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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776

Resolution on First Nations

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

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. [6]

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.[7]

As of 2006, unemployment rates on reserves are three times the rate for non -Aboriginal Canadians.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12]  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."[13] 

Therefore, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:

  1. Support efforts toward greater self-determination by Canada's First Nations community;

  2. Commend 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;

  3. Call on the Government of Canada to:
    1. Abide by existing First Nations treaties and agreements;
    2. Encourage 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;
    3. Support 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;
    4. Work with First Nations to mitigate environmental damage to First Nations land; and
    5. 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 partnership structures.[14]
  4. Encourage our Canadian congregations to continue to develop and strengthen relationships with the First Nations community.




[3] (See page 6)


[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.









Miriam Shuchman

October 21, 2013
09:57 AM

member, Temple Emanu-El, Toronto

This is such an important, vital resolution. Canada's Truth & Reconciliation Commission will not complete its work by the end of June 2014 when it expires. Therefore, many MPs and the Province of Manitoba legislature have called on the government to extend the TRC's mandate. It is crucial that all of Canada understand what happened in the residential schools where Canada and its churches aimed to "take the Indian out of the child."


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