Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/9/2019 (431 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Last Friday, members of the Southern Chiefs Organization and a handful of supporters held a round dance on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border that delayed eastbound traffic for about 30 minutes.
It was the sixth round dance held by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization in the province, the goal of which is to make the public aware of various issues that affect Indigenous people. Considering that Canadians are in the process of electing a new federal government, this kind of public spectacle is perhaps an effective way of getting some media attention to their cause.
During the round dance, a member of the group greeted idling cars with information pamphlets breaking down the concerns they hoped to draw attention to. SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels told The Sun that day that he would like Canadians to pay more attention and understand the bureaucracy that First Nations face in terms of helping their people.
"I hope they pay more attention — I think people believe that First Nations are in control of decisions and we’re not, quite frankly," Daniels said.
During the round dance along the highway, a Sun reporter took the time to speak with motorists who were delayed by the event. At least two of the motorists were supportive of the SCO’s attempt at public awareness. Ashlie Jewar from Elkhorn said it was "great to see" the round dance, and that she was appreciative of the information they had to share. Tracey Haden from Moosomin, Sask., said she didn’t mind waiting on the highway because she understands the importance of the information the group was looking to share — especially as she is Métis.
"I know that things do need to change," Haden said, adding that she supports the round dance’s message. "If I was in that kind of situation, I would want something done about it."
When you think about it a bit, it’s not difficult to see why the SCO would use a public highway to get their message out, and reach out to media in order to further that message. The vast majority of non-Indigenous Canadians do not live on reserves, and therefore have little knowledge of the difficulties that many Indigenous people face.
From education, housing, food expenses and even job opportunities, visiting a First Nation in some parts of this country is like traveling to another country. And unless First Nations stand up and try to make Canadians understand these differences, and the hardships associated with them, very little will change.
Of course, there are many ways to engage the public, and not everyone agrees that stopping traffic on a busy highway is the best use of time or energy. We have heard from a few readers through our Sound Off feature and even anecdotally within the community, some uncomplimentary comments regarding the SCO’s round dance stunt. Here’s one I got on Monday from a reader who suggested the delay was unhelpful to those who had places to be.
"Some people decided to stop traffic to raise awareness about various issues that affect Indigenous people," they wrote. "As if we haven't heard about that before! But what about the people who were stopped for 30 minutes? What about their lives and what was going on in their lives that was stopped because these Indigenous people decided to have a round dance to raise awareness about issues we see every day in our newspaper.
"Maybe, somebody was on the hospital to deliver a baby, or maybe a medical emergency, or a timed appointment. Or the truck driver who has a deadline to meet or hasn't seen his family for a week or a trucker who has a trailer full of livestock. Did any of these people stop to think who else they may be inconveniencing. The first word that comes to mind is RUDE!"
In answer to this, we would suggest that the RCMP who were in attendance could easily have handled any potential emergency, like a baby delivery, should one have arisen. But in terms of inconveniencing a few people for a few minutes, well, there are worse things in life — and here’s a few of them:
There are higher rates of respiratory problems and other infectious diseases among Indigenous children than among non-Indigenous children, due to inadequate housing and crowded living conditions. According to the 2016 Canadian Census, 33.65 per cent of Aboriginal people have no high school or equivalency, compared with 18.3 per cent of the rest of the population. First Nation Métis and Inuit youth typically have a higher rate of suicide than non-Indigenous counterparts. Often due to their remote locations, First Nation reserves show higher levels of unemployment, and Indigenous people have much higher levels of incarceration in our prisons and jails.
If we cannot wait patiently for 30 minutes while Indigenous people dance on the side of a highway and try to make the public better informed over the problems First Nations face, what does that say about us as a society? How else are Indigenous people supposed to be heard if Canadians and their political representatives keep turning a blind eye to the problems they face?
Perhaps if Canadians spent more time taking care of those in our society who need our help, Indigenous communities wouldn’t need to stop traffic in the first place.
Just to get our attention.
» Matt Goerzen