Grand Chief Sheila North – “First Nations helped build Canada”

MKO Grand Chief Sheila North
MKO Grand Chief Sheila North

Treaty One Territory – Grand Chief Sheila North and the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) First Nations would like to wish everyone a happy National Indigenous Peoples Day, but also recognize that much work is needed to make reconciliation within Canada a reality.

“First Nations helped build Canada. We were Canada the colony’s largest trading partners for hundreds of years. It is important that contribution be recognized on National Indigenous Peoples Day. I am so proud of what my people and other First Nations have accomplished, even with the Indian Act and other colonial hampers and challenges getting in the way. I am proud to be a Cree woman and I hope every First Nation person is proud of their nation and family. But there is still a lot of work to do, on all levels, to reconcile the First Nation-Canadian relationship,” MKO Grand Chief Sheila North said. “At MKO, we advocate for some of the poorest communities, with the highest child poverty rates in the country. These issues must be addressed. National Indigenous Peoples Day will not be a true celebration until our children have the same supports and opportunities as off-reserve children, until our communities enjoy the same services and infrastructure as Canadian communities of similar size, and until our languages and laws are protected and held up to the same level as Canada’s laws and official languages.”

A recent Campaign 2000 report says that child poverty is more the norm than the exception in the Keewatinowi territory, which has the highest child poverty rate in Canada. Nearly two-thirds (64.2%) of children live in poverty in northern Manitoba. It also points out that many of the urban ridings at the top of the child poverty list are full of First Nation families.

First Nations in northern Manitoba have one of the highest deficits in healthy and effective housing in Canada. A report by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada itself estimates that $2 billion is needed to address the housing shortage in Manitoba. The report also notes that Manitoba has the highest percentage of First Nation people living in poor housing in Canada.

It is vital to the survival of our First Nations that we do all we can to promote our languages as living languages.   Across the country, many Indigenous languages are in danger of extinction.    Institutions such as the Culture Centre play an important role in ensuring that future generations can continue to promote and use our languages and culture. It is a basic right that all children in this country have access to education in their home communities just as they should have the right to clean drinking water, safe housing and affordable housing. On National Indigenous Peoples Day 2018, I call on all Canadians to join hands with their Indigenous neighbours and work towards a Canada that meets the needs of everyone within its borders,” Grand Chief North concluded.

The MKO is hosting a National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at McClean Park in Thompson. Everyone is invited to celebrate the contributions of Indigenous peoples to Manitoba and Canada. In 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended the designation of a National First Peoples Day. The Sacred Assembly, a national conference of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people chaired by Elijah Harper, called for a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples.