Cultural inequality is real, but free museum admission isn’t the problem

Why focusing on the CMHR’s admission policy distracts from serious issues

The Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) is facing criticism for providing free admission for Indigenous people.

A Winnipeg Sun article described the admissions policy as promoting “cultural inequality,” a concern echoed in many of the comments on the Sun News Network’s Facebook page. Some have even called the policy racist.

On Jan. 15, the CMHR released a statement responding to the criticism. The statement reads in part, “The Canadian Museum for Human Rights contains many, many representations of Indigenous cultural heritage. In fact, every gallery in the Museum contains Indigenous human rights stories, many of these stories spoken directly by First Nations, Métis or Inuit people themselves. The Museum rests on Treaty One land and is at the heart of the Métis homeland.”

Reasonable and fair-minded people can disagree about the merits of the CMHR’s admission policy, but calling the policy racist is going too far.

Beyond the overheated rhetoric, focusing on free museum admission serves as a distraction from the serious inequality faced by Indigenous people in Canada, examples of which are provided below:

Suicide: The suicide rate for Aboriginal youth is five to six times the national average, according to the Canadian Institute of Child Health.

Poverty: 62 per cent of Aboriginal children in Manitoba live in poverty - compared to 15 per cent among non-Indigenous people.

Life Expectancy: According to a Statistics Canada report, life expectancy for Indigenous men is four to six years below that of non-Indigenous men, whereas the gap between Indigenous women and non-Indigenous women is roughly five to seven years.

Incarceration Rates: The Office of the Correctional Investigator states, “The incarceration rate for Aboriginal adults in Canada is estimated to be 10 times higher than the incarceration rate of non-Aboriginal adults.”

That is cultural inequality.

Those concerned with the CMHR admissions policy are right to seek equality between all cultures and all who live in Canada. We can all agree on that.

However, with a desire for equality as our driving focus, it is important that we first focus on the life-and-death inequality many Indigenous people face.

We need to address the big issues first.

When suicide rates for Indigenous people are no longer 500 - 600 per cent above the national average, when Indigenous people don’t face poverty at a rate 400 per cent above the provincial average, when Indigenous life expectancy is the same as the national average and when Indigenous people aren’t jailed at a rate 1,000 per cent above the national average - then we can focus on free museum admission.

Cultural inequality in Canada is real and needs to be addressed. To address it, we must move beyond distractions like free museum admission and focus on serious issues.

Spencer Fernando is the Comments Editor for The Uniter. If you would like to write for the Comments Section, email Spencer at

Published in Volume 69, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 21, 2015)

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