Tuesday marks National Aboriginal Day, and Guelph will mark the occasion with activities in Market Square that evening. Owing to the fact that this is a political podcast and website though, I thought it might behoove us talk about some of the issues surrounding Canada’s First Nations people rather than just celebrate a community event held in the honour.
One thing though, I am not someone who identifies as belonging to Canada’s First Nations. No problem, I know a ringer I could bring in. Paul Smith, a Métis writer and activist, has frequently been a contributor and voice of authority on the subject to both Open Sources Guelph, and its previous incarnation, Beyond the Ballot Box. Paul is a freelance writer whose works have appeared in local papers and websites like StraightGoods.com, and he also once served as councillor on the Grand River Metis Council, but I mostly know Paul for his well-spoken and thoughtful remarks on the issues faced by Canada’s First Nations people.
On that subject, there is so much to talk about. It was this time last year that the initial copy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report came back, which seemed to open a can of worm that has since refused to be closed. First Nations voters came out in force to vote for the new Liberal government who has so far not let them down too much with new funding, a new dialogue, and a new sense of hopefulness in a community that hasn’t seen a lot of hopefulness for a while. Still, Attawapiskat suffered a winter of discontent with a epidemic of attempted suicides, the people of Grassy Narrows can’t drink their water because of mercury poisoning, and decades of systemic neglect in infrastructure haunt reserves across the country daily, and all that’s to say nothing of the Aboriginal women and girls that still go missing or are murdered at an alarming rate.
But it’s not all bad news. As I discuss with Paul, the challenges faced by First Nations people are substantial, but they’re also generational, meaning that it’s going to take time to solve them. Until then, there’s still reason to celebrate as First Nations people are asserting themselves, making their issues and politics known, pushing governments for action, and are reclaiming their history and culture. At one point you’ll hear Paul’s apologizes for turning the conversation positive, jokingly of course.
To discuss the issues facing First Nations people in 2016, I met Smith on the traditional territory of the Attawandaron/ Attawandaronk/ Neutral People, also know as the University of Guelph campus.
You can learn more about Guelph’s plans for the National Aboriginal Day celebrations here. Festivities begin at 6 pm in Market Square in from of City Hall and 1 Carden St.
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