are three times more likely to be victims because of their gender and Indigenous identity. Misunderstanding, lack of knowledge and stereotypes about this issue continue to impact the Indigenous community as mothers, sisters, aunties and cousins are missing or murdered.
Two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade. Statistics reveal that 400 out of 618 First Nations communities in the country had some kind of water problem between 2004 and 2014.
Suicide among First Nations youth (ages 15 to 24) is approximately five to six times higher than non-aboriginal youth in Canada. Our young people are the future and communities are overwhelmed with grief. Issues are complex and there is not an easy solution, but understanding the impacts of colonization on this younger generation is necessary to resolving this.
What needs to change to improve broken relationships?
Learning about the impact of colonization on all Canadians is integral to improving broken relationships. Becoming aware of the Doctrine of Discovery, Terra Nullius, Residential Schools, the 60s scoop and the policies that have impacted Indigenous people is a beginning.
It’s important to establish friendships with Indigenous people. Going to a Friendship Centre and participating in programs to learn about our culture and traditions is an opportunity anyone can do. Attending a pow-wow and inviting Elders in to share their stories and experience also helps build relationships and understanding.
What is The Salvation Army doing to help strengthen First Nations communities?
In many of our social services, The Salvation Army provides basic needs for Indigenous people, which opens doors to Indigenous people and groups. Relationships are developing and being strengthened between The Salvation Army and Indigenous communities throughout Canada.
This year The Salvation Army is building on the Aboriginal Roundtable we commenced last year, which brings together Indigenous leaders and potential leaders within The Salvation Army. We are hosting two Roundtables (one in Saskatchewan and one in BC North) to build relationships and support between Indigenous Salvation Army members and empower them to continue to reach out and impact their local communities.
Why is The Salvation Army dedicated to advancing the well-being of First Nations peoples?
The Salvation Army has a heart and passion for the marginalized and oppressed segments of society, which includes many of our Indigenous people and communities. When we look at the challenges our Indigenous people face within Canada, it is our privilege as a Salvation Army to be trusted by the Indigenous people and journey with them.
Salvation Army leaders have learned about the depth and breadth of colonial history and the issues that impact Indigenous people in Canada. They are dedicated to advancing the well-being of Indigenous people.
How can Canadians get involved and make a difference?
Throughout the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, Justice Murray Sinclair reiterated often that 'Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem, it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.'
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission put forth 94 Calls to Action for all Canadians to actively pursue. Learn about the Calls to Action and engage in concrete steps of Reconciliation as outlined. Becoming familiar with and integrating some of these principles on the local level is a concrete way of making a difference.
Indifference and lack of knowledge are two significant barriers to overcome. Learn about the richness of Indigenous culture and heritage. Learn about social issues we encounter and learn about the systems that need to be changed. Learn from the Indigenous people and let them guide you in the process.
Photo: Major Shari Russell speaks at the ecumenical press conference on Parliament Hill on March 30, 2016