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Without a paddle

NDP MP Romeo Saganash writes a mock proposal in response to comments made by Justin Trudeau last month on the needs of Indigenous youth

NDP MP Romeo Saganash proposes ‘Canoe And Paddle Program’ to Justin Trudeau

NDP Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash has penned a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau satirically throwing his support behind a “National Canoe and Paddle Program” to satisfy the needs of Canada’s Indigenous youth.

Saganash wrote the letter, shared to Facebook on Friday, in response to comments Trudeau made at a Jan. 25 town hall in Saskatoon. Trudeau, who is also Canada’s Minister of Youth, suggested that some chiefs advising him on the needs of indigenous youth were misguided.

“I’ve spoken with a number of chiefs who said, ‘You know, we need a youth centre… You know, we need TVs and lounges and sofas so they can hang around,’” Trudeau said.

“And when a chief says that to me, I pretty much know they haven’t actually talked to their young people because most of the young people I’ve talked to want a place to store their canoes and paddles so they can connect back out on the land and a place with internet access so they can do their homework.”

“I want you to know that it wasn’t until your recent comments that I fully understood the importance of having storage for our canoes and paddles.”

So, to address the needs of Indigenous youth, Saganash satirically commended Trudeau’s commitment to addressing the “real” issues.

“As a Cree man, not only was I born on the shores of a lake, but I have spent much of my life navigating waters. However, I want you to know that it wasn’t until your recent comments that I fully understood the importance of having storage for our canoes and paddles.”

“That is why I believe a National Canoe and Paddle Program is absolutely critical to Indigenous youth,” the letter reads. “I believe this is also why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made this national program the secret 95th Call to Action.”

The Trudeau government “helped” to embolden First Nations’ “very important spiritual connection with the water,” Saganash wrote in his post, by approving British Columbia’s Site-C dam, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project and the Muskrat Falls Dam. All three projects have been panned by First Nations organizations across the country.

Saganash jokingly pledged to paddle across Canada once the canoe and paddle depots are built to tell Indigenous Canadians not to worry about those projects.

“With these urgently needed budget investments for canoe storage depots our connection to the lands and waters is maintained.”

Trudeau’s relationship with First Nations communities has waned since the Liberal Party won the 2015 federal election. And his comments in Saskatoon were widely panned. According to CBC, Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas found it odd that he would bring up old stereotypes about First Nations communities.

“With these urgently needed budget investments for canoe storage depots our connection to the lands and waters is maintained.”

“Is it fair to use that and paint all the other communities with the same brush? Some of those rec centres are needed,” Thomas told CBC.

Saganash, who founded the Cree Nation Youth Council in 1985, joked that he hopes his experience provides the “tiniest of assurances that I can speak from experience and expertise when say that the biggest issue facing Indigenous youth for the last 150 years has been the lack of sheds to store our canoes.”

Cover: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

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