Algonquin College was built 70 years ago on unceded Algonquin land, but Aboriginal students only have a room to call their own in the Mamidosewin Centre.
The college has just released an announcement that an investment of $44.9 million will be put towards constructions and renovations that will include a centre for Aboriginal entrepreneurship.
Why should we care? The centre will be a physical contribution, within the college community, funded by government, to help even the playing field for all Canadians.
No resident of this country can be completely oblivious to the social and judicial inequalities that our Aboriginal Canadians suffer in their Native land.
And sometimes hearing that news leaves one feeling absolutely helpless. What amount of money, or how much aid can be sent to reserves in order to make a difference? This isn’t an isolated case of devastation, but the by-product of years of systematic racism and segregation.
Canada’s history is riddled with lapses against First Nations peoples including residential schools, in which thousands of Aboriginal children were abused in government funded institutions. There is also the Indian Act, which declared Native people wardens of the state, made their customs illegal, didn’t recognize any Native as a person before 1951 and didn’t give them the right to vote up until 1960.
This is all seemingly off-brand with Canada, since it has been a leader in comprehensive laws about multiculturalism, religious expression and anti-discriminatory policies in the last few decades.
But racism is still prevalent.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government discriminates towards Indigenous children since welfare is still sitting at a heartbreaking 38 per cent below what any other child receives off of a reserve.
The employment rate among Natives lies steadily below any other demographic, largely due to lower education levels and fewer opportunities.
According to a 2006 Stats Canada report, one third of Native adults had less than a high school education; conversely, one quarter or non-Aboriginal adults had a university degree versus seven per cent of First Nations people.
Between 1980 and 2012, over 1,000 Indigenous girls and women were murdered according to a report released by the RCMP. That is a homicide rate that is roughly 4.5 times greater than for all other women in the country.
The suicide rate in Aboriginal youths in 2000 was five to six times that of youths off reserves, as stated by the Canadian Institute of Health. And in Alberta, suicide reached epidemic levels just this year.
The Canadian government’s 1998 Statement of Reconciliation stated that, “We must acknowledge that the result of these actions was the erosion of the political, economic and social systems of Aboriginal people and nations.” But the mere acknowledgement of these transgressions and their consequences will never be enough to restore any justice.
That is why it’s important to do things to help bridge the gap that has been forged for centuries.
It’s about time Algonquin played a part in stepping up to the plate, and there’s something to be said for our college to be making those steps now.