Education is an important step in reconciliation.
Sesquifest is an exciting celebration for many Canadians. But for many Indigenous people, there’s nothing to celebrate. If you fall into the first group, it’s incredibly important to make yourself aware of Canada’s colonial history and the atrocities committed by Canadian settlers to Indigenous people. If residential schools and Canada’s cultural genocide weren’t in your education, it’s time for you to come to terms with one of Canada’s darkest secrets.
Ray Deleary is the executive director at Atlohsa Native Family Healing Services and puts the colonization of Canada into perspective for those who aren’t aware about the specifics. The allegory is unfair and unjust. You’ll wonder why you might not have been told about it.
A stranger in the home
“You have a house, you were born and raised inside of a home. Family was inside that home. It was probably the safest place in the world. A sense of home is a sense of where you belong. The people that you love are there. You have a culture within that home, there’s a way that people talk to each other and there’s probably cute, funny things that you can laugh about.
So let’s say that somebody [arrives] one day out of nowhere, uninvited, and comes in forcibly to your home. When they walk in, they immediately start telling you that this is not your home and that they have the right vested by the doctrine of discovery to just take over your home and claim it as theirs and begin making rules.
Little by little they start changing all the rules. You must abide by those rules, or you don’t have a place in that home. At no point did you come into an agreement on how the rules were going to be established for the so-called new home. You’re still in shock because people just walked in and started making rules and you’re thinking, ‘How did this happen?’ And ten years later you’re living in the same home under these new rules and the oppressor is still there.
Deep down you know that at no point did you give permission to anybody to start making rules in your home, especially in your bedroom. Because your bedroom is supposed to be your private place, but nonetheless they’ve gone in there and started to rearrange the furniture and throwing things out at their whim.
You know this deep down, but you know that going against these rules will cause you to become more oppressed because unfortunately you’re weaker. Probably because they’re not feeding you at dinner time, or they’re not allowing you to express yourself in your home. They’ve turned off the taps at a certain hour, you have access to drinking water only when they allow it. It’s the worst form of oppression ever.
So you want to colour your bedroom red and purple but they won’t let you. But that’s been your passion all your life and they won’t let you do it. You know that if you go do it, you’re going to be further oppressed. They’re going to cut you off [from] water or stop feeding you altogether.
So you make the best of what you have with the optimism that you’re going to grow strong and confident enough to stand up against the people that moved in on your home and be able to say something compelling enough that they’re going to respect what you have to say. And say, “Okay, we agree with you. We think you should have some decision making because you live here and you were here before we were. So as far as anything goes in your bedroom and equally in this home. We should all make decisions together. Things aren’t going to change in this home anymore unless we both agree.’”
If that sparked anger and confusion inside of you (as it rightfully should have), here are some other ways to look further into the history of Indigenous people in Canada. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and for the most part it focuses on education and processing that knowledge. But this knowledge is a crucial step to helping make a real difference.
Learn about Indigenous history at the Ontario Museum of Archeology
A visit to the Ontario Museum of Archeology will help you visualize the history of Indigenous people in Canada and learn about their history before colonial settlers came along. Exhibitions include pre-contact artefacts, the 13,000-year history of Ontario, and preservation of Oneida and Ojibwe languages. An Iroquan Longhouse has been unearthed and preserved at their active dig site. Check out their hours of operation and make it out to this site.
Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 to learn the truth about what happened in residential schools. They completed their goal in 2015 and released a final report of their findings. The entire document is available to read online, and includes a comprehensive history, legacy, and calls to action for reconciliation.
It’s a long document, but its length is representative of its importance to Indigenous people and reconciliation efforts.
Visit Museum London for the Witness Blanket exhibition
After reading about the history and legacy of the horrifying residential schools, visit Musuem London for a visual aide. The Witness Blanket exhibit takes found objects from residential schools and puts the reality of the situation into perspective.
The 40-foot long wall has an interactive app and website to go along with it. The app brings objects to life and gives more insight on how Indegenous people were affected by residential schools.
Watch Kanesetake: 270 Years of Revolution
One of the most important results of education is preventing events from reoccurring in the future. It leads to coexistence where both Canadians and Aboriginal people make decisions together. That’s why it’s important to realize that oppression still takes place today and in recent decades. Watch Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary about the 1990 Oka crisis, in which land developers attempted to expanded a golf course onto a Mohawk burial ground. Watch the documentary here for the full story.
While education is the first step, acting and calling out injustice to Aboriginal people is necessary for real change. The needs of every Indigenous person and group are different, so reach out and ask how you can best help. Active conversation and discussion is a good step for repairing relationships and reconciling, Deleary echoes.
“There’s a lot more discussion and awareness now than there ever has been before. Younger people are getting interested and then acting on what they are learning. It’s making a big difference. If that type of trend continues, then mark my words, they’ll be a revolution at some point.”
Take some time this weekend and throughout the year to understand Aboriginal issues, concerns, and the role that Canada has played in their cultural genocide. It will help the move toward a future of coexistence and mutual respect for both parties.
Feature Photo by Thomas Sayers