Saskatchewan government gets 'below fail' grade on Indigenous issues: professor

Critics point to the Saskatchewan Party's lack of progress on Indigenous issues. Will a new premier make this a priority?
Brad Wall, who announced his retirement from politics as Saskatchewan's premier, Aug. 10, admitted there has not been enough progress on Indigenous issues. (CBC)

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The province of Saskatchewan has struggled to make real progress on Indigenous issues, say critics — from high unemployment and school dropout rates, to disproportionate numbers of Indigenous children in foster care and adults in prison.

Even Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who announced his retirement from politics earlier this month, noted in a recent press conference, "There's been improvements but I'd say … there has not been enough progress that I would point to with satisfaction, or that there isn't more work that needs to be done."
University of Saskatchewan's Real Carriere says it's not just Brad Wall but all previous premiers across Canada that have failed Indigenous people. (Jason Warick/CBC News)

University of Saskatchewan lecturer Real Carriere says it's not just Wall that failed Indigenous people, it's all previous premiers across Canada.

He gives premiers a DNS grade.

"The Did Not Start. So even below fail," he tells The Current's host Matt Galloway.

Carriere says it goes back to the "Did Not Start" treaty relationship, and while Canada may recognize the Royal Proclamation of 1763, when it comes to the "meaningful implementation honouring the spirit and intent of the treaties," that true treaty relationship hasn't started.

"Indigenous people are still struggling against the forces of colonization," he says.

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Wall has been Saskatchewan premier for 10 years, and Indigenous leaders have criticized his government for not addressing concerns nearly enough. 

It's a more than fair assessment according to University of Regina professor Tom McIntosh.

"It's never been a priority for the Wall government. It's also never been a priority for any provincial government, I don't think in Saskatchewan," he tells Galloway.

Perhaps one of the reasons, he says, is the issue of racism embedded in politics and society.

McIntosh understands the issues are complicated but suggests it's imperative to make this "the centre of the political discourse." 
Colten Boushie, 22, was killed on a farm near Biggar, Sask. His death prompted an outpouring of hateful online racism that former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall condemned. (Facebook)

"The future of the province in many ways is Indigenous because it is 15, 16 per cent of the population— the young growing part of the population," McIntosh insists.

The Saskatchewan government responded to the criticism in a statement to The Current.

"In our 10 years in government, we have invested in all levels of education, housing, early childhood programs and services. When Premier Wall announced his retirement he acknowledged that more work needs to be done to address issues that affect Indigenous people."

Provincial parties in places like Saskatchewan do not see Aboriginal people, First Nation people as a voting force.- Political columnist Murray Mandryk

Political columnist Murray Mandryk agrees there has been modest success and slight improvements but argues, "there is no overall strategy."

He believes the lack of emphasis focusing on Indigenous issues comes down to votes.

"Provincial parties in places like Saskatchewan do not see Aboriginal people, First Nation people as a voting force. And since they don't see them as a voting force, they have no reason to cater to their needs," Mandryk tells Galloway.

Furthermore, he doesn't see the current leadership candidates in the Saskatchewan Party taking this on.

"Sadly to say, I think Brad Wall was at least sympathetic towards Aboriginal issues as was the case with the Colten Boushie file and the comments afterwards. He was at times a voice of reason in a province that is completely unreasonable."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese, Idella Sturino and Samira Mohyeddin.