Resistance and Resurgence is a five-part article series authored by Indigenous journalists, thought leaders and activists. In it, we’ll explore the key historical and present-day issues impacting Indigenous communities across Turtle Island, make connections between the past harms and the need for action now, and share stories of resiliency that have gone unrecognized by mass media since time immemorial.
Resistance and Resurgence: Hope for Reconciliation was written by Brandi Morin, an award-winning French/Cree/Iroquois journalist from Treaty 6 in Alberta, Canada. She’s passionate about showcasing stories of injustice, human rights, environment, culture, tradition and resilience from an Indigenous viewpoint.
Hope for Reconciliation
Six years on from the release of the final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which investigated the horrors of the residential school system against Indigenous children, and the country is still far behind implementing the report’s 94 Calls to Action. There are rising tensions between governments, police, industries and Indigenous Peoples who are waking up to the reclamation of their rights and sovereignty. It’s business as usual with government underfunding of First Nation communities who grapple with clean drinking water crises; rotting infrastructure; poverty; access to healthcare; suicides; child welfare; violence; Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit People who are the most vulnerable sector of Canadian society.
The Crown has continually broken its commitment to the Treaty obligations it adhered to with the sovereign Indigenous Nations upon the establishment of this country. And the consequences are blatant: while Canada thrives on the vast stolen lands and resources of the First Peoples, the latter lives with the broken remnants of an oppressive agenda to rid them of their homelands. From colonization which led to residential schools to the ‘60s Scoop follow-up (which is ongoing) attacking the culture and identity of Indigenous Peoples, there is a powerful Indigenous-led reclamation underway. With it comes truth, reconciliation and healing. But it’s a two-way process, and for many Indigenous People, what’s unfolded so far on the behalf of powers that be, isn’t working.
“You know, many young people would say, ‘reconciliation is dead,’” said Rilee Yesno, Anishinaabe writer, researcher, and public speaker from Eabametoong First Nation. “I agree, it’s dead. So, what I mean by that is that reconciliation now isn’t in line with what it was intended to be.”
The vision of reconciliation was created by survivors themselves, she continued, but was “co-opted” by politicians and institutions. Yesno is writing a book on the subject called “Reconciliation Generation” out in fall 2022. In her view, mainstream leaders are bluffing their efforts on reconciling.
“Justin Trudeau saying reconciliation is so important, blah, blah, blah. They won't let it die because they need to have some sort of avenue where they can say they value us so that they don't seem as regressive or any of those things,” she explained.
In other words, it’s all for show.
“So that they can posture as doing something for us without actually doing something for us. Reconciliation is anything beyond a symbolic gesture. For instance, Canada is great at renaming holidays and putting up statues, but what they're really not good at is the material things that change the lives of Indigenous People on the ground.”
“And so those are things like, clean water, addressing the crisis of MMIWG2S and land back and sovereignty—and that takes a lot of money, it would be inconvenient (for them).”
But hope for reconciliation isn’t completely lost, she went on to say. It’s happening at a grassroots level.
“I think that when people say reconciliation is dead, a lot of people feel hopeless. I don't think they realize that the land back movement that we're seeing is where the hope lies. It’s having those difficult conversations with your loved ones; monetarily and materially supporting Indigenous People who aren't getting that support that they should be getting elsewhere. It’s building meaningful relationships and collectives that have the potential to transform things for Canada.”
Gabrielle Fayant, the co-founder of the Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G), an Indigenous non-profit, youth-led organization, also isn’t impressed by the state of reconciliation. Fayant, from the Fishing Lake Metis Settlement in Alberta, regularly advocates for Indigenous youth and rights and is tired of the rhetoric from government officials on righting the relationship. Even with the recent unveiling of the remains of thousands of First Nations children who died attending residential schools, which brought widespread attention to Canada’s shameful treatment of Indigenous Peoples, she said it was a “strange” feeling to witness the public reaction.
“It was kind of like a very ironic feeling. It’s like, wow, that's great that you guys are finally waking up to this, but at the same time, this truth has always been there. You just decided not to read. The information was out there already,” she said.
Reconciliation is about the truth getting to the masses, she continued.
“The truth needs to come out even more like the truth of these gravesites and these stories. We're still only getting the tip of the iceberg. And we need to talk about reconciliation because it's still happening right now, and we're still being impacted by colonization.”
“Then it’s going back to the (TRC’s) Calls to Action, like, are you responding to a specific call to action? Or are you just doing reconciliation on an event or project to make yourself feel better about yourself?”
Former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Wilton Littlechild is a survivor of residential schools having attended for 14 years and went on to become a star athlete and lawyer. He described residential schools as “the saddest, darkest, unknown chapter of Canadian history.”
Littlechild is more optimistic about the state of reconciliation, because he helped write the Calls to Action. Even though it’s slow going, it starts when they’re implemented, he said.
“How do we have better relationships with each other? How do we have a stronger and more united country? How do we restore respectful relationships? The 94 Calls to Action. You need to teach your staff, your management about the history of residential schools. You need to teach your staff about what happened to the children and their families. Then focus on the Calls to Action that are particular to your industry, let's say oil and gas or churches or governments. And commit that you will take action on that particular call.”
The key to Indigenous healing and making progress with reconciliation is forgiveness on the part of the survivors and impacted families. Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of Canada for the role it played in residential schools in 2008, but it wasn’t accepted by all, pointed out Littlechild.
“Some people are still angry because they didn’t feel it was a genuine apology. But forgiveness has to be given because people can then begin to heal. And once they begin to heal and get healthier and healthier, they’ll feel a sense of justice.”
This is just one story in our five-part series. Read the rest of our Resistance and Resurgence stories now.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not intend to reflect the opinions or views of the Indigenous community as a whole or of all Indigenous people in Canada or the United States.
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