As 2021 comes to a close, SCO invites you to pause and reflect on the year that was. We take pride in all that has been accomplished, and look forward to continuing to work on behalf of our southern First Nation citizens in 2022.
Every Child Matters
2021 was the year Canada was forced to finally confront the legacy of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system. As mass graves were discovered at the sites of several former residential schools across the country, Canadians could no longer hide from the truth: Canada committed genocide against First Nation People through the IRS system.
People from across Turtle Island came together to grieve and honour the stolen children. They demanded justice and for the perpetrators to be held accountable. SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels joined those who were grieving and stood in solidarity with First Nation relatives across Turtle Island after the discovery of mass graves on former residential school sites in Kamloops and Kootenay, and in Cowessess First Nation. The news also stirred up painful memories for First Nation People in our Territory, who have long known that the Turtle Crossing Campground in Brandon is situated on a cemetery containing more than 54 children who died at the Brandon Residential School.
On July 1, SCO co-hosted the peaceful “No Pride in Genocide” walk from the Canadian Museum of Human Rights to the Peguis First Nation Urban Reserve in Winnipeg, in partnership with Treaty One Chiefs and other Indigenous organizations.
Grand Chief Daniels also called on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and all levels of the current colonial justice systems to open criminal investigations into the many forms of abuse suffered by children at former Indian Residential Schools across what is now known as Canada.
This year, for the first time, the federal government designated September 30 as a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. SCO launched a month long campaign of reflection, commemoration and solidarity in honour of those who were subjected to the IRS system. The campaign included free Every Child Matters lawn signs and posters, and bus, transit shelter and billboard ads throughout southern Manitoba.
In December, SCO launched the Orange Santa Campaign, again to emphasize that Every Child Matters. More than 2,700 kids from nine southern First Nation communities received presents, treats and a visit from Orange Santa. Most of all, the received the gift of love and belonging.
COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in First Nation Communities
Another big story this past year was the vaccine rollout in First Nation communities. In early January, after successfully advocating for First Nation prioritization, the Moderna vaccine began shipping to First Nations. Our Elders led by example, rolling up their sleeves to get their COVID-19 shots in droves. SCO also provided information to help launch the First Nation vaccination pop up site in Winnipeg for First Nation Health Care Workers, Traditional Healers and Knowledge Keepers in Winnipeg.
SCO also partnered with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba and the province to launch the Protect Our People MB campaign to encourage vaccine confidence and uptake among young First Nation people throughout the province, which may have contributed to some of the highest vaccination rates in the country in many of our communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic once again revealed deep gaps in health care facing First Nation people, and SCO called on governments to close the gaps by ending racism in the health care system. SCO re-launched our COVID pathfinders program in November to connect our people to supports and services, and in May we launched an Indigenous Liaison project at the vaccine supersites in Winnipeg (Leila and RBC), Brandon, Dauphin, Selkirk, Gimli, Steinbach and Morden. We hired more than 30 staff to ensure that our people felt comfortable and had a positive experience wherever they chose to be vaccinated.
As 2021 comes to a close, we honour our health directors and healthcare workers, who have truly been heroes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Miigwetch, Pidamiye and thank you!
At the start of a New Year, SCO called for the provincial and federal governments to commit to reconciliation in a meaningful way through its New Year’s Resolutions Campaign. The campaign highlighted a number of key issues for First Nation people, calling on the province to respect Treaty rights when it comes to harvesting, land rights and gaming, and for a meaningful commitment to end systemic racism in health care, child welfare and justice. At the federal level, SCO called for Ottawa to commit to ending the severe infrastructure deficit for First Nations, especially when it comes to adequate housing and clean drinking water.
In 2021, SCO conducted a number of critical surveys with our citizens and released detailed reports that paint a disturbing picture of racism in Manitoba and Canada. These include survey reports on:
- Experiences of Racism in the Manitoba Health Care System in March;
- Experiences of Racism in Policing in August; and
- The Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in October.
SCO also continued to advocate for First Nation victims of the justice system throughout the year, supporting families and calling on provincial and federal governments to address police violence and the disproportionate number of First Nation victims.
Supporting our people
In March, an ambitious agenda for the year with a focus on health care and justice was set at the Chiefs’ Summit, where the Southern Chiefs of Manitoba voted in favour of a critically important health transformation resolution calling for the formation of a Southern First Nation Health Authority Action Plan.
We celebrated the raising of the Dakota Flag for the first time at City Hall in May at the conclusion of the Dakota Spirit Ride, and welcomed the permanent raising of the Dakota Nations, Treaty One First Nations and Métis Nation flags at City Hall in September.
In July, SCO joined students and families in celebrating the graduation of the first cohort of the Restorative Justice Certificate Program at Assiniboine Community College, which was developed in partnership with SCO’s Justice Program. There were 18 graduates in the inaugural class of the 18 month program, which had to be completed online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
SCO’s October Chiefs’ Summit concluded with a firm commitment to exploring more avenues to assume full control and autonomy over Child and Family Services, with the attending Chiefs approving a number of critical resolutions. A resolution calling for a national response to the Sixties Scoop was also passed to address the lack of supports for Survivors and their families.
In November, SCO launched a new service to help First Nation citizens in southern Manitoba renew or replace their status cards.
Last year, SCO was also pleased to launch a Jordan’s Principle Coordinator position to serve all First Nation children and their families accessing the Specialized Services for Children and Youth Centre, and celebrate a third year of our comprehensive Water Testing program to address water quality and access issues for southern First Nations.
Remembering those we lost in 2021:
- Norman Traverse Sr., former Chief of Lake. St. Martin First Nation
- Theodore (Ted) Fontaine, Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation
- Larry Soldier, former Chief of Swan Lake First Nation
- Orville Smoke, former Chief of Dakota Plains Wahpeton Oyate
- Elder David Courchene (Nitamabit and Nii Gaani Aki Inini), founder of the Turtle Lodge Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Education and Wellness