By Kristy Strauss
James Bartleman has witnessed first-hand the plight of Aboriginal people and the struggles they have faced over generations.
On Sept. 25, Bartleman – Ontario’s 27th Lieutenant Governor from 2002 to 2007 – talked about those issues when he received an honorary doctorate from Carleton University.
“I have long admired Carleton University, and a great number of my colleagues have attended this university,” Bartleman said. “It’s a great honour to be given an honorary doctorate.”
As a member of the Mnjikaning First Nation, he was the first Aboriginal Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.
His lecture, titled Aboriginal Canadians: The Struggle to be Seen as Human, was this year’s Katherine A. H. Graham lecture in Aboriginal Policy hosted by the Faculty of Public Affairs.
Bartleman spoke extensively about mental health, discrimination and the lack of education in native communities and about the ill effects of 200 years of history and policies like residential schools.
“Children were removed over a 100-year period,” he said. “It went on year after year, decade after decade. Children were taken away to be brainwashed.”
These factors have affected the generations after, he said.
“Kids would come home completely broken in spirit, and didn’t know how to raise their children. The family structure became weaker.”
Aboriginals, particularly youth, face issues of depression and suicide and don’t receive as much funding for education as non-Aboriginal children.
“There is a big problem among native youth, and nothing is going to happen unless governments take action,” Bartleman said. “Only governments can provide the proper level of funding, so you can have a decent level of education in communities.”
He spoke about his own home life, and how he learned to read at an early age – which he said was his ticket out of a life of poverty.
Bartleman used his own life experiences to help create change when he became Lieutenant Governor.
He established libraries in native communities – where he distributed a million and a half books, and raised millions for summer reading camps. He also established youth creative writing awards.
Bartleman also stressed that a dialogue needs to start between native and non-native people, and it needs to include young people.
“The process of humanization has to occur,” he said. “Nothing will happen at levels of government unless native people are seen as people.”
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