On February 27, the U of T New Democrats hosted a panel discussion entitled Indigenous Rights & Canadian Politics. Charlie Angus, the Member of Parliament for Timmins—James Bay with the New Democratic Party (NDP), spoke at the panel alongside President of the Indigenous Studies Student Union (ISSU) Jennifer Sylvester.
The panel occurred a day after Angus announced his candidacy for the leader of the federal NDP to replace Thomas Mulcair. The event, which lasted just over an hour long, discussed a variety of Indigenous issues.
Sylvester started the discussion by speaking on her personal experiences as a member of the Indigenous community. She described an impactful summer, during which she attended a variety of Indigenous ceremonies, including her own naming ceremony.
Sylvester explained, “Up until that point I was ashamed of who I was as an Indigenous person because that’s just what the system taught me to be.”
Sylvester continued to discuss the importance of having connection to her Indigeneity, emphasizing the many Indigenous people “who don’t have that connection to their communities due to the process of residential schools, the sixties scoop, to foster care… due to the lateral process that has [trickled] down from residential schools for generations.”
During Angus’ talk he spoke about the previous and current federal government’s relationship with Indigenous communities.
“Do not blame [former Prime Minister] Stephen Harper. It’s too easy to blame Stephen Harper,” Angus said.
She argued that the previous Prime Minister of Canada “was just the ugly manifestation of something that’s gone on in this country for well over 150 years.”
Angus also spent some time reading from his book, Children of the Broken Treaty: Canada’s Lost Promise and One Girl’s Dream, outlining the story of Shannen Koostachin who was a young Cree woman who had never seen a proper school.
He acknowledged that the date of the event was the fifth anniversary of when “Members of Parliament stood up in memory of Shannen and voted to end the systemic discrimination against Indigenous children.” Angus added: “And five years later, nothing has changed.”
Throughout his discussion, Angus described a pattern of systemic oppression directed towards Indigenous communities by the government of Canada: “And I sometimes start to think I sound like a crazy man from what I’ve seen,” Angus said, “but in the 14 years I’ve served working in the communities of Northern Ontario and James Bay where it is ground zero and we lose children every day — every day children die from systemic negligence on the part of the government.”
Angus has been an MP since 2004 and was the NDP Indigenous Affairs Critic and National Caucus Chair, before stepping down in preparation for his leadership candidacy.
Voting will take place in multiple rounds between October 1–29 until over 50 per cent support from members of the NDP is received.
Angus faces competition from British Columbia MP Peter Julian and Quebec MP Guy Caron. Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh and Manitoba MP Niki Ashton are both rumoured to be considering entering the leadership race as well.