Disclaimer This blog is exclusively done as a practicum requirement. Any information, views, and opinions that may be covered on this blog were not intended to offend or discredit any organizations. This blog is simply wanted to give information with a focus on systemic racism experienced by many minority groups.
Introduction To better understand systemic racism, it is crucial that we must first need to know how it is being defined. According to the Government of Canada’s (2019) Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022, systemic or institutional racism “consists of patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for racialized persons. These appear neutral on the surface but, nevertheless, have an exclusionary impact on racialized persons” (“Terminology”, para. 14). Many minority groups in Canada and Indigenous people are often on the receiving end of this selective system. Recognizing its existence and detrimental impact to the marginalized and vulnerable groups is crucial in appealing for change to the system. Accessing basic services is one area where I felt that systemic racism is more prevalent. Lack of accessibility to basic services is faced by many Indigenous communities across Canada.This includes the absence of safe potable water (Chambers, 2017, p. 293),mold-infested homes of on-reserves communities which causes critical health issues (Optis et. al, 2012, p. 16),and poor health services in many remote communities (Minore et al., 2004, p. 360). There are also some being experienced by many immigrants who are in constant struggle to begin a new and better life in Canada due to restrictions being imposed under certain legislation and policies. As a Social Services Worker student, I believe that discussing and opening these issues could help manifest change.
One of the long-standing predicaments of Indigenous communities in Canada is the lack of potable water. According to Boyd (2011), in 2010, out of roughly 615 of Indigenous communities across Canada, 49 of them “have high-risk drinking water system and more than 100 face ongoing water advisories” (p. 84) which comprised of 12% to 13%of mostly remote reserves (Chambers, 2017, p. 290). This is often attributed to high risks of serious diseases and illnesses which could lead to possible deaths(p. 290). The gravity of this crisis has not been given recognition until the highly publicized “Walkerton Tragedy” happened in May 2000.
Walkerton is a town in northwest Toronto which made headlines in May 2000 when half of its population fell ill and seven died. These individuals were mostly children and elder people (Chambers, 2017, p. 293). It was later identified that the tragic event was due to E. coli bacteria which contaminated the town’s water system and had caused severe diarrhea (p. 293). The public become outraged of the incident and held protests to call for a formal inquiry from the government (p. 293). The Walkerton Inquiry then set out headed by Justice Dennis O’Connor (Chambers, 2017, p. 293). The inquiry was not only able to trace the source of the town’s E. coli outbreak, but also revealed a crucial systemic problem (p. 294) with regards to the government’s effort in addressing the lack of proper water system in many Indigenous communities.The government’s took swift action in resolving the Walkerton crisis.They improved certain water management protocols, and implemented new regulations and legislation, such as Safe Drinking Water Act to enhance the province’s overall water system structure(p. 294). Unfortunately, many on-reserves Indigenous communities who had crisis for the longer period of times were treated differently. This is evident in how Indigenous communities are continually fighting for access to safe drinking water, and were constantly given water advisories these days. To name a few of these communities, they include the Kashecewan First Nation in James Bay Ontario, where an E. coli outbreak happened in 2005, the Neskantaga First Nations located in the north of Thunder Bay, which was put on water-boil advisories since 1999 (and its water system was shutdown in 2004 when a chemical believed to be carcinogenic was found in the community’s water system). Meanwhile, KitiganZibi in Quebec was advised not to drink their water since 1999 and was even featured in CBC documentary due to severe hair loss experienced by its people,from the effects of toxic heavy metal found on its water source. Next, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in McMurray, Alberta where Doctors have discovered many autoimmune illnesses, diabetes, cancers, hypertension, and renal malfunction suffered by the people were related to its water source.Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation of Yukon got their source of water mostly from wells and it was discovered that those are contaminated with E. coli bacteria in 2005. Yellow Quill First Nation in Northeastern Saskatchewan was under boil-water advisories from 1995-2004(p. 300). Pikangkingum First Nation was heavily struck, as it was identified to have been facing various issues aside from the lack of safe, potable water including a high rate of suicide, dilapidated housing conditions, overcrowding, and insufficient electrical supply (p. 300). Despite the fact that the province of Ontario has been doing aggressive changes to their water management system in their municipalities, Indigenous communities are not covered under these changes. This is because as it is stipulated in the British North America Act (BNA Act) of 1867, all Indigenous lands are under the jurisdiction of the federal government. This means that despite the many improvements gained from the Walkerton Tragedy in various municipalities, its implementation could not be adopted to these suffering Indigenous communities due to jurisdictional responsibility issue. The municipalities nor the provincial government are obligated to assist these communities. The federal government, on the other hand, have promised and even passed on several acts to improve the water system problem of these communities, but most of those were not sustainable enough to provide permanent relief and funding provided to the communities are not sufficient enough to support those programs.
Lack of medical workforce
Another significant predicament confronted by many rural Indigenous communities is the lack of a medical workforce such as in the Shibogama First Nation in Ontario (Minore et al., 2004, p. 360). Shibogama First Nations Council along with Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch conducted a collaborative inquiry about the effect of inadequate medical workers in the community (p. 360-361). This group made an inquiry to gather necessary confirmations that there is an existing detrimental impact to the health system among rural Indigenous communities. It was found out during the study that due to the geographical location of the reserves, medical workers such as nurses and physicians could not visit the area frequently, and medical staff turnover is high which resulted in varying medical assessments (p. 361). It is through the Health Canada’s Transfer Initiative that “enables First Nations to take control of federally funded” programs (p. 362). However, the communities still dependent on the “regional system of services that are the shared responsibility of federal and provincial governments” (p. 362). Dealing with the same plight Many Indigenous peoples living off-reserves are facing the same plight as those living on reserves. According to Sibbald (2002), there were 800,000 Aboriginal peoples living off-reserve lands and 230,000 living on-reserves across Canada (p. 912). But most of the programs and funding from the federal government were targeted towards those living on reserves (p. 912). A study conducted in 2000/01 by the Canadian Community Health Survey presented that those Indigenous peoples living off-reserves are “more likely to have chronic health conditions and long-term restrictions on their activity levels than their non-Aboriginal counterparts” (p. 912). It was also found out that part of the problem was due to unequal distribution of federal funding and often the government doesn’t “accept responsibility for off-reserve native people” (p. 912).