If you are Canadian.. Non-aboriginal.. Settler.. “ordinary Canadian”.. your every day life may have little to no relationship with First Nations (FN) people. I doubt any of my friends and relations have ever visited a reserve, made a Native friend or have attended a cultural event or listened to their stories.
For a long time, my understanding of Native culture in a modern framework was limited. I had no idea about tradition, religion, medicine, teachings, economy, governance, treaties or sustenance. As a student, the limited indigenous knowledge and history taught to me consisted of fairy tale stories of righteous european leaders and phony thanksgiving with plastic feather headdresses. Not that my teachers were intentionally trying to warp my understanding of Canadian history, I think they themselves were uneducated in accurate and truthful Canadian history; participating in a system of smoke in mirrors, and keeping the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians vague, misunderstood, mysterious and distanced.
Through my own direction, I seek out education and friendship with the FNMI community, primarily because on a very basic level, in alignment with Canadian values, it must disturb us that there are Canadians in this land who are suffering. There are Canadians who do not have potable water, who do not have healthcare or education, and who do not have adequate housing. There are fellow Canadians who are suffering in a system of poverty, violence, abuse and destruction facilitated by the racist agenda of the Canadian government. It should shock you, it should make you angry.
The Canadian government asserted themselves on this land and these original peoples and through genocidal means attempted to destroy all indigenous nations on this land. It should shock and sadden you that in the church-run and government-funded residential school (the last of which closed in 1996 when I myself was a child) aboriginal children were used as pawns in a system of forced assimilation and destruction of a culture and people. It should bother you that there are still scalping bounties on the books in some provincial law. It should bother you that until 1960 and 1951 respectively, aboriginal Canadians could not vote or hire a lawyer. Up until the 30’s you could not even leave the reservation without written governmental permission in certain treaty areas. You could not, and still cannot build your own home because you cannot own land on reserve. You cannot fish and hunt freely, and until recently were not permitted to practice your own religion or protect your children from being unjustly taken without risking being taken to jail. Until 1985 if you were First Nations and you became a doctor, a teacher or a lawyer you had your “indian” status revoked and you were removed and isolated from your community. Not only were professional and educated Natives unable to connect and take comfort in their communities, but by the same token could not bring their knowledge and expertise the the communities to help them.
First Nations Veterans Memorial, Ottawa
Many Canadians are afraid of sharing this burden of truth and reconciliation. They argue that transgressions of past generations should not be theirs to bear. What is important is to remember that you may not know the whole truth. Through ignorance and lies the true history of Canada is hidden and Canadians’ approach First Nations with fear and confusion because we do not understand. We have heard stories of free housing, no taxes and rich chiefs. But it is imperative that we begin to listen to the stories that are being told, through great courage of survivors and their families, and through important and historically significant work such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.This is not ancient history. Many of these injustices occurred up into the 60s, 90s, today, and sadly, the will continue into the future unless we begin to foster respectful relationships. This is not the echo of a centuries old war. It is the reverberations of thousands of acts of violence and genocidal practices were forced upon indigenous people because we believed that non-indigenous peoples are superior. Racism is the basis of colonialism and it is the basis of our country. Why is it so that our aboriginal brothers and sisters live in abject poverty, no running water, no housing, no care, no hope, no voice, no future? What could damage a culture so that the desperation so powerful and inescapable it causes the people to escape this through suicide and addiction? I don’t recall learning about residential schools in my own education. Even as it came into the circle of my understanding of the world, it was framed as necessary, beneficial.. if only somewhat misguided.
10 000 Canadians walk for Reconciliation 2015
Through my own quest for education have I come to understand that this is not ancient history. This is not a time-old grudge against having to share this land with settlers. Many injustices happened very recently, and are still happening today. The war conflicts and bounties on men, women and children. The clearing of the plains and calculated starvation of whole populations. The distribution of small-pox inflected blankets to communities so that when they were all deceased the land could be taken, which is nothing short of biological warfare. The forceful removal and assimilation of innocent children and subsequent abuse and brainwashing which led them to believe their people were inferior. The 60s scoop, which took children from their families to be adopted into white families to further dilute their culture. The chronic underfunding of First Nations specifically in regards to Education and Healthcare to which the most vulnerable suffer. I have come to understand how the love and guidance, compassion and nurturing was taken away from indigenous children. Furthermore, the systematic starvation, mistreatment, punishment, torture, assaults and oppression of the children can instill an unbreakable chain of lateral violence and intergenerational trauma.
Canadians believe that Natives are lazy. Canadians think that they personally finance indigenous people through their taxes. Taxes, however pay for social programs for Canadians such as health care, education and clean drinking water. Why is it that these programs do not receive the same funding on a per-person or per-child basis as other Canadians? Why is it that my friends in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation can only attend school until grade ten, at which point they have to fly their children away to board in large cities at their own expense? Why is it that my friends in Wapekeka First Nation do not have a school at all because Aboriginal Affairs would not insure it and it burned to the ground? Certain rights, such as Education were negotiated by indigenous people with the government of Canada in exchange for the sharing some of the land and its resources. Continually, reserve land is being used by resource extraction, but where is the wealth? The government holds on to the money in trust, paid out in stipends like an allowance yet in such small doses it barely covers the cost of some very basic services which reserves have to supply themselves, such as firefighting. Canadians like to think that Natives have advantage because they don’t pay taxes. When in reality due to the Indian Act, indigenous peoples living on-reserve don’t pay the same taxes as other Canadians but they don’t receive the same services. Unless negotiated for in the treaties every firehose and every street lamp comes from moneys generated by the use of their land and distributed by Indian Affairs, not not as the case may be. There are many hard truths that are difficult to bear and difficult to understand how they came to be. There are many myths which are systematically enforced especially through the educational system, for all Canadians. You should care about reconciliation because not only have First Nations peoples had to bear the burden of the damages done, Canadians have been lied to, further perpetuating dangerous stereotypes and standing in the way of progress, understanding and respect for everyone.
walking for reconciliation.. Parliament Hill (unceded Algonquin territory)
Of all the obstacles First Nations have before them, the racist and discriminatory attitudes of Canadians only reiterate these damages. Canadians shun and mock their aboriginal brothers and sisters because they were not educated on the true history and are not willing to open their eyes, ears and hearts.
It started with the courage of indigenous people to open up, to tell their story and ask for Canadians to listen. Now, it’s up to us to step up and acknowledge the truth and make steps to reconcile our relationship. The government is not going to have a change of heart or commit to real change and reparations at this time. It begins with ordinary Canadians to match the courage shown to us to bear the burden of the truth, and to look at our indigenous neighbours and acknowledge them and to respect them because, ultimately we are all Canadians and we all deserve respect, dignity and equality.
We are all one.
note: please forgive me of any errors I have made in my article, it is meant as an overview of topics, not a comprehensive record.