Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council condemns Aboriginal Affairs Minister for appalling comments

Port Alberni

An open letter in response to Minister Valcourt’s recent statements on missing and murdered indigenous women:

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council is shocked, distressed and appalled at recent statements made by Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Bernard Valcourt, blaming First Nations communities for the large numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada. We call for an immediate public apology and retraction of these insensitive, disrespectful, prejudiced, and absolutely unacceptable comments.  If an appropriate apology is not forthcoming in the next 30 days we demand Minister Valcourt’s resignation.

In a video posted to the Ottawa Citizen’s website on December 12, 2014 (link below), the Minister offers his theory about why nearly 1200 indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered across Canada in recent decades. “Obviously there is a lack of respect for women and girls on reserve…obviously. If guys grow up believing women have no rights, that’s how they are treated. Well, we changed that,” he says, going on to claim that his government has brought “human rights” to reserves and explaining how this shows the superiority of the “Canadian” way of doing things. He then dismisses the need for a national inquiry because the government already knows everything.

Video can be seen here:

The ugliness and ignorance of these sweepingly judgemental comments damning all First Nations communities cannot be overlooked. They would be utterly inappropriate coming from any Minister, but from a leader with this portfolio they are deeply damaging. Such blatant stereotyping cannot help but influence public opinion, creating a perception in the minds of Canadians that First Nations communities are lawless, violent, dangerous places to live. All citizens of this country should be concerned and ashamed that one of our elected leaders would speak publically about any group of people in such a slanderous way.

The Minister’s attempt to minimize this issue by blaming the families and communities of the victims is even more disgusting and contemptuous. His comments are deeply hurtful and disrespectful to the many First Nations men, women and children that have lost loved ones, often in the most heartbreaking of circumstances. The Highway of Tears and the Robert Pickton case show predation on indigenous women is not simply a case of lack of community respect. This is a national tragedy that has attracted attention worldwide, leading the United Nations to recommend a federal inquiry.

The hypocrisy of the Minister’s superior attitude about the “Canadian” way of doing things is even more astounding. The social issues faced by First Nations communities today are internationally recognized as the direct result of an aggressive and systematic colonial campaign of oppression, cultural assimilation, physical and emotional abuse, and economic deprivation perpetrated on our people by the Government of Canada over hundreds of years. 

When Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations were forced off their lands on to small reserves ruled by the Indian Act and forbidden to engage in traditional practices our people lost their social, political, cultural and economic identity and independence. Many also lost their families when they were taken out of their homes as children and sent to residential schools were they were abused physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

New western beliefs about women were introduced by federal and Church run systems that women were unequal and must be subservient. Until very recently, federal legislation itself treated women unfairly in many ways, including with regard to Status. These ideas and behaviours are not a part of our traditions. The Nuu-chah-nulth Nations since time immemorial have raised our children to not only show respect for our women but show they are sacred.

It is true that many First Nations women who live in poverty in places like Vancouver’s downtown Eastside are residential school survivors, were children in care, faced sexual abuse growing up, or have substance abuse issues.  It is also true that these experiences are intergenerational legacies of the horrific historical abuses perpetrated on our people.

The Minister states that his government has brought “human rights” to our communities yet the current federal government continually denies First Nations title and rights. Even today, we must fight the federal government for the funding and programs and services we need to heal from these historical abuses, and for our economic right to do more than just “subsist” on our traditional lands.

Our relationship with the Crown must be one where we walk hand-in-hand for the betterment of our women, men and children’s lives. The Minister’s disrespectful and judgmental comments have undermined any trust we might have in the federal government’s ability and willingness to work together respectfully in our best interest.

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council calls upon the Minister to immediately retract and publically apologize for his deeply hurtful and inappropriate statements, ensure there are no more cuts to much needed First Nations programs and services, and call for a National Inquiry into the murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada.

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