Education must come before healing, reconciliation, says First Nation chief

·3 min read

A Manitoba First Nations Chief says that if candidates in the upcoming federal election really want to help First Nations communities deal with mental health issues, they need to truly understand, and they need to make sure more Canadians understand the history behind what so many Indigenous communities and people have actually been through.

“You always hear the politicians and the candidates trotting out that term reconciliation and that’s great, but in terms of mental health and overall health services reconciliation is really about healing,” Keeseekoowenin Ojibway Nation Chief Norman Bone said on Friday.

“There is so much healing that needs to happen in these communities, and we can’t have that unless we really understand what the hell happened.”

On Thursday federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole announced that if the Conservatives were elected to lead they would invest billions into mental health services and programs in the country.

As part of the pledge, O’Toole said the Conservatives would invest $1 billion in new funding over five years for First Nations, Métis and Inuit mental health and drug treatment programs, and work to support land-based and culturally appropriate mental health care.

As Chief of Keeseekoowenin Ojibway Nation, Bone leads a community of about 500 residents that sits 100 kilometres north of Brandon.

Bone said that no matter what treatments or services are available in First Nations communities, he does not believe that healing and improved mental health can be achieved unless whoever is leading this country invests time and energy into educating Canadians and themselves about the true history of Indigenous people in Canada.

“The candidates really need to do some work on promising that they will give all of us a good history lesson going right back from the treaties, to the residential schools, and up to now, because you can’t fix things if you don’t know what happened in the first place,” Bone said.

“You can’t fix something if you don’t know what is broken in the first place.”

Whoever is elected to lead in the upcoming election, Bone said one of the first things they need to do is sit down face-to-face with Indigenous leaders and governments and spend as much time as it takes to communicate that history and how it has effected and continues to effect Indigenous people throughout generations.

“All I hear from so many politicians is the term reconciliation and they’ve turned it into a catch phrase, but it’s not very often they actually give you the details of what they know and what they’re going to do with that knowledge,” Bone said.

“What we would need to see right away is a meeting between the federal government and Indigenous leadership, but not just a short meeting. There needs to be a real discussion nation to nation and government to government where we need to put the work in to get that education.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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