By Clint Buehler
EDMONTON – A new report has recognized that while “stranger` racism in Alberta is still abundantly evident and in many cases unchanged, “the Aboriginal community was quick to point out that discrimination is alive and well in their own communities and practiced by our own people on our own people.“
That is one of the conclusions voiced by Lewis Cardinal, co-chair of the Alberta Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice, on the release of a report on the commission`s intensive research on the subject entitled `The Aboriginal Perspective on Human Rights in Alberta.
While commission chair Muriel Stanley Venne charges that “every single Act of discrimination that has been perpetrated on the Aboriginal people of Canada has been government legislated,“ she felt that after participating in the workshops and forums that were part of the study, “there was truly a new door opening. The people told us that being treated with respect and without discrimination was truly important to their wellbeing and their dignity and happiness in their own country.
“I believe this is our starting point and the wonderful launch towards a fresh and bright future with dialogue, forgiveness and understanding on both sides. It means that the path towards our collective rights as human beings encompasses the whole community and involves us all.“
For the purpose of this research, a survey of Aboriginal people across Alberta was conducted to bring the voices of Aboriginal people into a conversation on how to identify and eliminate discrimination in Aboriginal communities. The research included workshops, forums, one-on-one interviews and internet communication. A literature review of Alberta-based research on discrimination in Aboriginal communities was used to support findings and recommendations.
The initiative was launched with the belief or knowledge that Aboriginal populations are growing in Alberta, with more Aboriginal people showing pride in their cultures and traditions. Yet these populations continue to experience discrimination. The survey examined the frequency and types of discrimination and why resolution mechanisms have not been able to keep pace in addressing discrimination, experienced disproportionately in Aboriginal communities.
“By utilizing the report`s research and recommendations, Aboriginal people, and all Albertans, can become more informed on issues of human rights and initiate change through public education and policy recommendations,“ the report says.
The report provides an overview of the discussions and ideas generated by participants, summarizes dominant themes and opinions that emerged, and highlights suggestions offered for moving forward. Themes emerging from the study include:
1. Awareness – Aboriginal people are aware of their human rights, however, awareness about human rights does not equate to empowerment to act on or resolve the violation.
2.Frequency and Types – Discrimination against Aboriginal people is frequent and occurs in multiple forms and locations. Aboriginal people in Alberta are exposed to racist comments or jokes and receive differential treatment at work and at school and are often denied access to services. Much discrimination is described as between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people; however, there is also discrimination among and between Metis, First Nations and Inuit people and communities.
3.Barriers in Addressing Discrimination – Very few people in Alberta seek help to address discrimination beyond the support of family or friends. For the minority who do seek help, many feel that resolutions processes are ineffective resulting in very little change.
The report proposes recommendations in these areas:
1. Public Education – Public education is needed and should address multiple aspects of discrimination including private attitudes and public policy. Through education, Aboriginal people can build unity, understand issues and create solutions specifically targeted to the problem.
2.Advocacy by and for Aboriginal people – Culturally-specific solutions are required because of the nature, depth and pervasiveness of discrimination against Aboriginal people. Because of the unique knowledge base of Aboriginal people, the governance and administration of Aboriginal human rights education and resolution processes better fits within Aboriginal communities.
3. Ongoing Research – The report says this survey is a rich source of data with great potential for further research to understand the full complexities of Aboriginal human rights violations. Ongoing research is required to monitor the human rights story in Alberta to ensure progress for Aboriginal communities.
Says Stanley Venne, the path towards the true recognition of the Metis, First Nations and Inuit peoples is yet to be accomplished. She says it must begin with the realization within ourselves that the discussion, the power we feel when we know our Human Rights and the ability to exercise our rights in this democratic country is yet to come. This report begins this process.