Indigenous Voices: Addressing common myths

Having an open conversation about Indigenous issues in Canada is difficult with so many myths undermining the very real pain my people have endured standing in the way. In this week’s column, I will be addressing some of the more common myths to hopefully provide a clearer picture as to what life as an Indigenous person is actually like.

Myth: We don’t pay taxes

Fact: This is completely and utterly false and posits that we have some sort of tax advantage over other people in Canada. Inuit, Métis and non-status Indigenous peoples pay taxes. The only people exempt from paying taxes are those who hold status and it is under specific conditions. Most income, sales and property tax exemptions only apply to status Indians who live or work on a reserve, and because nearly half of “registered Indians” live off reserve, less than one per cent of the total population of Canada are exempt from paying (certain) taxes.

Myth: Residential schools happened so long ago, Indigenous people should get over it

Fact: The last residential school closed in 1996, a short 21 years ago. Forty per cent of children that went into residential schools never came out, and most of those who did suffered unimaginable trauma during their time in the system. The residential school system is amounted to cultural genocide and the intergenerational effects that have come about because of residential schools are complex and would take a long time to explain. If you’re interested, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report has lots of testimonials from residential school survivors.

Myth: We get free education

Fact: This is a commonly held belief about First Nations in Canada, and it is simply false. Only “status Indians” are eligible for free post-secondary education because of the treaties established many years ago. However, just because you qualify doesn’t necessarily mean these funds are available. There is a long and complicated application process and many who apply don’t receive funds. The amount of people who apply for funding far exceeds the funds available from the government so the reality is most Indigenous don’t receive free education and are on a long waiting list.

Myth: We all receive free housing

Fact: This is simply not true. Indigenous people, as well as non-Indigenous people, can apply for free social housing programs offered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. However, that doesn’t mean they will receive it. In fact, according to a report done by Indigenous and Nothern Affairs Canada in 2011, the housing shortage on-reserve is in the range of 20,000 to 35,000 so one can only wonder what these numbers look like in 2017.

Myth: The Sixties Scoop is over

Fact: For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, the Sixties Scoop refers to a time in which Indigenous children across Canada were “scooped” from their families, most of the time without their consent, and placed into the child welfare system. While many people in this country prefer to live life wearing rose-coloured glasses and deny the fact this has or is still happening, the sad reality is that it is. In fact, in 2016 Statistics Canada released a report stating while Indigenous children make up seven per cent of all children in Canada, they account for almost half (48 per cent) of all foster children in the country.

My hopes in writing this message is to debunk these myths that paint an inaccurate picture as to what life for an Indigenous person is like. It is important to establish that many of these myths are not true, so that we can all have an open and honest dialogue about Indigenous issues in Canada.

Indigenous Voices is The Aquinian’s column featuring stories by Indigenous people, sharing their perspective on the world around them.

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