Did you really mean it?
As someone who has devoted my academic journey to studying Canadian Indigenous and settler-colonial history, I have been fascinated by the outpouring of attention to the latest revelation of the abuse suffered by Indigenous children in residential schools. The extensive focus by many across Canada, while important, is somewhat perplexing at the same time as it is telling. Why so?
Well, because the indignities suffered by many of the 215 children whose bodies were recently discovered next to the Kamloops residential school mirror those experienced by Indigenous children at the majority of the residential schools that operated in Canada for over a century. That there is such indignation now with this recent discovery of bodies suggests that most Canadians have only superficial knowledge about the colonial policies that established not only the residential schools, but that continue to negatively impact Indigenous peoples in Canada. If you are horrified by this discovery – fair enough. You should be horrified. If this is shocking to you as a Canadian in 2021, then, frankly, you know far too little about Canadian and Indigenous history.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 Calls to Action. These were well-intentioned and necessary. At the same time, they were broad and will require a tremendous investment of resources. Even more importantly, they require “buy-in” by a majority o
f Canadians. So, are most Canadians committed to reconciliation? Let’s consider the concept of “reconciliation.” Reconciliation requires relationship. Can we expect to have meaningful relationships, and thus reconciliation, with those whose history we do not know or understand?
Were you one of those who donned an orange lapel pin, o
r who changed your social media profile to include “every child matters” following this “shocking” event about the treatment of Indigenous peoples? Did you share a social media post expressing shock at this most recent discovery? If you did, what will you do next?
Will you commit to learn settler-colonial and Indigenous histories?
Will you commit to engage with Indigenous peoples to learn of their experiences?
Will you teach your children about the violent and tragic colonial p
olicies that continue to impact Indigenous peoples?
Will you commit to learn about all of the contributions that Indigenous peoples have made to the development of Canada?
Will you lobby your local school board, your local government, to ensure that every Canadian child has the op
portunity to learn about Indigenous and settler-colonial histories in their classroom?
The next time you encounter one of the many stereotypes such as
a “drunken” Indigenous person, will you shake your head in disgust? Or will you take some time to reflect on the circumstances that have impacted his/her ancestors and his/her personal history?
In this world when a show of empathy is often just “a click away,” did you really mean it?
When speaking to an Indigenous student recently, she reflected on the reality that Indigenous peoples are often left carrying the burden of educating non-Indigenous Canadians about the historic injustices that continue.
If you were truly empathetic about the discovery of the 215 bodies - What will you do next?
The power of one!