September 30, 2021 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This new national day honours the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.
Over the last three years, I’ve been on a journey of learning about Indigenous issues and what is meant by Truth and Reconciliation. Learning and listening but not knowing what action to take that will make a difference. It’s been confusing and heartbreaking. I’m not much for jumping on bandwagons – especially if it isn’t followed up with action.
True versus Performative Allyship
One thing I have done is to better understand performative allyship and how it can actually have the opposite effect from true allyship. In the age of social media, it’s important to ask ourselves these questions before posting about racial inequality. It’s a fine line.
Perhaps the most important shift I’ve made is to not be a bystander to racism anymore. Silence is no longer an option. When others make statements that I don’t agree with, I take the opportunity to share what I have learned and to encourage them to expand their minds. It’s not perfect and it’s uncomfortable. I stumble a lot but it’s getting easier.
And I’m on the cusp to doing more. I don’t know what that looks like yet because the road to true allyship is tricky. And, allyship is also not perfect. That fact is partly what has always held me back. But, there is a trendy, overused saying out there that actually fits well here – “progress over perfection.” We will mess up, and that’s okay. Acknowledge the mistakes, learn from them, keep putting in the work.
Today – right now – you can get involved by being a part of the Truth and Reconciliation journey. These courses, places to visit and other storytelling pieces are a good place to start.
Courses, Places & History:
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action report – more on that shortly but it is our responsibility and obligation to read this report.
- University of Alberta Indigenous Course – This is a free, 12-lesson Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from the Faculty of Native Studies that explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada. It is an amazing experience. I’ve worked through it twice and learned so much, all from an Indigenous perspective
- Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre – SLCC is a world-class cultural centre that shares Indigenous culture and stories. Notably, their guide to the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation walks us through it all in a profound and meaningful manner. You’ll also find other links in this guide to add even more depth to your learning.
- The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation – The NCTR is a place of learning and dialogue where the truths of Residential School Survivors, families and communities are honoured and kept safe for future generations. The NCTR educates Canadians on the profound injustices inflicted on First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation by the forced removal of children to attend residential schools and the widespread abuse suffered in those schools.
- The Government of Canada’s web page on Truth and Reconciliation. Honestly, we will learn so much more from other sites and it is disheartening that our Government shares so much of their efforts towards Truth and Reconciliation in 2015 on this page. Not much after that…. until now. I’ve included it as a reckoning and for us to keep watch and not let this go.
I feel so fortunate to have access to a deep well of resources that have educated me. Certainly, these books have taken me to places of despair and shame. But above all else, they have taken me out of ignorance and hiding.
Here are just a few books that I’ve read. My recommendations are not only directed to Indigenous issues and you’ll find books that address other racial and gender bias. I have not included links because I’d love for you to google them and buy from local sources if possible. If that’s not possible, your local library has many of these available.
- 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality, by Bob Joseph
- The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, by Thomas King – and anything else by Thomas King too
- Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
- Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
- Absolutely anything by Richard Wagamese. Indian Horse is a favorite and One Native Life is pure genius. It’s a candid look at his story from childhood abuse to adult alcoholism and finally, how he reclaimed his identity. Embers is magical.
- Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Dances with Dependency: Out of Poverty Through Self-Reliance, by Calvin Helin
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trevewey
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
- She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor
As mentioned, this is a partial list of what I’ve read. Please let me know if there are any that I’ve missed that have had a profound effect on you.
Things You May Not Know
Even with all this access to information, there is still so much that we don’t know and more importantly, don’t understand. The misinformation around the ‘Indian Act’ is a horrifying part of history.
Bob Joseph’s powerful guide, ’21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality’, is essential reading to understand The Indian Act and its repercussion on generations of indigenous people. Further, it tackles our shameful lack of response to Truth and Reconciliation.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history, began to be implemented in 2007. One of the elements of the agreement was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada as a means of reckoning with the devastating legacy of forced assimilation and abuse left by the residential school system.
From 2008 to 2014, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard stories from thousands of residential school survivors. In June 2015, the commission released a report based on those hearings. From that came the 94 Calls to Action. This report was to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance reconciliation and calls on governments, communities, educational, civil society and religious groups and all Canadians to take action on the 94 Calls of Action it required.
By the way – Call to action #80: Establish a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday.
What Can I Do?
- Read the Truth and Reconciliations Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. We all have access to this report and it is our obligation to read it. Perhaps even more important is to track progress (or the lack of) and hold those accountable.
- National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Reports. These reports showcase the extensive work done to bring to light Indigenous issues, the Residential School System and Truth and Reconciliation.
- Create your own Pledge of Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. In ’21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality’, Bob Joseph recommends developing your own personal and/or professional Pledge of Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. While he recommends you develop your own pledge, he generously provides a sample to get you started. I’ve shared it here to stoke that thought process. For me, I indeed used this sample to get started and then personalized it.
Personal Pledge of Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples
I, _________________, in the spirit of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada, solemnly pledge:
- To learn more about Indigenous Peoples and issues.
- To continue to look forward to positive change for the situation of Indigenous Peoples.
- To find ways to address the Indigenous-related myths and misconceptions with my fellow Canadians.
- To not perpetuate stereotypes in my conversations or observations.
- To encourage others around me to keep reconciliation an ongoing effort.
- To actively encourage ongoing support of national Indigenous Peoples Day every June 21st for myself, my family, my community, and my colleagues.
More Ways to Initiate Change
Further, Bob Joseph includes a section in his book titled, ‘21 Things You Can Do to Help Change the World’. Here are just a few ways we can initiate change.
- Attend or volunteer at a National Indigenous Peoples Day event.
- Participate in a Walk for Reconciliation or organize one.
- Attend and support Indigenous community events.
- Donate books by Indigenous authors to school libraries.
- Read books by Indigenous authors and read books by Indigenous authors to your children.
- Donate sports equipment to remote Indigenous communities; donate time to coach Indigenous sports teams.
- Ensure you buy authentic Indigenous art.
- Learn the Indigenous names for where you live and work.
- Support efforts to stop inappropriate usage of Indigenous imagery for mascots.
- Speak up when you observe cultural appropriation. And yes, that includes Halloween costumes.
- Write a letter to your MP to support the dismantling of the Indian Act.
There is more so please access it in Bob Joseph’s book.
This is Only One Day
This National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a step and it is a milestone on this journey. But, it is only one day.
Perhaps the most important thing to do on September 30 — and every day, for that matter —is to be kind and show consideration to Indigenous communities. They are grieving as they reflect on their history. As they relive the horrors of history.
Let’s all commit to learn, understand, and move forth with indigenous neighbours across the country to find more unity and a caring approach to supporting one another.