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As we all are aware now, last Wednesday night Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was interrupted at a Liberal Party fundraiser by protesters from Grassy Narrows seeking justice for the decades of mercury poisoning their Ontario community has suffered and survived through. After being ejected, Mr. Trudeau was recorded thanking the protesters for their donation, much to the enjoyment of the other people in the room.
The prime minister has since apologized, saying his comments lacked respect. But what lesson did he learn? Back in February 2017, the prime minister made his now infamous “canoes and paddles” remark, saying it “was reflective of the many conversations he has had over the years with Indigenous leaders, young people, parents and elders.” Surely the prime minister has had more conversations since then. Surely he has done more listening to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. Surely by now his immediate reactions would be more understanding, more open, and more respectful.
But when he’s surrounded by his rich friends, Mr. Trudeau’s real colours start showing. He didn’t want to understand and he didn’t want to listen. He wanted to impress his donors – the same donors who believe he is the champion of Indigenous rights and reconciliation. Does the prime minister truly regret his comments, or does he just regret that he was caught on camera saying them?
Meanwhile, kids in Grassy Narrows are twice as likely to have vision problems, chronic ear infections, and grow up with learning disabilities. Indigenous children and families across Canada are still living in homes covered in mould and they aren’t seeing action from this government. The government is still pursuing a challenge of the rights of First Nations’ children to get an education and they’re still suing survivors of St. Anne’s residential schools.
These things are still happening today, in 2019. And over the history of this country, Indigenous people have given so much to a country that repeatedly rejects them and denies them an existence. First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people have had their families, their cultures, their languages, and their lives stolen from them. And at last Wednesday’s fundraiser the prime minister tried to take away their dignity.
What the prime minister should have said was thank you for your contribution. Thank you for your activism, for speaking truth to power. Thank you for calling out my government, and governments before mine, for breaking our promises. For failing to respect your treaty rights. For failing to provide clean drinking water & housing. For passing a budget that doesn’t even address the mould crisis facing First Nations. For suing First Nations children for trying to get an education. What the prime minister could do is accept Chief Rudy Turtle’s invitation to visit the people of Grassy Narrows to see why his comments lacked respect and why his actions towards Indigenous people are harmful.
The prime minister will have to show that his promises to Indigenous people aren’t empty. He’ll have to show his sincerity not in apologies, but in actions. Actions that correct these injustices against Indigenous people, actions that show his donors he’s not taking Indigenous people for granted. Indigenous people expect more of the prime minister, the Liberal Party of Canada, and of their donors.
And to the brave members of Grassy Narrows, thank you for speaking up. Thank you for fighting, thank you for continuing to remind all of Canada that this government has more it can do.
Signed by New Democratic Party MPs Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Georgina Jolibois , and Romeo Saganash.