Indigenous peoples in Canada include aboriginal First nations peoples living on reserve and in urban locations as well as Inuit, and Metis. The history of relations between Indigenous people and Canadian governments and churches is not a good one, with most actions being ill advised and very degrading to Indigenous people who were always being told what was best for them, how and where they would live and what they should believe in. The imposition of non-native laws, customs and traditions was done in a very dehumanizing way which has left negative memories with many indigenous people towards government and especially the Catholic church. There is much we can learn from Indigenous culture and spirituality.
The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is in a challenging position but also one that can lead to bridging the gap between the Catholic church and indigenous people. I also represent our Society on the Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle, a coalition of several Catholic organizations whose mandate is to respond to eight specific recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that involved the Catholic church and the effect of residential schools.
Indigenous people in Canada experience a much higher rate of incarceration in prisons, lower education levels, lower average wages and in addition we have approximately 40 First nation community with unsafe drinking water. While there are several factors contributing to the current situation, there is no doubt a lack of education is the main reason for the low average income. It is indeed interesting the focus of the government sponsored residential schools seemed to emphasize education but here we are faced with the same issue as one of the main barriers to providing indigenous people with the opportunity to live a life free of poverty and with full participation in society. The question is not one of why we should help improve on these staggering statistics but one of why it has taken this long to realize there are fellow Canadians who are living in such conditions with so little hope for a better future for their families.
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is past president of the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.