KAMLOOPS — I used to have difficulty with the term “peeling the onion”. Maybe because my eyes tear up when I think about it. But it’s a very apropos saying when it comes to issues that have so many layers. And the deeper you dig, the tougher it becomes.
Such is the case of indigenous children in care. A new report from Grand Chief Ed John makes 85 recommendations on how to change the system; a system that has been long-broken, reminiscent of a broken-down wagon sitting in a rancher’s back yard. Not worth fixing. Out of sight, out of mind.
Chief John’s report has a lot of general statements, but they should not be treated that way. What we need to do is peel off the layers of the onion to translate his general statements into some sort of context. He wants to reduce the need for indigenous kids to come into care, increase support services, try to keep families together. We have to peel deep to try and figure out how that can happen.
And quite frankly, everyone has to take the blame for this broken system. Certainly the politicians, certainly the non-aboriginals who have put their hands over their eyes and ears to the pleas of those suffering. But First Nations need to take some responsibility, too. This won’t work if we lapse into the time-honoured process of blaming each other for the problem.
Chief John talked to a lot of people before writing his report. A man I have a lot of respect for from days gone by, Chief Ernie Crey of the Cheam First Nation, says First Nations children lose their identity if they are taken outside their community. But it’s been my experience that there are cases when keeping kids within a toxic situation is not the best, and taking them outside the community, even with non-aboriginals, could be a better alternative, at least in the short term.
Don’t put all the blame on the provincial and federal governments. They are part of the problem, but the solution to that problem is not to continue to cast blame, but for all sides to accept part of the responsibility. It has to start with dialogue - and meaningful dialogue, where opinions can be shared without the glow of photographers’ lights and TV cameras. Some would suggest this is “transparency,” but photo ops won’t solve the problem. And once the dialogue has started, meaningful action will be necessary, again by everyone involved.
If Chief John’s report is to become more than a dust-covered document in some provincial filing cabinet, there is work to be done. And it starts with understanding that while we peel away the layers, there will indeed be some tears, some frustration, some anger, and, hopefully, indeed some coming together of minds that will actually allow us to find some solutions, instead of moving the broken wagon further into the field so that fewer eyes can see it.