Skip to content

Ermineskin Red Dress Day conference examines systemic racism

Speakers shared their own painful stories of missing and murdered loved ones during conference

A government system based on inequality and an intentional, prolonged assault on the Indigenous way of life is the reason for the continuing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two Spirit crisis today.

That, according to Konwatsitsawi Meloche, the keynote speaker at the Red Dress Day conference in Maskwacis on May 8. 

The day-long event was held at the Neyaskweyahk Omimaw Kamik (NOK) building in conjunction with the national day of awareness, Red Dress Day, on May 5. 

"The anti-Indigenous system created an anti-Indigenous, Indigenous population," said Meloche. 

To begin her presentation, she quoted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, saying "No other population group in Canada's history has endured such a deliberate, comprehensive and prolonged assault on their human rights as that of Aboriginal People, yet despite growing awareness of past wrongs, many Canadians remain unaware of the full scope of these injustices or their impacts."

As an example, Meloche said she's often judged based on how she dresses when she's in public, or when she uses her status card for a tax exemption. She said she often hears that Indigenous people "get everything for free."

Her response to that is, "What we got was a lot of abuse for free so don't get me started.

"I use a lot of my voice to pass information," said Meloche.

Meloche said it's important to know the history to understand the system and its effect on Indigenous people.

"The British North American Act marked the end of nation-to-nation relationships."

The BNA of 1867 made Canada a colony of England and brought their systems here, said Meloche. 

Under the BNA, settlers were under the jurisdiction of the province and Indigenous people were under the jurisdiction of the province, she explained. 

That means funding for Indigenous education and health care comes from the federal government and non-Indigenous funding comes from provincial governments, which, according to Meloche, caused inequality, ambiguity and confusion that remains today. 

"There's two different education systems in very many ways, financially ... it's the same in health care. That's why there's a lot of health disparities."

Meloche mentioned Jordan Rivers Anderson as an example of how First Nations and Inuit peoples fought for the right to the same standard of health, educational and social services for their children as other Canadians.

According to the Government of Canada's website, the different levels of government funding different services for First Nations children, especially those living on-reserve, "led to disputes between governments about who should pay for which services."

In 2007, the House of Commons passed Jordan's Principle in the child's memory. He passed away at the age of five after he didn't receive the recommended care he needed.

After the BNA came the Indian Act in 1876. 

Among other restrictions, the act prohibited Indigenous people from wearing traditional garb, including fringe, beads or feathers, but non-Indigenous people could, said Meloche. Soon after came the pass system, which dictated when Indigenous people could leave the reserve.

The 1884 amendment of the Indian Act took away more Indigenous rights and gave more powers to Indian Agents.

To begin to address the existing inequalities, Meloche said to take "a seat at the table" when one is offered. 

"You get involved. don't let anybody kick you to the curb again," she said.

"We have lost so many people, in my opinion, who were signals to us ... to get involved. Part of being safe is getting involved."

Emily Jaycox

About the Author: Emily Jaycox

I'm a reporter for Ponoka News and have lived in Ponoka since 2015.
Read more