A year ago I lamented the fact we were doing very little to advance reconciliation. On this third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation I pause to reflect on how to approach the work without losing sight of who it’s for.
It is gratifying to see a noticeable increase in the number of activities designed to help the average person learn more about the truth of what was done to so many Indigenous communities throughout Canada’s history. There are more initiatives this year, including in the nation’s capital. On Saturday there will be a Remembering the Children event starting at 1 p.m. on Parliament Hill, where Governor General Mary Simon will deliver remarks.
Buildings on the Hill, including the Peace Tower, will be illuminated in orange to honour the children who never came back from residential schools.
In Montreal, the annual Every Child Matters march begins at 1 p.m. at the Sir George-Étienne Cartier statue at Mount-Royal Park.
Quebec, like Ontario, still does not officially observe the day, designated as a federal holiday in 2021 by Bill C-5, in answer to Call to Action 80 of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Provinces and territories that have elected to observe the day are Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut, New Brunswick and British Columbia.
Institutional progress is slow, but many people in Canada have chosen not to wait for authorities to try and do the right thing. That’s good, but part of me worries about making those events and that day about what non-Indigenous people are learning more than what needs to take place to advance reconciliation.
It’s common, and perfectly understandable, for someone who is just learning about this part of history that was ignored in our education (certainly it was absent from mine) to discuss our new learning at length, sometimes with the zeal of the newly converted. We must remember that for Indigenous persons who have a personal connection to these events, this can be extraordinarily painful and re-traumatizing.
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There is no perfect way for non-Indigenous people to do their part to advance the work, but a solid dose of cultural humility and respect is never wrong.
Humility does not mean assuming one person can’t make a difference. Everyone has the power to do something to advance reconciliation, regardless of what policies governments adopt — or not.
One thing in particular that everyone can do, no matter how new they are at learning about these issues, is to make the effort to understand why some words, expressions or ways of acting may inadvertently bring up anti-Indigenous notions. The University of Alberta has a free, comprehensive course on Indigenous Canada that’s an excellent place to start. You can find it by going to coursera.org and searching “Indigenous Canada.”
You can also support a certain cultural renaissance by exploring Indigenous literature, music and other forms of art including television. And we can all demand of our politicians that they work harder to implement systemic measures designed to assist Indigenous communities bridge historical gaps in socio-economic achievement, primarily by focusing on culturally appropriate, quality education, particularly outside of big cities.
We should also remember that despite all the suffering over generations, there is incredible strength within Indigenous communities, and many reasons to feel optimistic. For instance, we might see Manitoba elect the first Indigenous premier in Canada on Oct. 3.
We’re all at different points on our journey of learning, and that’s OK. The important part is that we all make efforts, and not just on Sept. 30, to do what we can to contribute to the kind of healing that will allow all of us to have a better future together on this land.
Brigitte Pellerin is an Ottawa writer.