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June 19, 2020

Nurses call for justice on National Indigenous Peoples Day

As Canada marks National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, Canada’s nurses are calling for justice and committed to doing our part. 

Nurses celebrate the culture and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and acknowledge that much work remains to address Canada’s history of colonization, its ongoing practices and the devastating impacts which are still acutely felt by Indigenous peoples across the country.

Reconciliation and decolonization must mean that governments, and everyone in Canada, take action to end the ongoing marginalization of Indigenous peoples. We must all take responsibility for the systemic and individual racism that drives devastating social and economic marginalization, leads to significant health disparities and enables a shameful lack of action on widespread violence against Indigenous peoples.

“As nurses, health care professionals and union activists, we play a strong role advocating for our patients, peers and our communities; we have a responsibility to reflect, speak up and challenge injustice,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

In Canada, there are well-documented practices and policies throughout history aimed at forced assimilation and the erasure of Indigenous culture. These practices resulted in social, cultural, political and economic breakdown, exposure to abuse, trauma and marginalization.[1]

Indigenous peoples experience many forms of ongoing marginalization and racism, including interference in the right of self-determination, self-government and control over their territories; over-policing, criminalization and disproportionate rates of incarceration[2]; disproportionate victimization by violent crime[3]; a lack of access to health care and other basic services[4]; historical and intergenerational trauma; and heightened rates of mental illness and suicide.[5]

Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people face staggering rates of violence, and thousands have been murdered or have gone missing. In its final report, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) found “persistent and deliberate human rights violations and abuses” that amounted to genocide.[6] The Inquiry’s final report made more than 230 Calls for Justice, including for individuals and health providers (download the Calls for Justice below). One year later, and the federal government has failed to act.

For meaningful and transformative change to happen, we must acknowledge and grapple with these injustices. We must listen to Indigenous voices and join them in pushing back against policies, schemas and systems that continue to oppress, marginalize and criminalize them – and repeatedly perpetuate trauma.

In tandem with efforts aimed at rectifying current and historic harms, we must advocate for more access to culturally appropriate public services, so that Indigenous peoples can live, heal and thrive in keeping with their beliefs, values and traditions. But change cannot happen without a willingness to reflect, unlearn biases and challenge power imbalances. The path to justice begins with each of us.

Download the Calls for Justice