Hamilton·Hamilton Votes 2021

Indigenous communities missing from election conversation: Q&A with researcher Courtney Skye

Courtney Skye is a research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation-led research centre. She spoke with Metro Morning's Ismaila Alfa about the issues facing Indigenous communities and what she feels has been missing from the conversation on the campaign trail.

'There's been a slow erosion of Indigenous decision making for a very long time': Skye

Courtney Skye spoke with Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa about what she feels has been missing from the conversation on the campaign trail. (Submitted by Courtney Skye)

Federal party leaders are crisscrossing the country, talking about the issues facing Canada and sharing what they feel should be priorities this election.

But one researcher says the issues facing Indigenous communities aren't getting enough airtime.

Courtney Skye is Mohawk, Turtle Clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She is a research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation-led research centre.

Skye spoke with Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa about what she feels has been missing from the conversation on the campaign trail.

This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

What's top of mind for you this election?

Courtney Skye: What's top of mind for me is, how are we going to address the underlying issues that perpetuate a lot of the injustices that Indigenous people face across the country? For First Nations people, that means the restoration of jurisdiction in our decision-making bodies. The approach that we have now is to treat every single reserve like it's its own individual nation through the Assembly of First Nations, but that's not the case. We are collections of nations, our territorial boundaries extend beyond the reserve, and there's not been a real comprehensive strategy by any party, at any time, to deal with the nations and the reality that the Indigenous people belong to civilizations that have rights that should be respected.

Do you see any of the parties that are ready to address the issue of governance in any meaningful way?

CS: No, not particularly. If you have a historically informed opinion, you would know that the Liberal Party and the Conservatives have gone back and forth in leadership in Canada and the Liberal Party is just as responsible for Indigenous suffering in this country as the Conservatives. I'm not very optimistic that parties that represent the colonial institutions that are Canada are going to be able to reimagine the country in the way that is necessary to fully restore the inherent jurisdiction of Indigenous people.

How should it be reimagined? Is there a specific promise that you would like to see or hear from one of the parties?

CS: I think there is a lot of push for individual programs. We're responding to intergenerational trauma, we're dealing with crises in communities, which is necessary. But they're Band-aid solutions when we need systemic change. There are mechanisms that I think would be really advantageous. Say, a constitutional conference, rethinking provincial boundaries, redrawing them around Indigenous territories.

Myself, I'm Haudenosaunee, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, which is our inherent, traditional government, they declared a moratorium on development along the Haldimand Tract and there's been no indication of whether or not any of the parties intend to respect that moratorium, whether or not the municipalities … have a plan to acknowledge the fact that they are developing on Indigenous land, where Indigenous people have said they don't want development to happen.

Those are some pretty big things. Is there anything as far as immediate actions that you would like to see from any of the parties?

CS: It took a long time for us to get into this situation. There's been a slow erosion of Indigenous decision making for a very long time and it's going to take a long time to build out of that. Today's better than tomorrow. I would like to see a party make some of these bold steps, have some of these bold decisions made and this vision of a Canada that's remarkably different.

So far we're not seeing that. We're seeing small investments like, a promise from party leaders to build more houses in Canada, without a connection to the Indigenous portions of their party platforms. When you think about development, where is that development going to happen? Where are these millions of homes going to be built?

We talked at the beginning about residential schools or the crisis of missing and murdered women and … if communities are going to be able to welcome those people home as they're found, they're going to need to be able to expand their boundaries and so far no party has a plan for First Nations to expand their boundaries. We've left them on these small parcels of land without any ability to aspire to greatness and to thrive.

You can listen to Courtney Skye's full interview below (segment begins at 7:20):

Dan Carter, mayor of Oshawa, and Courtney Skye, research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute, weigh in on two topics they would like to see addressed: Canada's opioid crisis and Indigenous communities. 12:54

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