Reminders for Reconciliation
Over the last nearly three years,we have learned how to navigate a variety of unprecedented changes. Many of these changes have been centralized around COVID-19 and how it has shaped our professional lives, relationships and hobbies. Alongside COVID-19, the last two years have also been ripe with political changes, tensions not just here in Canada- but all over the world. We watched as police brutality and institutional racism led to civil unrest, which sparked protests all over North America, and other places in the world. Not only that, but we watched the news with heavy hearts and knots in our stomachs as the bodies of 215 Indigenous children were confirmed at Kamloops Residential School in May 2021.
Since May, thousands more graves have been confirmed at various residential schools scattered across Canada with very little continual coverage, or media attention. With little news coverage and public conversation, the dialogues around reconciliation have slowed down. As a non-Indigenous Canadian who continues to benefit from the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnaabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat people, I urge Canadians not lot lose momentum towards truth and reconciliation, to review the 94 Calls to Action, and to choose which calls to action you want to commit to or focus on in the New Year and going forward. Let us not lose sight of what is important and remember that we all have a part to play in truth and reconciliation if we truly want to make Canada a safe and equitable space for our Indigenous Peoples, who have lived here long before us, and have resiliently endured an oppressive system that attempted to eradicate them.
As a quick review, in 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published a report urging all levels of government to work together to attempt to repair the damage done by the Residential School system and other assimilative policies under the Indian Act. These 94 Calls to Action are centralized around child welfare, education, language and culture, health, justice, etc. Although these calls to action are directed to varying levels of government, they are not solely the responsibility of our government, and all Canadians should collectively be sharing the responsibility of reconciliation.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action number 72-76 are the Calls to Action that ensure Canada works with Indigenous communities to locate their missing loved ones and the unmarked burial places in a culturally informed way. This means it is important for Canadians to continue to put pressure on the federal government to fund all five of these commission calls, so that every single one of these children receives the burial that they deserve, so that their communities can maintain and develop records, and so that their loved ones and can grieve their losses in a way that is culturally appropriate. Canadians can reinforce these Calls to Action by writing to their MPs demanding that the federal government fund Commission Calls to Action number 72-76 and by attending cultural events or marches that commemorate these lost children.
Moreover, Calls to Action numbers 18-24 are centralized around health, such as ensuring equitable and culturally relevant programs and services are accessible to Indigenous Peoples, repairing/renovating health infrastructure in communities, and educating health care providers on the history and legacy of residential schools to decolonize and prevent racism in health-care settings. Conversations around this include the current lack of cultural sensitivity and racism in health-care settings, ensuring all boiling water advisories are lifted so that all Indigenous communities have access to clean drinking water, and more affordable groceries in communities (cost of groceries is estimated to be 1.5x higher than national average in Northern remote communities). Canadians can support Indigenous community water challenges by donating to organizations such as Water First, which provides skills training and collaborative programs which integrate Indigenous culture and values to communities (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).
Every single one of the Calls to Action is important to read and understand, but another one that has been discussed frequently within the media is Call to Action 92. This specific Call to Action pertains to gaining consent from Indigenous communities before proceeding with economic development within their communities, respecting their land and treaty rights, and also ensuring these projects are sustainable so that community members can benefit from these economic development projects in the long run. This year and over the decades, we have heard many instances where Indigenous communities have fought arduously to defend their land rights and fight back against corporations implementing environmentally destructive projects within their communities without their consent. An example of this is in Wet’suwet’en Nation in Northern British Columbia, where Coastal GasLink (CGL) has been illegally forging ahead with pre-construction work of fracking operations on the traditional homelands and territory of the Wet’suwet’en people.
There are many other instances where situations like this are currently happening in Canada and Canadians can support Call to Action 92 by supporting Indigenous initiatives that defend land rights. Examples of this could be donating to the Raven Trust, which is the legal defense fund of the Wet’suwet’en Nation or attending demonstrations or protests that are centralized around respecting Indigenous land rights. Others may choose to boycott businesses that have been known to impose on Indigenous land rights and resources. For example, my brother and sister-in-law have not purchased a Nestle product in four years after finding out that Nestle was illegally stealing fresh water from Northern Indigenous communities.
So how do we continue to move forward and what can we do with all this information? For starters, pick up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action report to better understand our collective responsibility as Canadians and how we play a role from a micro, macro, or mezzo level. Choose an area of the TRC that you feel passionate about and make it inform your every day life, or profession. Talk to Indigenous friends and organizations about ways you can support truth and reconciliation. After asking my previous professor Christine Migwans about ways non-Indigenous Canadians can support the TRC she replied,
“My personal challenge is to commit to one or two goals. Child well-being is my passion. My volunteer work and paid employment is geared to children and their families...Kind of like a life project that is only a small link to the list of calls. The average Canadian may not be aware of the calls to action, so this may be the start. Being introduced and learning about the TRC is a primary and foundational goal, becoming engaged (with action) is secondary. I believe we need make more space for dialogues in smaller groups to support learning and engagement. I find smaller scale opportunities more engaging. As for the goal to get Canadians reactive, engaged, and involved in change, we need to spend more time to help Canadians learn about the TRC. We need to continue efforts in the foundational goal.”
According to Christine, Canadians can begin by reading the full TRC report, before engaging in change. I strongly agree that the TRC is a document that all Canadians should be expected to read and learn about, even if it is directed to varying levels of government. I personally think that having TRC educational groups in all workplaces could be beneficial. Christine also shared some examples of work we need to do to educate the Canadian public that were published in a CBC article.
These “personal acts of reconciliation” include:
-reading books that reflect on the residential school experience
-volunteer at an Indigenous non-profit
-support emerging artists and musicians
-watch films and documentaries
-create a family project around Indigenous history
-listen to Indigenous podcasts, artists and music
-explore authentic Indigenous experiences
-learn the history of residential schools
To conclude, in order to ensure Canadians continue to move forward with reconciliation, we can begin by better educating ourselves on what reconciliation means, why it is important, and by making it a goal to read the TRC’s full report. Once this is done, individuals can then choose areas or Calls to Action that they are passionate about and want to commit to. In conclusion, amplifying and following Indigenous voices is an integral part of better understanding how non-Indigenous Canadians can support truth and reconciliation and the 94 Calls to Action.