Muskoka Indigenous women frustrated with federal election campaign

Three First Nations women from Muskoka have spoken out to say they are angry and frustrated they are not hearing more from candidates on Indigenous issues during the federal election campaign.

All three said they are exasperated that the news cycle in 2021 is so short Indigenous issues — front page news earlier this summer — have now been pushed to the back burner even during a national election. That includes the discovery this summer of the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children who were buried in unmarked graves at the sites of former .

While recognizing COVID-19 is dominating much of the headlines during the campaign — they point out Indigenous people have been more adversely affected by the pandemic than the rest of the population, yet they’ve been largely left out of that conversation.

Port Carling-based lawyer Trisha Cowie said there is currently no shortage of issues affecting Indigenous people and their relationship with Canada. She believes this election is critical if there is ever going to be progress on reconciliation.

“I do not speak for all Indigenous people, but for me, the No. 1 issue is following up on the in the Truth and Reconciliation report. Also important is moving forward on the recommendations coming out of the ,” Cowie said. “These are serious issues affecting our people whether they live off-reserve or on the territory. Governments have to stop handing off Indigenous issues to the next government. We need leaders with power and vision and I am not seeing that.”

Cowie added perhaps the most pressing local Indigenous issue is the legal battle with the federal and provincial governments over provisions and rights in the .

If Canadian governments are serious about reconciliation they must end these protracted, expensive legal battles in court and stop treating treaty obligations as social policy, she said.

Former Huntsville resident Lorelei Isaacs-Bacon, who now lives in Bracebridge, said she is stunned by how quickly the residential school burial site tragedies have been pushed to the back pages. Along with Cowie, she helped organize a ceremony at River Mill Park in June where hundreds of signs, made by Muskoka students mourning those innocent victims, were planted in the ground.

“I’m not hearing anything from these politicians about how there can be reconciliation and healing on the residential schools tragedy. When is it going to happen?” Issacs-Bacon asked.

“There is also the ongoing problem of clean water on reserves — a huge issue that I am not hearing enough about. This is really about telling the truth and our voice being heard,” she said. “Too many Canadians don’t understand the hurt and pain Indigenous people across the country are feeling, or they don’t care. It’s maybe not entirely their fault. I do not hear the federal leaders talking nearly enough about Indigenous peoples and their relationship with Canada.”

Huntsville Indigenous activist Joyce Jonathan Crone has been drawing attention to Indigenous issues all summer by setting up a memorial to residential school victims in River Mill Park. Unfortunately, it keeps getting vandalized without anyone being caught. She said she is saddened by that but is also frustrated there does not seem to be much talk or debate about Indigenous issues by the candidates in .

“It’s not good enough for them to refer us to their national party websites. I would like to hear what the local candidates themselves are saying about these critical Indigenous issues,” Jonathan Crone said.

Local candidates shared their thoughts on Indigenous issues in this newspaper’s Sept 3.

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: All Canadians should be concerned about Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous people, especially during a federal election. Our reporter connected with local Indigenous women to share their thoughts on the election and how Indigenous issues are being represented.