Submitted by the National Social Action Committee representing the URJ Congregations in Canada.
The First Nations of Canada include more than 600 communities
recognized as Aboriginal, excluding the Inuit and Metis.
According to the most recent (2011) Canadian National Household Survey, 851,560
people have identified as a First Nations person, representing 2.6% of the
total Canadian population.
First Nations have a special relationship with the Canadian government as
reflected in multiple Royal Proclamations, Treaties and Acts of Law. Despite
these agreements outlining First Nations' rights and responsibilities related
to property, health care, education and economic issues, among other areas, the
relationship between the government and First Nations has historically been a
difficult one and remains so today. These difficulties are rooted in factors
such as the failure of successive governments to abide by signed Treaties, the
damage caused by the government's imposition of Residential Schools that
removed First Nations children from their families and culture, the ongoing substandard
education, the lack of consultation with First Nations regarding the
development and use of tribal lands, and an overall lack of self-determination.
These circumstances have caused the many social,
economic, health and education challenges that First Nations members have faced
for generations and continue to face today. First Nations are experiencing a
housing crisis: approximately 44% of existing housing stock is in need of major
repair and 15% requires outright replacement.
In many cases multiple families live in one and two bedroom homes. Of the
88,485 houses on reserve, 5,486 are without sewage services.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects
of the poor living standards on reservations. One in four children in First
Nations communities lives in poverty, almost double the national average. First
Nations children, on average, receive 22% less funding for child welfare
services than other Canadian children and a First Nations youth is more likely
to end up in jail than to graduate from high school. Suicide rates among youth
are five to seven times higher than in the general Canadian population. 
Health care is another challenge. Infant mortality
rates are 1.5 times higher among First Nations children than other,
non-Aboriginal children. Tuberculosis rates among First Nations members living
on reserve are 31 times the national average and one in five First Nations
members is diabetic. The overall life expectancy of First Nations members is
five to seven years less than non-Aboriginal Canadians.
As of 2006, unemployment rates on reserves are three
times the rate for non -Aboriginal Canadians.
Even for First Nations members who are employed full-time, the median annual
income in 2013 is $41,684, compared to the national median income for a full
time worker of $50,699.
This is due in part to development of First Nations land that has often
happened with government leadership and involvement but without meaningful consultation
with or participation of First Nations members who may have had a different
perspective on land use and employment. Such development has also raised
concern within the First Nations community about environmental impacts.
In addition, significant damage to First Nations
culture was caused by the federal government's imposition of "Residential
Schools." Beginning in the 19th century and continuing until the
last school closed in 1996, about 150,000 Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children
were removed from their communities and required to attend the schools.
A core purpose of the policy was to assimilate students into English-speaking,
Christian and Canadian culture. The damaging effects of this policy on the
individual students and the First Nations collectively, remain.
As Jews with our own history as victims of
discrimination, we are particularly sensitive to the plight of the First
Nations. In particular, we have known the pain of being denied the opportunity
to express our culture and faith and the corresponding collective trauma that
occurs and persists even over generations.
As Reform Jews, we have spoken in the past about the plight of Native
Americans, beginning with our 1977 resolution that called for government
funding to improve the standard of medical care, access to food to ensure a
nutritious diet, and job training and opportunities. We continue to bear the moral
responsibility to shed light on injustice and stand with those working to right
historic wrongs. We are inspired as well by our tradition, which teaches us
that "God formed Adam out of dust from all over the world: yellow clay,
white sand, black loam and red soil. Therefore no one can declare to any race
or color of people that they do not belong here since this soil is not their
home." (Yalkut Shimoni 1:13).
The relationship between members of the First Nations
community and the Jewish community has strengthened in recent years. The Canadian
Council for Reform Judaism Social Action Committee has worked with Toronto-area
First Nations members to educate the Reform Jewish community about the
challenges facing the First Nations community and their root causes. The
Bayview Corridor of synagogues (a group of synagogues from across the Jewish
spectrum) created a program that brought together government representatives
and activists to discuss problems such as housing shortages and lack of access
to health care.
Relations between First Nations and the government
are difficult but developing. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission established
in 2008 is shedding light on the treatment of First Nations members who were
forced into the Residential Schools system.
In 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Assembly of First Nations
National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo developed an action plan that included a
commitment to improve relations between the Canadian government and the First
Nations through building accountable governance structures, improving
educational opportunities for individuals, enabling self-sufficient
communities, improving economic development, and respecting the role of First
Nations' culture and language. Overall, the First Nations are becoming more organized in their attempt to
give voice to their needs and aspirations, through entities such as the populist, grass
roots movement known as "Idle No More."
Therefore, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:
efforts toward greater self-determination by Canada's First Nations community;
the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada for their efforts to engage
productively with the First Nations community such as the establishment of the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
on the Government of Canada to:
by existing First Nations treaties and agreements;
the Provincial governments to create and implement compulsory curriculum in
their respective educational systems that teaches the history of the First
Nations of Canada and the issues confronting this group of Canadian society,
and where possible, provide federal transfer grants to the provinces for the
development and implementation of such curriculum;
and help the Provincial governments to implement, with full First Nations
involvement, the necessary physical and mental health, educational and housing
systems to address existing shortcomings in these areas;
with First Nations to mitigate environmental damage to First Nations land; and
Ensure that the
development and/or use of First Nations land is conducted in consultation with
First Nations and with the creation of appropriate financial agreements and
our Canadian congregations to continue to develop and strengthen relationships
with the First Nations community.