We're facing a deficit in Canada. It's not a deficit in the government's books, but a deficit in potential.
Canada values and commits itself to compassion, fairness and equity, but for too long it has failed to apply those values, the foundation of our just society, to Indigenous Peoples.
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Indigenous populations face a life expectancy five to seven years shorter than other Canadians. They have poorer health and are less likely to hold a post-secondary degree. Indigenous women are five times more likely to be murdered. A young indigenous man is more likely to end up in jail than walk across the stage at his high school graduation.
I was at a public lecture recently where those statistics were presented. At the end of the lecture, a non-indigenous women said, wiping tears from her eyes, "If what you're saying is true, if this is really happening, then it's the biggest embarrassment for our entire country."
Closing the gap
In an election where the battleground for votes seems to be concentrating on Jane & Joe Canadian, it's no surprise that parties aren't talking about fulfilling treaty promises to Indigenous Peoples or recognizing and respecting aboriginal rights and title.
Candidates are not acknowledging the extreme poverty and disparity that Indigenous Peoples face in education, housing, safety; or committing to finally, once and for all, ending those disparities and ensuring Indigenous Peoples the basic rights and freedoms that Canadians enjoy.
Many have been right to criticize parties for only speaking to indigenous issues when speaking to Indigenous Peoples.
The economic and social disparities that exist have a profound impact on Canada's economy, international reputation and future.
As Rex Murphy said not long after the Truth & Reconciliation Commission released its 94 calls to action, "This shouldn't just be an election issue, it should be the election issue."
After much pressure, Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, and Elizabeth May agreed to participate in town hall forums hosted by APTN. It's a step short of the full debate on the state of Indigenous Canada that many were calling for.
But it provided one last opportunity for the parties to show Indigenous Peoples that they are committed to a relationship built on foundations of respect, justice, and recognition. It also provided an opportunity to show Canadians that closing the gap between Indigenous peoples and the rest of the country is the just, as well as economical, thing to do.
Winning indigenous votes
Now, more than ever, parties must work harder to earn indigenous votes. Though traditionally Indigenous Peoples have had a lower voter turnout, this election has galvanized a generation looking to build on and honour the work of our ancestors in rebuilding our nations.
Indigenous youth are immersed in a world that's continually changing technologically, socially and politically. And we're seeing that change manifesting in a higher engagement in electoral politics.
First Nations, Métis, and Inuit are the fastest growing community in Canada. In this election, parties have an opportunity to gain the support of many indigenous people who are desperate for the chance of something more, the chance of returning to the original promise in treaty — a promise of prosperity for all peoples.
And that is a vision to which all of Canada can aspire.