By Ferdose Idris
As we stepped off the bus at APTN, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, we noticed a man laying on a ledge about 2 feet up enclosing a walk way around the building. As we looked on he rolled off of the ledge and fell on his head. Unsure of how to proceed we moved into the building and alerted security so that they could alter the proper authorities and assist the man. As soon as we relayed this encounter to the folks at APTN they began to explain to us the legacy of the indigenous people.
Winnipeg is home to the largest indigenous population in a major Canadian city, and this community faces problems similar that that of a stigmatized minority group in North America. There are clear parallels between Blacks in the United States and indigenous populations in Canada. These stigmatized and ghettoized groups faced similar levels of cultural and institutional barriers. Indigenous people in Canada and Blacks in the United States did not receive full voting rights until the 1960’s. These two populations also experience the stripping of their native culture and languages by the State.
Today children of aboriginal Canadians are being reunified with their biological families, nearly 50 years after they were forcefully taken from their families and placed into foster homes or adopted into White homes. The “60’s scoop” (referring to the ‘scooping’ of children from their families) resulted in the loss of aboriginal children’s identity as well as mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical trauma. Today you can see high levels of socioeconomic inequality between white Canadian and aboriginal peoples in Canada. The indigenous population has suffered from higher drug usage rates, higher unemployment rates, and lower educational attainment than that of their white counterparts. This historically stigmatized and disenfranchised group has come up with creative solutions to make their voices and concerns known. APTN is one of those avenues.
As Karyn Pugliese, the Executive Director of News and Current Affairs, stated, “we didn’t have a seat at the table, so we made our own.” APTN is now a successful and established voice of aboriginal peoples across the world. With partners in Austria, Denmark, Wales, Hawaii, and Taiwan, this network serves as a unifying voice of indigenous concerns. While APTN had some dissenting voices at its inception, voices that claimed there was no need for a channel focused on aboriginal peoples, there has been a relatively positive reception to the news organization both nationally and internationally. APTN was one of the first news organizations at Standing Rock in 2016, the site of a major confrontation between indigenous people and U.S. federal agents over an oil pipeline. APTN’s footage was picked up by major news organizations.
Are indigenous people the Blacks of Canada? They face similar social issues and historical legacies. However the reception to these groups’ claims of reparations has been highly divergent. While Canada (and Winnipeggers) have been receptive to the mobilization of indigenous groups and initiatives like APTN, Blacks in the United States have been labeled “reverse racists” when they try to advocate for a space to speak about b lack issues or have been shut down by claims that “slavery is in the past.” People will say, “yeah slavery sucked, but it no longer matters.” This could be due to the fact that indigenous people had legal documents asserting their sovereignty and designating the relationship between the Canadian government and themselves, while Blacks in the US were not afforded these same rights.
So, is Canada so different from the US? I would say yes and no. There have been similar legacies of historically subjugated populations that are currently facing similar social and economic disparities, however the response to these two claims is divergent.