This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
During a debate in the House of Commons Wednesday night, the Honorable Bernard Valcourt tried to shrug off youth suicide rates on First Nation reserves, an issue that has been haunting our country for decades.
Charlie Angus, NDP MP and ethics critic, raised the issue in a followup question to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Valcourt during a House debate.
"I'm not going to engage in silly rhetoric with the minister, I'm going to ask him: Given the horrific death rates that we have among children who don't have access to schools will he tell us what the national suicide rate is on reserves for young people under his watch?" he asked.
Valcourt responded: "Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chair, I mean, you know, the assertion of the honorable member that these children are under the minister's watch shows a great misunderstanding of that member, of the responsibility of the department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development."
Valcourt added that these children are "first and foremost the responsibility of their parents."
Bernard Valcourt altercation via Youtube user Progressive Progress.
This is not simply a rich, white, old man who forgot to check his privilege at the door—this is someone who has completely forgotten the people who he is meant to protect.
Spoiler alert: Valcourt never provides the suicide rate.
The RCMP has reported that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 34, and that "rates of suicide for Aboriginal youth are even higher, and are considered to be among the highest in the world."
In fact, they also reported that as many as 25 percent of accidental deaths may actually be unreported suicides. First Nation youth are also five to six times more likely to commit suicide than non-aboriginal youth.
These issues can be linked to the government itself: by the creation and use of residential schools, Canada arguably committed cultural genocide. The last residential school closed in 1996, not even 20 years ago. "Among youth who had one or more parents attend residential school were more likely to have had suicidal ideation than those whose parents had no residential school experience," reads a 2007 report about suicide rates from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
"Governmental policies of forced assimilation enacted through the residential school system and the child welfare system resulted in profound disruption in the transmission of culture and the maintenance of healthy communities," reads the same report.
And now the minister of aboriginal affairs claims that this grave, multi-generational issue is the responsibility of the parents who themselves were forced into these schools and horrific situations. While the government has officially apologized for residential schools, healing the individual and communal damage caused by years of oppression and abuse still requires much more time and far greater commitment from our government. Attitudes like Valcourt's are actively working against any positive efforts.
Valcourt also raised an unreleased RCMP statistic in March, saying that aboriginal men kill 70 percent of the country's murdered aboriginal women. Again, it seems he is trying to deflect responsibility away from the government on the issue and the steps necessary to fix what they originally started. And with no national inquiry to the cases of these missing and murdered women, the ethnicity of a murderer is the last thing that matters when innocent people are being killed.
About a week later, when he was confronted by Niki Ashton, NDP MP, about the existence and lack of support or public data for his claim, he said: "Indeed last week I did a tour of the prairies [… ] while I don't disclose specifics of closed-door meetings I can assure the honorable member that the discussions were productive and our government will continue to work with first nations to address these issues." Which sounds more like a long-winded empty promise.
Calls have already been made for Valcourt to step down, and in light of the recent events in House, these calls might only get louder.
If you are concerned about your mental health or that of someone you know, visit the Mental Health America website.
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