Indigenous History Month has been marked by multiple deaths for the very people it was designed to celebrate and honour.
On June 2, Everett Patrick, died in police custody after being bitten by police dogs in Prince George, BC. Two days later, 26-year old Chantel Moore was killed by police during a wellness check in Edmunston, New Brunswick. And on June 12, Rodney Levi died after being shot by RCMP near the Metepenagiag Mi'kmaq Nation.
The months leading up have been equally violent. On April 8, police pulled over Eisha Hudson on a Winnipeg street and swarmed her vehicle. She was shot while still inside the car. Less than 12 hours later, Jason Collins was shot and killed by police officers in the same city. Stewart Kevin Andrews became the third Indigenous person shot by Winnipeg police in 10 days while they were responding to a report of a robbery.
And on May 5, Abraham Natanine was killed by RCMP in Clyde River, Nunavut.
These are only the names of those who have experienced police violence in recent months and only those that died in the process.
None of these individuals deserved to be killed, regardless of the circumstances they found themselves in. A fundamental role of police is to de-escalate and maintain peace. It is not only clear that some officers place less value on Indigenous lives, but they do so with impunity. In 2017, the Auditor General’s report noted that no one had been dismissed for unacceptable behaviour despite 85 civil action claims against the RCMP for abuse against Indigenous persons.
Despite all this, prominent Canadians continue to deny that systemic racism is an issue. Ontario premier Doug Ford said: “Thank God we’re different than the United States and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots they’ve had for years.” Quebec Premier Francois Legault echoed similar sentiments. And RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said: “I think that if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don’t have systemic racism.” Two days following that statement, she was forced to backtrack and said: “…I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP. I should have.” None of this is new. Indigenous Peoples from the Prairies know all too well about starlight tours. It is a practice that originated in Saskatoon as early as the 1970’s which saw police officers drive (sometimes) inebriated, (always) Indigenous people to the outskirts of the city in the middle of the winter. They would then have to walk back in freezing temperatures, usually very late at night.
Law enforcement is not the only place in the justice system that needs a complete overhaul. White adults have seen their prison admissions drop for the last decade as Canada’s crime rate hit a 45-year low. Indigenous incarceration rates, however, have been skyrocketing – up to 112 per cent for women. In provincial jails, 36 per cent of the inmates are Indigenous women and 25 percent are Indigenous men, while making up 4 per cent of the national population.
You can help
Use social media. Use the hashtag #indigenouslivesmatter on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit. Share this and other news articles with friends and family.
Use the tool below to contact your provincial and federal political representative and the appropriate government ministers to demand that they take concrete action to rid racism from federal and provincial law enforcement agencies. And while you have their attention, tell them to reduce incarceration rates for Indigenous peoples by changing minimum sentencing laws.
The violence has to stop. The hatred has to stop. The racism has to stop. Please, be a part of the change that we all need.
(Photo courtesy of Ossie Michelin, APTN, 2013)