Calgarians had a chance to hear of the challenges their First Nations neighbours face during a public town hall meeting this month sponsored by MLA David Swann at Calgary’s Kerby Centre.
“Healing is a journey,” Casey Eagle Speaker, the aboriginal resource coordinator at Calgary’s Hull Services, told participants at the three-hour event on Oct. 13.
He spoke at length of the lasting impact of residential schools and the federal policy of systemic discrimination against families, and said that he hoped that renewed discussion in light of the changing political climate would allow for the process of healing to begin.
The town hall meeting, entitled Barriers to Access Facing Urban Aboriginal People in Calgary, featured round table discussions on First Nations poverty, housing and employment, mental health, and, most poignantly, the epidemic of children in the foster system.
“We have adopted a system that has our women and children as property,” Eagle Speaker responded after the round table heard of the story of one family breakup.
He noted that overwhelming workload among social workers and persistent racial prejudice create a system where aboriginal children are much more likely to be separated from their families than those of any other cultural group.
We have adopted a system that has our women and children as property – Casey Eagle Speaker.
Most of these practices are a holdover from the “Sixties Scoop,” when an estimated 20,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families and fostered or adopted out, he said. Although the practice eventually slowed considerably in the late 1980s, the cultural mindset has changed very little, Eagle Speaker said.
Trevor Solway, a local Blackfoot filmmaker and Mount Royal University journalism student, said this practice created a generation without purpose.
“When you take away people’s family and isolate them, when you treat them as worse, you take away their purpose for life,” he said, adding that he remembers clearly his experiences in grade school as an outsider.
“I still remember how it feels to walk into a room and the whole room clearly has their minds already made up about you,” Solway said.
He pointed out that a quarter of all suicides globally occur among the aboriginal people of Canada.
“Most people don’t realize that the Third World does exist here in Canada,” Solway said. “Ask not what you can do for us, but how you can support us for us to realize our potential. This is our basic right to be real again.”
Swann, who represents Calgary-Mountain View in the Alberta Legislature, had his representatives document stories presented at the round table.