Issues affecting Indigenous communities largely ignored during election

In last week’s snap election, the federal government saw waves of citizens raise concerns relating to the Indigenous community and reconciliation

In the months preceding last week’s snap election, Indigenous issues rightfully dominated headlines. After thousands of unmarked graves were discovered at the site of numerous former residential schools, calls to action were put forward by Indigenous communities Canada-wide.

Why were these calls to action and other issues plaguing Indigenous communities ignored leading up to the election?

The New York Times explained that, to a large extent, the snap election seemed to be more so about the Canadian Liberals’ need to call an election than about an election itself. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and New Democrat Party leader Jagmeet Singh “[continued] to characterize the pandemic election call as unnecessary and unwise during a public health emergency.”

No other issues besides the fact that many called the snap election an obvious power grab reached the point of allowing party leaders to redefine the campaign while many important subjects (such as the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at the site of former residential schools) were sidelined or dismissed.

The discovery of remains of former students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School shocked and saddened many Canadians who live outside of Indigenous communities and renewed the national discussion concerning reconciliation. Within the weeks following, more remains were then discovered therefore sparking public interest in keeping the conversation going. For the most part, though, that conversation did not carry over to the campaign.

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP, and other candidates challenged Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals to own up to the fact they failed to provide clean drinking water to all Indigenous communities during Trudeau’s first five years in office.

Trudeau often boasts about how the government has brought clean drinking water to 109 First Nation communities since taking power, but that is not to say the problem has all but disappeared.

When Trudeau took power, there were 105 “boil water orders,” or public health advisories put in place by health authorities to warn communities about possible pathogens in drinking water; today, 52 boil water orders remain.

Talk concerning the remaining boil water orders and other important issues concerning Indigenous communities did not surface during the campaign aside from brief statements made by party leaders during the English Debate.

There is no sign in terms of public and political discourse that topics concerning Indigenous issues will disappear in the coming months. With many more former residential school sites left to be surveyed and millions of dollars earmarked to assist in the discovery of what is assumed to be more remains, the intergenerational trauma plaguing Indigenous communities dug up by these discoveries most certainly should take center stage.

Burial discoveries across Canada have propelled the nation’s debate on how to make amends for its history of abuse and exploitation of Indigenous peoples.

It is far past time politicians get on board and treat Indigenous issues as equally as important as other issues often discussed during campaigns. In the coming months, it is important we remain hopeful there is some sort of inclusivity of Indigenous issues brought to the floor in Ottawa.