Today marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada which seek to acknowledge and commemorate the victims and survivors of Canada’s 140 federally-run residential schools.
For many Canadians, myself included, there is still so much to learn about the residential school system and the systemic abuse that continues to carry on within the Indigenous population today. In my best efforts to explain this in a simple way: before Canada became the country we know it to be today, there already existed and thrived many tribes and bands of Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples who were thriving in their communities.
The above terms are all often used interchangeably but they shouldn’t necessarily be as they all have their own distinct cultures. For the purpose of this post I’ll be referring to Indigenous peoples only in an effort not to exclude any one community.
When European settlers first came to North America and stumbled upon the Indigenous peoples, they quickly asserted that the land would be better under their own reign and by using incredibly deceitful tactics began colonizing, creating laws and policies which benefitted them in order to gain control of the land.
They then utilized assimilation tactics on the Indigenous peoples to further control them as a populace, and, when they deemed necessary, removed them from the equation entirely.
When it suited the Europeans, they chose to break about Indigenous families, homes, take the women and children away, and place the children into the residential schools.
Residential schools were run by Christians who’s goal was to convert these children into the European way of life. They’d do this by any means necessary, including using electric chairs to punish the kids if they didn’t comply with the “new normal”.
Since the first European settlers set foot on Indigenous land, many Indigenous peoples have been abused and killed, discarded as though they had no worth.
This is the devastating true story of the creation of Canada and it’s one that has gone largely untold or ignored until very recently, with the discovery of the remains of the missing children of these residential schools.
Even myself, as a Canadian who was part of the public school system, have only recently begun to scratch the surface in learning what settlers chose as the “right course of action” in building this country into what it is today.
Earlier this year I took a free online course developed by the University of Alberta on “Indigenous Canada” which really helped to shed light on the real history of the land I call home, and it’s frankly really disturbing to learn all of the sordid details.
The most challenging part of learning this history is that it’s very much still an ongoing issue that doesn’t just affect Indigenous peoples, but all of us as a whole.
We all have a responsibility to become informed about the experiences Indigenous peoples faced and still face, and how we might be able to help improve their lives and well-being.
As I was learning about this I had to continually remind myself that while it is not my own fault, as a 31 year old Canadian, that these things happened to Indigenous peoples (hell, I was still a child myself when the last residential school closed down), but I do have a responsibility to my community and country to be an active participant in the conversation.
And that’s what today’s all about.
We can’t necessarily correct all these wrongs overnight, despite how grossly overdue they are, but we can spend a little time every day, or every week, trying to put our attention to it (to start) and only with learning about it can we then determine the best course of action to move forward as a collective.
And one of the best things I think we can do, and I’m speaking largely now about myself as a white Canadian and other white Canadians like me, is we can be aware of when people are trying to shut down these conversations or in way diminish the experiences of the Indigenous peoples.
I’ll never know what it’s like to be an Indigenous person, living their way of life, in their skin, on our streets, and I’m sure as hell not going to pretend I do. And I’m also not going to stand idly by when I overhear other white Canadians say they’re “exhausted about hearing about it”. To say so is remarkably disrespectful to the lived experiences of these people and the longer we perpetuate the myth that they’re “overselling it” or “drawing it out” in any way, the longer it will take for true reconciliation to happen.
So I guess this is my pledge to continue learning, continue reading, listening, and educating myself on these issues. And I hope you all join me today in taking a few moments to reflect on this day, what it means, and what you can do to become part of the conversation and eventually, when you’re ready, part of the solution.
For more information on the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, check out some of these links:
Canada.ca: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
CTV News: How non-Indigneous people can respectfully observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
CBC News: Indigenous leaders call on Canadians to ‘own your own truth’ on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
The Canadian Encyclopedia: Residential Schools in Canada
Macleans: Where to donate to support survivors of residential schools
CBC News: How a day for truth and reconciliation inspired these Indigenous artists