At the end of May, a First Nation in southern BC shared the discovery of 215 children who had been buried in an unmarked grave at Kamloops residential school.
Like most Canadians, I felt that this discovery was shocking and horrifying, but at the same time it was not a huge surprise. In the days that followed I spent a lot of time thinking about my role and responsibility in understanding the history of this land and decolonization of our systems and society.
My ancestors came from different parts of Europe during times of famine and war to start a new and better life here. They benefited from colonization at the expense of the people that have occupied Turtle Island for thousands of years. And now I benefit from it.
Colonization also led to the creation of all the systems we have today – healthcare, education, the legal system. It’s important for us to understand how our history has created the systems that we live in today. Systems that perpetuate racism and discrimination. I think if we can start with acknowledging that truth, maybe we can move forward to change it.
I believe it is the responsibility of all Canadians to learn our history and the truth of our relationship with Indigenous People. Thousands of Indigenous people have shared their stories of their experiences in Residential Schools. Those stories have been carefully documented through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I have decided to start reading the TRC report and having a better understanding of the 94 Calls to Action that came out of it.
Here are some of the Calls to Action that we can reflect on as an organization and as individuals that live and work on Treaty 6 territory:
13. We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights; and,
14. We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act that incorporates the following principles:
- Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.
- Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.
- The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.
- The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.
- Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.
How can we incorporate more Indigenous languages into our work? We recently added Amiskwacîwâskahikan to our signatures, which is the Cree name for Edmonton and translates to ‘Beaver Hills House’. But what other ways can we acknowledge the many different languages and cultures of Indigenous People in our work? I had a professor in my master’s program who always used to tell this story of when he worked up north with the Inuit people in a public health role. He was trying to get across the point that different toxins or poisons can cause cancer and one of the community members commented that in English we have so many different words for toxin but in the Inuit language, Inuktitut, they have dozens of words for ‘snow’. They have words for fresh snow, for thick fluffy snow, for crunchy snow after the top melts – I always loved this story because as a Canadian you know exactly what they’re talking about. Snow comes in many shapes and forms, and as the Inuit culture is centred around living on snow and ice their language evolved to reflect that. Language and culture are tied so closely together.
57. We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
Most of the Calls to Action are targeted towards different levels of government and not necessarily the private or nonprofit sectors. However, this call we can easily apply to our work and I think we have already started to do this. A previous book club book focused on the Indian Act, we’re doing the Indigenous Canada course, we’re also observing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. How else can we learn? Here are some more ideas:
- read through the TRC’s Calls to Action – how else can we incorporate them into our work?
- take training on anti-racism, or anti-oppression (like the courses offered by CFRAC)
- go to Fort Edmonton Park and explore the new Indigenous exhibit
- take some time on September 30th to learn about the TRC, and Orange Shirt Day and the significance behind it
This is a learning journey for all of us and I’m grateful to be part of an organization that is taking steps to increase our understanding and awareness.