The hashtag is celebrating its 15th birthday this year and has become a staple in our digital culture. Organizations use hashtags to raise awareness, and one of the most well-known hashtags to have emerged in recent years? The Black Lives Matter movement’s #BlackLivesMatter, which shines a light on the police brutality, discrimination, inequality, and racism experienced by Black people.
Following the example of #BlackLivesMatter, groups taking a stand against many different injustices have used the #_____LivesMatter to generate exposure for their own causes. Two important examples? Indigenous Lives Matter and Every Child Matters, both of which are Indigenous-led movements designed to support Indigenous Peoples, families, and communities.
You’ve probably seen #IndigenousLivesMatter and #EveryChildMatters everywhere, from social media and lawn signs to protest signs and t-shirts. But using these hashtags is just the start when it comes to being an ally to Indigenous People in their quest for justice.
In this article, we’ll examine the impact of systemic racism on Indigenous communities, provide an overview of several important Indigenous-led movements, and address how to stand in solidarity with #IndigenousLivesMatter toward lasting and meaningful change.
Prior to the arrival of colonial forces and long before Canada was the country we now know it to be, Indigenous Peoples flourished in North America with their own rich and diverse cultures, languages, and social, economic, and political systems. As the original inhabitants of “Turtle Island,” Indigenous Peoples’ relationship with this land dates back tens of thousands of years.
White colonization and settlement forever changed Indigenous ways of life, leaving behind a profound legacy of harm. Colonial practices and policies designed to control and assimilate Indigenous Peoples impacted (and continue to impact) generations of Indigenous Peoples. These practices and policies have included the Indian Act, reserves, residential schools, the pass system, and other government-led initiatives.
The history and culture of Indigenous Peoples should be respected and celebrated yet the opposite has occurred. Racism, segregation, land loss, environmental violations, and unequal access to public services and food resources have all led to devastating consequences for Indigenous communities. These consequences are seen across many aspects of life, including Canada’s corrections system. While Indigenous people make up approximately five percent of the country’s population, they comprise more than 30 percent of the federal inmate population. The situation is especially dire for Indigenous women, who account for a staggering 48 percent of women in federal prisons.
Correctional Investigator of Canada Ivan Zinger said this of the phenomenon, “The indigenization of Canada’s prison population is nothing short of a national travesty.” Furthermore, Indigenous Peoples are more likely to be placed in maximum security institutions and to serve more of their sentences in prison before being paroled than non-Indigenous Peoples. They’re also more likely to return to custody.
Another critical issue facing Canada’s Indigenous people is food insecurity. While 12.5 percent of Canadian households suffer from food insecurity, the percentage spikes much higher for Indigenous households. In fact, Indigenous households have the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada at 28 percent.
Systemic racism against Indigenous Peoples is also evidenced by widespread health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples in Canada. A growing body of research shows the many ways in which Indigenous Peoples are neglected and mistreated within Canada’s healthcare system—once again, tied directly to a legacy of colonization and cultural oppression.University of Manitoba associate professor of law Brenda L. Gunn explains, “Disrupting Indigenous social, educational and knowledge systems and the outlawing of spiritual and medicinal practices undermined the health status of Indigenous Peoples at the same time that non- Indigenous communities were beginning to benefit from those resources once used to sustain Indigenous Peoples.”
These are just a few examples of the fallout from Canada’s legacy of colonialism and racism towards Indigenous Peoples. Together, they underscore Canada’s undeniable systemic racism and discriminatory practices while highlighting the need for bold action to make the country safe and inclusive.
In the quest to move toward a future of reconciliation, Indigenous communities have joined together to lead the push for lasting change. Here’s a closer look at just a few of the movements initiated by Indigenous Peoples in their fight for justice.
Starting in 2012, this movement was created by Treaty People in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Initially born as a protest to Bill C-45, which Idle No More believed to infringe on First Nations treaty rights, the movement insists that the bill is only part of the battle.
This Indigenous- and women-led grassroots social movement calls Indigenous and non-Indigenous People to peacefully protest and oppose government actions that dismantle environmental protection laws and the land on which First Nations live. Since starting in 2012, Idle No More has grown into a continent-wide push designed to respect and maintain Indigenous sovereignty and safeguard the land, water, and sky.
Canada’s residential schools were an especially dark moment in Canadian history. This annual observation raises awareness about the legacy of the residential school system, which forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families to indoctrinate and assimilate them into Euro-Canadian culture. Not only did thousands of children endure horrible abuse in residential schools, but many of them never made it back to their families.
Former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad had shared her story of having the beloved new orange shirt she’d received from her grandmother taken away from her on her first day at residential school when she was just six years old. Today, Orange Shirt Day pays homage to Webstad and other survivors while also honouring the memories of those who never returned home. Like National Indigenous History Month, it also recognizes the rich resilience of the Indigenous communities of Canada.
Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people are victimized at alarming rates. 60 percent of all Indigenous women experience sexual or physical abuse during their life. Both Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to go missing or be murdered than any other women in Canada. And in an Ontario study, 73 percent of gender-diverse and Two-Spirit Indigenous Peoples had experienced some form of violence due to transphobia. Unfortunately, these cases do not get the attention they deserve from the police, media, or the public.
The MMIW movement calls for an investigation into the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada supported the movement’s push for a national public inquiry. The MMIW movement seeks to address all forms of violence, including sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, bullying, and harassment. It also addresses suicide and self-harm. In addition to supporting the murdered and missing, it has created a space for survivors to share their stories.
Formerly known as the Broman Lake Indian Band (and still often referred to as Broman Lake), the Wet’suwet’en First Nation is located in the central interior of British Columbia west of Burns Lake. They are currently defending their traditional territory from Coastal GasLink – a multi-billion project by TC Energy, which aims to build a 670-kilometre pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas through their land.
Despite ongoing objections from Tribal Chiefs, as it would negatively impact the land, water, and community, the B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an injunction in December 2019. This allowed the removal of any obstructions like cabins, gates, and roads. In response, the Wet’suwet’en issued an eviction notice, letting them know that they were trespassing on unceded territory. The RCMP moved into Wet’suwet’en territory to criminalize and forcibly remove land defenders.
The Wet’suwet’en First Nation continue the fight to stop the destruction of their traditional territories by Coastal GasLink – and enabled by the Canadian government. They are calling for everyone to stand in solidarity and do their part to support Wet’suwet’en sovereignty.
Now more than ever we need to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. There are many ways you can show support, including the following:
The more we understand the cruel and enduring history and legacy of racism toward Indigenous Peoples, the more we can be allies in the truth and reconciliation process. Here are some resources you can use to educate yourself about Indigenous history.
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Written by Bob Joseph, this book is a helpful guide that explains how the Indian Act continues to shape, control, and constrain Indigenous Peoples.
Indigenous Canada: This is a free Coursera course offered by the University of Alberta. It explores the histories and complex experiences of Indigenous Peoples. Topics include land claims, environmental impact, Indigenous arts, and more.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR): This is a place of learning where Canadians are educated on the injustices of residential schools and how it continues to impact Indigenous communities
We all know that stories change depending on who’s telling them. This is especially pertinent to Indigenous People, who have been marginalized and ignored for so long. Getting your news from Indigenous sources is an excellent way to become more informed about their perspective. Here are some Indigenous news sources to check out:
Did you know that 99 percent of Indigenous businesses are small- or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)? A simple yet significant way to support #IndigenousLivesMatter is to support Indigenous SMEs—especially because COVID-19 dramatically impacted smaller organizations.Here are a few you should check out:
Mini Tipi—Inspired by their lifestyle and their proud Canadian and Indigenous heritage, founders Trisha Pitura and Mélanie Bernard make stylish and practical small-batch quality goods for families and homes.
Satya Organic Skin Care—Patrice Mousseau knew there had to be a better solution for her baby’s eczema than the topical steroid prescribed by her doctor. So she devised her own effective, non-toxic, and fragrance-free balm made with five simple natural ingredients.
Raven Reads—This Indigenous literature and giftware subscription box company lets you support Indigenous communities in multiple ways: both by supporting the business itself and the Indigenous authors and entrepreneurs it partners with. Not only that but for every children’s subscription sold, Raven Reads donates a book to a national Indigenous youth summer literacy program.
Cheekbone Beauty — From lipsticks to bronzers, this beauty brand is Indigenous-owned and focuses on clean, vegan, and sustainable colour cosmetics.
Indigenous art forms are diverse and beautiful, but the exposure they receive is often limited. “When people think of native art, they think of ‘traditional’ native art–turquoise, silver–and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s so much more. There are several fantastic contemporary Native artists, and their work just isn’t being seen for a variety of reasons,” according to Dave Kimelberg, a Seneca Nation of Indians (Bear Clan) member, and art gallery owner and founder.
A few examples of contemporary Indigenous artists include Daphne Odjig, Tanya Tagaq, and Maxine Noel.
Indigenous artist Veronica Johnny adds, “In my experience, art is one of the best ways to create understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.”
We all have a role to play in achieving truth and reconciliation. One way you can do this is by making a donation. All contributions—no matter how big or small—make a difference.
The Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Fund supports more than 40 Indigenous-led charities in Canada. They are rebuilding traditional culture and language, offering services and support founded in Indigenous knowledge, and healing the physical and emotional traumas of colonialism, the Indian Act, and Residential Schools.
The Indigenous Culture and Language Resurgence in the Canadian North Fund supports multiple community-based charities in Northern Canada that are aiding in the resurgence of Indigenous language and culture. This includes creating or increasing the sustainability of programs and advocating for policies that further amplify Indigenous ways of life.