June 2021: non-Indigenous Canadians now understand only too well why we need National Indigenous History Month

NationalIndigenousMonth

This has not been a happy time in Canada.  We have been confronted with the Truth, or maybe one could say we’ve been hit over the head with a sledgehammer called the Truth.  The Truth of the cruel, inhumane, criminal residential school system perpetrated on the Indigenous Peoples by the colonizers of what has become Canada.  Twelve full years after June was first proclaimed as National Indigenous History Month by Parliament in 2009, the recognition and the need for it can be doubted by no-one.

This June has been bookended by the discovery (confirmation) of the remains of hundreds of remains and unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the sites of former Residential Schools in Kamloops, B.C. and Saskatchewan.  Both of these residential schools were run by the Catholic Church, funded by the federal governments at the time.  A Catholic Church that has yet to officially apologize for its unspeakable actions against innocent children or turn over its records of the schools and grave sites.

NIHM-TheyFoundUs

It was always clear to those in the know and those who reported on the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that such grave sites existed and would be found.  That they needed to be found.  In fact, that requirement is one of the 94 recommendations of the TRC Report, which was presented to the federal government six years ago.  We have to be prepared for the reality that many more grave sites will be found.

The one positive outcome of these findings is that non-Indigenous people now recognize how real this is.  There is no hiding from facts.  Our telling of history will change to reflect reality.  It is changing.  And because of this vastly raised public awareness, surely government action will be accelerated.  Surely governments at all levels will start walking their talk.  Finally.  We need so much more than tentative baby steps.

Report card of government actions on the TRC Recommendations.

The CBC is keeping an up-to-date interactive report card, called Beyond 94, of the expectations and progress of each of the 94 recommendations.  The screen shot below is the report card as of June 22; I encourage you to take a look at the site.  Actually, I think the number completed may have moved to 14 with the parliamentary approval last week of #94, replacing the Oath of Citizenship to acknowledge Indigenous history.  In fact, June 2021 has been a good month for recommendations to move to the ‘Complete’ column.  Hopefully this activity will only accelerate.

Beyond94

One of the recommendations that passed Parliament this past week was #43, harmonizing Canada’s laws with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which, I might add, was passed at the UN way back  in September 2007 with a vote of 144 in favour, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and U.S against [they’ve all now ratified it], and 11 abstentions.  One redeeming outcome of such a long delay in Canada is that this new legislation was amended at the last minute to explicitly reject the doctrines of discovery and terra nullius (the conquerors giving themselves permission to claim any land not populated by ‘Christians’) as “racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.”

Let’s hope that by the time next year’s Indigenous History Month arrives, many more recommendations will be well along the ‘In Progress’ route or ‘Complete’.  Clean water in all First Nations would be a great addition, an outcome long overdue.  Consider sending your voice of concern to your MP.

And while we’re at it, let’s not forget that the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Report released in early June needs to be actioned in a timely and accountable fashion.  Similarly, acknowledging and addressing systemic racism within policing across the country is critical and also overdue.

What can non-Indigenous people do to help?

Non-indigenous people right across Canada are asking themselves, “What can I do?”  We try to show our shock and shame with gestures we can think of, but our small gestures don’t do much beyond acknowledging that we’ve heard and been touched.  Changing our Facebook pics to orange and wearing an orange shirt on Orange Shirt Day doesn’t do much to help survivors and their children and grandchildren move beyond the trauma.

The question is, what can non-Indigenous people do to help effect real change?  Sustained change?  How can we help Indigenous Peoples in Canada become whole after all that has been done to break them and keep them broken?  How can we individually contribute to helping Indigenous communities move past generations of trauma, to reclaim their heritage, their cultures, their languages, and their sense of self-worth, all of which the Residential Schools and other government policies have done so much to destroy?

There are several suggestions online.  You can find some simply by googling ‘how to help indigenous peoples’.  Here are a few for you to consider; most of these come from globalcitizen.org.

1. Practice compassion and self-reflection as Indigenous communities mourn and remember.
The recent discoveries (confirmations) of human remains and unmarked graves at former Residential Schools is a reminder to all of us of how generations of Indigenous people were denied their fundamental human rights and dignity. These revelations also make clear that violence and trauma are not just historical facts — they’re an ongoing struggle we need to confront.  Listen to and respect Indigenous communities as they work through their grief about residential schools and other colonial legacies.

2. Educate yourself about Residential Schools and their ongoing impact.

  • through reading any of the many fiction or non-fiction books by Indigenous authors, describing the realities of the residential schools and their enduring impact.
  • through reading or hearing stories from survivors.
  • through film.  The film We Were Children is recommended viewing, although not an easy one. You can view the trailer here.

WeWereChildrenTrailer

3. Read (and re-read) the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

4. Contact your MP and MPP/MLA/MNA to voice your concerns and expectation of action.
One point of immediate concern might be demanding action on a comprehensive search for unmarked graves at all residential school sites, as clearly specified in the TRC’s recommendation #75.

5. Support Indigenous artists, business owners, and community organizers.
This suggestion includes attending local Indigenous events to which the public is invited, such as public powwows, Orange Shirt Day gatherings and Reconciliation Day gatherings.

6. Make sure that you, your children, and grandchildren are all learning the full history of colonization in Canada.
It’s not pretty, but it’s our history, and we can’t improve as a country without learning about and acknowledging the grave injustices of the past.

7. Donate to Indigenous organizations working at the grassroots level to combat poverty, racism, and colonialism.
There are several reputable non-governmental organizations that you can find online, including The Orange Shirt Society and Indspire.

My fervent wish for next year’s National Indigenous History Month is that we will find ourselves in a position to celebrate many meaningful, successfully implemented steps towards true reconciliation.  That by next June far more of the 94 TRC recommendations will have been completed, including major tangible results in improved access within First Nations and Inuit communities to clean water and acceptable standards of housing, health care, and education.

SweatLodge

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Other June posts in recognition of National Indigenous History Month, and in the wake of the horrific findings of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former Residential School in Kamloops and the 751 unmarked graves at a former Residential School in Saskatchewan:

Map Monday: Indigenous history around the world pre- and post-colonization
Canada’s day of reckoning is here: we have the Truth, let’s get serious about the Reconciliation
Indigenous History Month: what do baby steps in reconciliation look like
Indigenous Peoples Day, lessons in environmental stewardship and more

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26 Responses to June 2021: non-Indigenous Canadians now understand only too well why we need National Indigenous History Month

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    Thanks for this terrific series of posts Jane, I’ve learnt a lot. The apparent lack of contrition by the Catholic church reflects somewhat the situation in Ireland with its Mother and Baby homes, industrial schools and Magdalene laundries. To be fair though this might have plenty to do with insurance, liability etc.
    Question – Are the First Nations people of Canada generally acceptive of the efforts being made to atone for past wrongs? My limited perception of Native Americans in the USA is that some at least will have nothing to do with accepting apologies and gestures of reconciliation from the ‘white man’.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Roy. Yes, I think your analogy with the Ireland experiences with shameful church-led undertakings is most appropriate. I’m sure the underlying reason for their failure to accept any responsibility or apologize is related to money and liability, as you say, but they are the only church not to apologize…and they’re not exactly poor! Where is their soul?

      Good question about First Nations’ response to non-Indigenous attempts at reconciliation. It’s a complex situation because there are MANY (~600+) FNS and there are huge differences in issues and needs. But on the whole, I’d say they are very receptive. It is more a question of them waiting for the federal and provincial govts to make some serious changes that way past due and which are all included in the 6-year old TRC report.

  2. fgsjr2015 says:

    Their lives and pain must matter, otherwise past atrocious mistreatment can or eventually will be repeated. …

    Some people need to believe that humanity could/would not allow such repeats in our ‘much more civilized’ modern times. I, however, doubt that is the way large-scale societies — let alone border-segregated, independent nations — necessarily behave collectively. Not only can our collective behavior fail to progress, it can regress, like some huge return swing of a heavy (societal) pendulum.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I hear you. Gosh, I hope you’re wrong. It’s so hard for most people to live in hope these days, but we must. Sigh.

      • fgsjr2015 says:

        I believe the same goes with manmade global warming and climate change.

        It’s difficult to imagine an indigenous systems approach to the climate-change crisis being any worse than the still-much-wanting non-aboriginal approach. If I read correctly, the indigenous method of strategic/controlled burns of forest dead wood, in order to significantly reduce the risk of wildfires, was supposed to be formally tried by the B.C. government (announced a few months after the election of the Green-party-supported NDP minority government).

        Besides the indigenous systems approach, there could be further hope for spaceship Earth and therefor humankind due to environmentally conscious and active children, especially those who are approaching/reaching voting age. In contrast, the dinosaur electorate who have been voting into high office consecutive mass-pollution promoting or complicit/complacent governments for decades are gradually dying off thus making way for far more healthy-planet-thus-people minded voters.

  3. Excellent post, Jane, and the suggestions are helpful. I’ve been doing a fair bit of reflecting these days. Can’t look at Canada Day the same as I did last year, and doubt I ever will. It’s important that we know the whole story and that in the not too distant future, the residential schools and other aspects of Indigenous life and culture will be a mandatory part of all school curriculums.

  4. BernieLynne says:

    I actually was just thinking about emailing my MP with that very request you highlighted. Of course being from Western Canada means we have basically zero representation and not a lot of hope for action but it’s worth a try. Covid made me up my email game to officials. Perhaps if they all hear from enough of us. Thanks for the other suggestions as well. I am off to watch that movie right now as I wait for the weather to cool off.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      You go, girl! And stay cool. It’s warm enough here with the humidex, but it’s brutal out west.

      • BernieLynne says:

        Can’t say I’ve ever seen it this hot or this dry. It’s so weird that there are no thunderstorms as that’s what usually cools us off.
        We live in an old house with no AC but also not a lot of trees around and there is always a breeze at night so it does cool off.

  5. Thanks Jane, much appreciated.

  6. annemariewatson says:

    I like this – you’ve created a path to learning, recovery and reconciliation.

  7. Pingback: Continuous surprises of Catholic horror in Canada | Marcus Ampe's Space

  8. Inkplume says:

    Thank you, Jane. I am especially grateful for the concrete actions we can take to begin to make amends.

  9. Now the non-Indigenous Canadians at least know the need for the National Indigenous History Month. Thank you for this!

  10. A very sorrowful time. Words and ideas have power, for good and for bad. When we consider groups of people inferior, all kinds of horrible things happen. As history around the world has shown.

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