Two prominent Indigenous voices say they support calls for an Indigenous-led inquiry into systemic racism in New Brunswick, but action is what’s really needed.
Pam Palmater, Indigenous Governance Chair in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Metropolitan University of Toronto, and David Perley, Wolastoqi scholar, spoke at a fundraiser for Dialogue NB, a non-profit organization in Moncton, on systemic racism in the province.
Last week, the six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick renewed their call for an Indigenous-led inquiry into systemic racism after the conclusion of a coroner’s inquest into the police killing of Chantel Moore. of Edmundston.
That’s been the Chiefs’ position since Moore was killed, but so far the province has only appointed a non-Indigenous Systemic Racism Commissioner who is expected to make recommendations by September.
WATCH | Pam Palmater calls for Indigenous-led inquiry into systemic racism
“Why is the Prime Minister refusing to open an independent investigation,” Perley asked.
“Why doesn’t he tell the justice people, ‘Let’s find the answers…let’s make sure Abenakis are involved in the investigation, in the investigation.’
“They should be part of it and not exclude them from the process. But that’s not happening.”
Palmater told CBC News that while she supports an Indigenous-led investigation, it will be pointless if no action is taken afterwards.
“We do so many studies, inquiries, inquiries, commissions, court cases, human rights complaints, tribunals, and we find out again and again and again, ‘Yes, we have still the same problem and it’s getting worse,'” Palmar said.
“But everyone is dropping the ball instead of taking the next step, that is, what do we need to do about it? It’s not like there hasn’t been thousands of recommendations for what to do about it. It’s just that governments and society haven’t answered the call to do so.”
One area where Perley would specifically like to see change is the education system.
“We asked for changes to the education system, even in my time in the sixties,” Perley said.
“The leaders of the time were asking for changes to the education system… We are asking for the same thing.”
He recalls two sessions he held with aboriginal people, one with elders and another with youth.
Even though decades separated their time at school, they shared many of the same experiences.
“Here are the elders who were in the system in the 50s and 60s talking about racism, talking about … how badly they were treated,” Perley said.
“Then I listened to the stories of the students who were in the system two years ago. It’s the same. They say, ‘Oh my God, it’s hard to be in this school because we always calls us savages. “
“Be Brave Enough”
Palmater says an investigation into systemic racism should extend beyond the justice system to include all aspects of life in New Brunswick.
“We have to be brave enough to open it up a bit wider,” Palmater said.
“What if we also looked at health care? What if we also looked at education? What if we also looked at social work or any of the public services that we have?”
Palmater said the lives of indigenous peoples had deteriorated in many of these areas.
She said we focus too much on specific examples of one person doing good instead of looking at the collective community.
“We point to individuals, ‘Look, he’s got a job,’ or, ‘Look, this person is successful,’ and say things are looking up,” Palmater said.
“But it’s not better if the majority of our community isn’t better.”
Palmater said confronting systemic racism in New Brunswick will inevitably lead to conflict.
But she also said it’s a type of conflict that should be embraced, not avoided.
“We cannot avoid social conflict,” Palmater said.
“This is how everything good in this world happened. Human rights, women’s rights, the end of slavery, the rights of indigenous peoples. This comes after periods of conflict.”