The First Nations are the Aboriginal peoples in Canada. There are currently over 632 recognized First Nations governments or bands spread across Canada. Their total population is nearly 1.4 million people. Each of these hundreds of tribes has its own culture, customs, legends, and character.
Of these, 74 Bands are based in Saskatchewan. 17 of them are within 100 kilometres of Island Breezes’ Saskatchewan base.
In the past 150 years life has not been easy for Canada’s First Nation’s people. Living conditions for Indigenous people in the prairie regions deteriorated in the late 1800’s. Between 1875 and 1885, settlers and hunters of European descent contributed to hunting the North American Bison almost to extinction; the construction of the railway brought large numbers of European settlers west who encroached on former Indigenous territory. European Canadians established governments, police forces, and court systems with different foundations than indigenous practices. Various epidemics continued to devastate Indigenous communities.
Indigenous people were placed on reserves.
All of these factors had a profound effect on Indigenous people, particularly those from the plains who had relied heavily on bison for food and clothing. Most of those nations agreed to treaties that were negotiated for a guarantee of food and help to begin farming. Just as the bison disappeared (the last Canadian hunt was in 1879), the government of Canada started to regularly renege on every treaty it made with First Nations people.
Loss of identity continued with the loss of the bison – the centre of the community and their source of shelter, food, activity and lifestyle. Add to that the terrible impact of the Canadian Government’s system of residential school system.
Today almost every First nations family deals with the impact of 150 years of pain. Yet, today’s First Nations people are re-finding their identity and dignity. The First nations Church is growing.
The dark shadow of the residential school has cast a huge barrier of mistrust and anger among Canada’s First Nations people. Whites are mistrusted, and motives questioned.
Inter-generational trauma within First Nations has resulted in heartbreaking stories of tragedy among affected communities. Symptoms of this trauma include the highest rates of suicide per capita in the world. Drug and alcohol addiction, sexual and physical abuse, suicide and increasing participation in gangs are common destructive behaviors used to cope with the loss of identity, culture and voice.
This problem is growing. Over 50% of the First Nations population is under the age of 25 and First Nation youth is the fastest growing demographic in Canada.
To deal with these issues, Canada’s reserves have no shortage of programs, but a real shortage of authentic, supportive, intentional faith-based relationships. The great majority of programs don’t work, no matter how well intentioned.