Saskatchewan’s government doesn’t respect Indigenous people

IndigNation by Bev Cardinal

“It does not require many words to speak the truth.”  —Chief Joseph

Northern Saskatchewan has the most beautiful, untouched lands, forests and endless bodies of clean water in our province. It’s also home to many of our most traditional Indigenous peoples and communities. And no, gentle readers, the “north” I’m talking about does not mean Lloydminster, Meadow Lake, Prince Albert, Tobin Lake or even Big River but rather all the vast and remote territory included within the Northern Saskatchewan Administration District (NSAD). Google it; it’s amazing!

Unfortunately as we already know, the north is now fighting the COVID-19 pandemic with alarming numbers of cases. The northern communities and their leadership anticipated this; they planned for this; they took this bitch of a pandemic seriously. Indigenous and northern leadership are due our extreme respect for genuinely understanding their communities and the needs of their people, and for knowing and valuing — inherently and morally — the importance of collaboration, cooperation and strategic, proactive planning. Along with selfless northern-based health care workers and first responders, our province’s northern leaders and community members are contributing to saving human lives and keeping residents safe. Thank you all!

Too bad the same cannot be said for Premier Moe and his Cabinet, who continue to believe that this pandemic “ended” on May 4 when they “re-opened Saskatchewan” and returned to the golf greens. It must be really dark and cozy in there, folks, with your heads in the sand.

Not Squirrels

The blinders worn by Moe and his people are part of a deliberate pattern of “Indigenous non-relations.” Every so often, something happens that reminds them Indigenous people exist and they come out of their collective amnesic haze (“oh look, there’s a squirrel!”). Then, for a brief and fleeting moment, we’re treated as threats to public safety and then abruptly dismissed (such as the Justice for Our Stolen Children tipi camp, or the aftermath of the Colten Boushie murder trial or Idle No More protests), all in the hope that we won’t rise again from our burrows for a long, long while.

But when they get smacked upside their heads and publicly called out by the likes of political opponent Buckley Belanger, NDP MLA for Athabasca, for lying about their complete lack of consultation with northern leaders and communities about the COVID-19 pandemic response, they get a lot more nasty (as in, “Exterminate those f’ing squirrels once and for all!”).

Moe and his Minister of Health, Jim Reiter put on an ostentatious show of surprise and annoyance when Belanger’s truth received so much media attention. But trying to hide their complete disdain and disregard for the north only caused them more embarrassment. They were authoritarian and paternalistic, implying that Indigenous communities couldn’t secure their own borders, weren’t knowledgeable enough to isolate and are basically incapable of taking care of themselves “properly”. So quick to judgement. So obviously fearful and anxious.

Buckley was polite; he simply called them all “full of beans.” I’m not polite. They’re contemptible and should be ashamed of themselves.

Change The Walk, Change The Talk

Indigenous people will not be silent or deferential about racist attitudes any longer. We are nations of people with traditional laws, governance structures, constitutions and citizens. We take seriously our rights and moral obligations to care for and protect our people. Learn to trust and respect our knowledge and our expertise (because yes, many of us now have more formal education than most of Premier Moe’s cabinet members).

But more importantly, put down your shields of fear, work with us, collaborate and walk alongside us. It’s in everyone’s best interest.

Maskawâtisik kahkiyaw (“Stay well, everyone!”)! Miigwech/Marci!