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Addressing Racism Requires Focused Dialogue, Constructive Action

August 31, 2016

The tragic homicide of Mr. Colten Boushie near Biggar has sparked a great deal of public debate; some of it questioning the level of racism that exists in our province. The racism that has been revealed is shocking to most, but not to Indigenous people.

The lived experience of Indigenous people cannot be ignored and many are speaking up.  Their experience exposes a fundamental need to change the conversation in our province. Building a healthy relationship, based on respect, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens is a priority.

People are often unaware of racism in their communities, and because of this, believe they are not affected by the consequences of racism. The truth is that all Saskatchewanians are directly or indirectly affected by systemic racism on a daily basis.

The consequences of isolation and marginalization have been well researched. Studies show that many Indigenous people in Canada live in poverty seen only in the developing world. More to the point, 64% of all First Nation children in Saskatchewan live below the poverty line. This model of inequity is unacceptable and runs contrary to our Saskatchewan values.

Amid negative headlines and social media controversy, individuals and groups have signaled that they recognize there is a problem in Saskatchewan and, more importantly, they want to be part of a solution.  Provincial, community, and other stakeholders recognize that the health and well-being of Saskatchewan is directly related to the health well-being of the Indigenous communities in our province.

Two months ago, the Environics Institute for Survey Research released a Canada-wide public opinion poll on attitudes toward Indigenous people. It shows that because of the recent report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the majority of Canadians are starting to have some understanding of the impact of social and economic inequity on Indigenous people.

Understanding is a first step toward reconciliation and to a new and better relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Educators have a critical role to play in molding the citizens of a civil society. They need our support if we are to achieve mutual respect.

We must acknowledge the issues and commit to tackling them head on. We need constructive action based on focused dialogue with the necessary stakeholders – the individuals, corporations, organizations, and institutions that, together, can build a solid foundation for a new relationship. The social and economic future of Saskatchewan depends on a positive outcome.

David Arnot, Chief Commissioner
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission