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Chief Vern Janvier: Reflecting on lockdowns, psychological well being and the Indian Act

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There isn’t a query that the final 16 months have been laborious. COVID-19, the economic system, isolation and worry have affected individuals in a mess of the way. The one good thing about struggling, if there’s one, is the chance it provides to supply a touchstone for understanding very totally different experiences. Now we have all suffered in a roundabout way or one other. However the world into which we’re born actually dictates the size of that struggling. 

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For instance, throughout the pandemic information tales have highlighted tales of Canadian males and ladies who ordinarily get pleasure from good psychological well being however have struggled with anxiousness and despair arising from emotions of isolation, confusion, and hopelessness resulting from public well being restrictions enforced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some inside this identical group of individuals had been additionally consuming growing quantities of medication and alcohol to deal with their lockdown-induced anxiousness and despair. 

On the identical time, and possibly because of this, there have been thousands and thousands of social media memes filling up our feeds displaying Canadians railing in opposition to perceived authorities interference of their lives as a risk to their freedom and independence. The troublesome statement we should all acknowledge, and ably identified by Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi, is these livid few had been overwhelmingly white and male. It leaves marginalized individuals—ladies, Indigenous individuals and different racialized communities—muttering “first time?”

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This second offers a tremendous lens to highlight the impact of restricted freedoms on the well being and wellbeing of individuals. There’s no query the COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty had been troublesome. However think about if these restrictions had been generations lengthy, dehumanizing, arbitrary and utilized due to your heritage. Let’s take this second to raised perceive the impacts of the historic remedy of Indigenous peoples.

Too many Canadians know far too little of the laws that has restricted the freedoms of Indigenous peoples in northern Alberta for greater than a century. 

Indigenous individuals confronted a real lack of company

The Indian Act as soon as required First Nations individuals to acquire a move from the native Indian agent to depart our reserves; to be off the reserve with out such a move may result in imprisonment. The act outlawed lots of our conventional ceremonies and the act made it unlawful to rent a lawyer to problem these restrictions.

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At this time, Indigenous individuals stay ‘wards of the state’ and our rights—or lack of them—are facilitated, managed and interpreted inside colonial programs that resist the concept that we’re able to deciding for ourselves what could also be finest for us. 

Indigenous individuals confronted a real lack of financial wellbeing

The switch of jurisdiction of pure assets from the federal authorities to the Prairie provinces in 1930 has, for many years, stripped Indigenous peoples of any significant means to guard our means to hunt, fish, lure and collect meals and medicines important to the train of our constitutionally acknowledged and affirmed Treaty rights.

These impacts are usually not merely historic. In northern Alberta, our off-reserve conventional territories are managed by a provincial authorities whose slender interpretation of our rights, and lackluster method to consulting on impacts to these rights, has allowed them to be slowly eroded by the cumulative results of business growth.

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In essence, our livelihoods and well-being has been “balanced” in opposition to the tax and employment advantages to be loved by Canadian society at massive and repeatedly come up brief. 

Indigenous individuals have had their id stripped away

Now we have been confined to our reserves, had our youngsters taken away and despatched to residential colleges (many by no means returning residence), and had our conventional livelihoods diminished irreparably, and we battle to defend what’s left. This assault on our tradition and traditions, nonetheless largely unacknowledged besides by means of symbolic gestures, is ample to depress complete communities.

What Canada has proper now could be the most important teachable second in latest historical past. Over the past 16 months, many Canadians have realized simply how susceptible their psychological well being is when put in conditions by which they lack management over their very own lives.

As Canadians grow to be extra conscious of and develop larger empathy for psychological well being points attributable to authorities restrictions, we ask that they replicate on the seven generations of Indigenous individuals in northern Alberta who’ve suffered and proceed to undergo beneath the Indian Act and different laws that disenfranchises a whole individuals.

What vaccine will finish our lockdown, and how lengthy will our restoration take? What can Canada do to make sure the subsequent seven generations are accorded the company they deserve? That relies upon largely on you. 

-Chief Vern Janvier, Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation 


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