Caterina Petrolo, a paralegal and prosecutor from Toronto, Canada, has taken it upon herself to create a framework for advocating for Indigenous peoples’ rights in her home country. Petrolo’s dedication to social justice and her persistent personality are the driving forces behind this most recent venture.
Personal Experience Drives Petrolo’s Advocacy
Growing up in Toronto and attending school, Cathy Petrolo never encountered any curriculum on Indigenous cultures or existences. However, when she met her common-law partner in 2003, she realized the difficulties Aboriginals face on a daily basis. It took her partner 28 years to obtain his official Aboriginal status from the Canadian government, with countless forms of documentation and Petrolo’s personal commitment to ensuring he was no longer given the runaround. Petrolo has since made it her mission to change the process for good.
In 1992, Petrolo’s partner filed his initial application for his Aboriginal status with the Canadian government, seeking approval and his right to his status. But because he was given up for adoption, the Canadian government stacked endless barriers for him, instructing him to deal with the “Indian Northern Affairs – adoption unit.” This unit made it impossible for him to get acknowledgment that he was in fact Indigenous.
CathyPetrolo watched her partner struggle with the process for years, hitting a dead end again and again. By 2009, she had had enough and stepped in, certain that she could help him achieve his Indigenous status. No matter how many statutory declarations she submitted, no matter how many leads, requests, and requirements she followed, she was turned away on his behalf.
In October 2020, Cathy Petrolo re-attempted the process one last time, this time with a much more aggressive approach. She made it very clear that she was not going to accept their past behaviors and practices, nor their frivolous unethical document requests. The new members of the adoption unit provided an undertaking that they would revisit the file, and only after reviewing the large voluminous file would they request anything from them. Finally, Council provided all necessary summaries and ultimately granted his certificate of Status.
The Ongoing Struggle of Indigenous Peoples in Canada
Petrolo’s partner eventually received his Indigenous status, but Petrolo wonders how many other adopted Aboriginal individuals are struggling with and giving up on their own certificates of status. It is her opinion that most of the injustices, challenges, and failures (whether health, clean water, or housing) were and are caused by the Canadian Government.
With an eye towards permanent change, Cathy Petrolo is determined to be a voice and an advocate for Indigenous peoples across Canada – and perhaps one day, the world. Her first step is to learn more about their histories and cultures and then their current struggles in modern society. Only then can she help them work towards a more fair, just, and comfortable future. Petrolo hopes to use her legal education to right a wrong she is so passionate about.
Caterina Petrolo is not alone in her mission to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada. There is a long history of colonization, exploitation, and systemic racism that has caused immeasurable harm to Indigenous communities across the country. According to the 2016 Canadian Census, over 1.6 million people identified as Indigenous in Canada, representing over 4.9% of the total population. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, each with their own unique cultures and traditions.
Despite their contributions to Canadian society, Indigenous peoples continue to face significant challenges, including poverty, discrimination, inadequate housing, and inadequate access to healthcare and education. These issues are compounded by the ongoing legacy of residential schools, which were government-run institutions that forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families and communities and subjected them to abuse, neglect, and cultural assimilation.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established in 2008 to address the legacy of residential schools and begin the reconciliation process between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The Commission’s final report, released in 2015, included 94 calls to action aimed at redressing the harm caused by residential schools and addressing the ongoing systemic discrimination faced by Indigenous peoples.
Petrolo’s work aligns with many of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, particularly those related to addressing systemic discrimination and ensuring that Indigenous peoples have control over their own lives and futures. She hopes that her efforts will help to raise awareness about the ongoing struggles faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada and inspire others to take action to create meaningful change.
In addition to her advocacy work, Caterina Petrolo is also involved in a number of community organizations focused on promoting social justice and human rights. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Paralegals and is also involved with the Ontario Justice Education Network, which provides legal education and resources to students and community members.
Caterina Petrolo’s dedication to social justice and her commitment to improving the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada are inspiring examples of the activism and advocacy necessary for creating positive change in society. While there is still much work to be done to address the ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous peoples, people like Caterina Petrolo provide hope and inspiration for a more just and equitable future for all.