With acknowledgement to Tanya Talaga.
The Indigenous Reconciliation Group was honoured to support Anishnabe author Tanya Talaga who was selected for the 2018 Massey Lectures. The CBC Massey Lectures is a partnership between CBC, House of Anasi Press and Massey College at the University of Toronto. This year’s lectures are also created in collaboration with the Toronto Star and the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy. This is one of Canada’s largest literary events, and Ms. Talaga is the second Indigenous author nominated since Thomas King in 2003.
Tanya is from Fort William First Nation in Thunder Bay, and a journalist with the Toronto Star. Tanya’s book All Our Relations is about the urgent crisis of Indigenous suicide in Canada. The risk factors and the protective factors for suicide in Indigenous peoples are different than non-Indigenous Canadians. But the factors are similar as those for Indigenous peoples across the world, such as Australian Aboriginals, Norway and Sweden Sāmi, and Native Americans in the US.
It was not the first time that the IRG was involved in supporting Tanya. As founding Chair, I invited her to attend the Wharerātā Group meeting in Norway/Sweden in June 2018, held alongside the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership. This created opportunities for Tanya to meet with key Indigenous leaders in mental health from across the world.
The IRG choose to support Tanya because her book will contribute to reconciliation. In the final lecture in Toronto, Tanya called Canada to act, to care, to do the work of reconciliation now, so that we don’t lose any more Indigenous kids to suicide. Yes, there is a connection.
Canada’s history of oppression against First Nations, Inuit and Metis is long and difficult to hear. It was more difficult for those who endured it. The problem we face today is this history is hidden. How do we know? Because non-Indigenous Canadians sometimes say, “just get over it”, or blame Indigenous peoples for their struggles to resolve the traumas. This is not an appropriate response to the traumas faced by Indigenous, just as this is not an appropriate response for survivors of the Holocaust. It takes quite the lack of empathy to dismiss the pain of a people, the type of dismissal usually found in the appalling messages of white supremacy. Or it takes a lack of knowledge of that pain and history. I choose to believe that Canadians are empathetic, so it’s about a lack of knowledge.
Without recognition of this history, Indigenous history is lost. How much more difficult when first the oppression occurred, and next it is ignored. Is there a place for Indigenous history in Canada? Do the stories belong? If Indigenous communities can’t find themselves in Canada’s history, we risk not being able to find ourselves in Canada’s future.
So there is an urgent need to tell Canada’s history in full, including the oppression and criminalization of Indigenous cultures in the first half of the 1900s. There is also an urgent need to tell the stories of Indigenous strength and contribution to this country. These stories are protective factors for Indigenous life promotion, and they reduce the risks of suicide. This is part of reconciliation.
Denial of the truths of Canada’s history is not the only risk factor to Indigenous suicide, as risk factors are complex. But is it a factor, no doubt.
Because denying space and meaning to Indigenous perspectives in Canada’s history creates the void in which stereotypes live and thrive. The stereotypes take away sense of empathy. And we now have individual acts of racism against Indigenous peoples. When an Indigenous youth is struggling, racism might add on to the risk factors for suicide.
Racism might add to suicide risk.
The second piece of work is about equity. First Nations, Inuit and Métis kids and families don’t necessarily receive the same access to health and mental health services as other Canadians. From funding gaps, to jurisdictional gaps between federally funded services and provincial/territorial services, to delays in funding specialized health needs, to simple inequities in funding as some Indigenous groups receive less coverage…. there are a multitude of stories of Indigenous Canadians facing inequities in health and mental health access. The Canada Health Act doesn’t seem to apply to Indigenous Canadians.
Reconciliation will require Canadians to demand equity for Indigenous kids. When a child is at risk from a serious health issue, or at serious risk of suicide, every parent wants immediate quality support from tax-funded health or mental health systems. Don’t we want this for all our children?
Quality services includes cultural safety. First Nations, Inuit and Métis require services that respect their cultures. Services which are not culturally safe are not upholding the principle of “first do no harm”. Racism in the health and mental health care system are incidents risking patient safety.
Racism increases the complex risk factors for Indigenous suicide when Indigenous histories are not included in Canada’s social discourse. Racism increases the risk factors when health and mental health services disrespect culture and ignore cultural resilience as a protective factor.
We do have influence here. We can make a difference. Play your part in reconciliation.
Reconciliation holds up Indigenous peoples’ stories in our shared history. Reconciliation challenges racism against Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation makes space for and protects that sense of belonging for Indigenous peoples. So that the First Nations, Inuit or Métis youth who is looking for a future and belonging, so that youth can find it. We all have a responsibility in the village to protect this safety and belonging for all our kids.
As Tanya shared these messages across Canada, it was amazing to see Canadians agree and show their commitment to reconciliation. Canadians shared their hope, and I thank you for attending the Massey Lectures, purchased Tanya’s book, and encourage you to start conversations in your networks about reconciliation.
The full Massey Lectures will be broadcast on CBC Ideas starting November 12, 2018.