In addition to the immediate human response of standing with the people of La Loche in their shock, grief and pain, expressed by executive secretary Bill Doyle, there is a more long- term challenge that this tragedy places before us, namely, to renew our efforts to address the plight of dozens of Indigenous communities and thousands of Indigenous individuals and families, across this nation. We need to decide to fashion a new Canada, one that reflects justice and equality for all.
Since the shootings in La Loche, we’ve learned that this community has the highest suicide rate in Saskatchewan; the unemployment rate approaches 30 per cent; it lags far behind other parts of Canada in terms of the basics of housing, health care, an adequate education system, recreational facilities, and so on. In short, it is all too typical of Indigenous communities in Canada.
Federal and provincial governments have expressed their empathy with the people of La Loche, and our premier has pledged to provide whatever support is needed by this community. But this is the same provincial government that has adamantly refused to even consider resource-sharing with the Indigenous peoples of Saskatchewan, and La Loche is situated in a resource-rich area. As one caller to CBC’s “Cross Country Check Up” on January 24th put it, quite bluntly, “The politicians have jumped on the bandwagon. I hope they mean it this time”.
But it’s not a challenge just to our governments. Another caller stated, “We live in a profoundly racist country”. Every one of us needs to ask ourselves whether we are committed to learning the factual history of our nation, including the shameful, even criminal, treatment of Canada’s First Peoples over the course of several hundred years, and to probe the deep-seated prejudices that reside within our own hearts and minds.
What happened in La Loche is a tragedy most of us will never experience and can scarcely comprehend, but it is also as opportunity for a new start. We could construct a “new Canada”, if enough of us decided to do so.
Dory Cook, Dawn Guenther, and Bill Wall
leadership team, All My Relations Network