First Nations Activist Speaks Out on Austerity and Exploitation of Indigenous Communities

First Nations Activist Lee Maracle spoke at Concordia University in recent weeks. Photo courtesy of Tasoula OfTzatzikistan

It’s easy to think austerity is a fairly recent concept.

What’s forgotten is that the political buzzword has negatively impacted indigenous communities for over 500 hundred years, says First Nations author and professor, Lee Maracle.

“We have always been the cushion for capitalism,” she said. “The chickens have come home to roost; we’re all being plundered. That’s what austerity is.”

The Concordia Against Austerity and Solidarity Speaker Series hosted the First Nations author and professor on Thursday, Nov. 5 to discuss austerity, land rights, and the effects on indigenous communities.

Maracle is one of Canada’s most prolific Aboriginal authors and is currently a professor at the University of Toronto in the Aboriginal Studies program. She is also an activist fighting for indigenous peoples’ rights in the face of racism as well as social and economic repression.

Society continually fails to take action, and Aboriginal citizens’ needs are continually ignored, Maracle says. She referenced several occurrences when this neglect took place, including the government’s constant delaying of providing water treatment facilities to reservations in northern Canada.

“We were promised water 40 years ago in the north,” Maracle stated. “That promise is still on the table.”

She also referenced an incident in 2009 when community members on remote Manitoba reserves requested medicine to treat the H1N1 virus.

“When the kids were dying of H1N1, and the reservations asked for medicine as part of the treaty agreement; they sent the body bags,” she said.

The current situation is not a matter of a lack of money, as Canadian land is rich in natural resources, she added.

“It’s just that the people who own the land aren’t getting it,” she said.

If there was one notion Maracle hoped the audience would take from her talk, it was the desire to get people engaged in the political issues surrounding austerity. In regards to helping improve the lives of indigenous communities, Maracle believes the solution is to raise more awareness.

“I hope that everybody joins the voice. The Aboriginal people have been silenced personally and politically.” she said. “We need to restore democracy [for all] in Canada.”

Event organiser Erik Chevrier is the Chair of mobilisation for the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association. He explained that he had been a fan of Maracle’s work and wanted the speaker series to address the continued negative impact of austerity in indigenous history.

“A very important part of the anti-austerity movement is to address colonial history,” he said. “It’s not just necessarily just about finance, it’s about how people are treated in Canada.”

“I hope that people have come out of this respecting all parts of Canada, especially the First Nations people.”