On the eve of the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation - Orange Shirt Day, I had an interesting exchange with a colleague. She shared that there was a critique emerging of organizations who did nothing but share lists of things to do for this second year of what I call ‘truth-telling’.
I pushed back a bit against this criticism, perhaps feeling implicated as the leader of one such organization, that had not planned anything specific for its employees but had spent the weeks leading up to September 30th sharing notices of panel discussions, articles, speeches and other resources.
For me amplifying the messages and events and demands of First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples is an act of solidarity. But the critique has stayed with me. Heard.
The Agencies in the OCASI membership held various teach-ins and workshops for staff and clients, displays, and hosted community circles of newcomers engaging with Indigenous people and stories and histories. There was a collective learning at a scale not seen before in the sector. And the acknowledgement that there is so much more to learn.
And of course, being who we are as a non-profit sector, including our sub-sector of im/migrant and refugee serving agencies, the days before the thirtieth was filled with chatter of who is doing what and not doing what. Which organization had the day off and which did not. Where orange shirts should be bought and where not and who benefits and who does not. Lots of discussion of the politics behind all of it and what the ‘correct’ role of the settler was on this day. All important and nuanced discussions signifying an engaged sector.
As I’ve shared in this space before, I do not identify with the label of ‘settler’ given my people’s forced journey and four hundred years of enslavement in the Americas including what we now call Canada. But I strongly identify with and heed the call of my people to be in solidarity with the First Peoples of Turtle Island.
For me this day has been set aside for learning, for listening to historical and contemporary truths of the nations where I reside and to reflect on how I am implicated if and when I do not use whatever privilege I am granted to amplify and to speak and stand in solidarity with their social, economic and political demands.
On the day of truth-telling, I listened. I listened to reminders from individuals from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy here in Ontario that taking selfies with big grins while wearing an orange shirt with an invisible word bubble saying “see me yah” as my Jamaican comrades say, doesn’t land or feel like solidarity. It feels performative. That purchasing orange ‘reconciliation’ donuts from Tim Hortons was probably not the best way to support Indigenous causes. Direct donations to the services and/or organizations you want to support is a better approach. I was reminded by my Mohawk chosen family now residing in Mic’Maq land that there are many Indigenous authors I am yet to discover and that in this land we call Canada, there isn’t only one story, an echo of what writers from my ancestral lands remind us often. This is especially important for newcomers to know- This land pre-colonialism was a multicultural, multi-nation land.
The highlight of my day was spending time in reflection with my mother as we thought back to the mis-education we received about Indigenous Peoples from the land where we were born. My mom talked about how it is the stories of First Peoples here in Canada and their insistence on Truth Telling –the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work was truly far reaching- that made her realize how the stories and histories of Indigenous Peoples in Grenada and in many parts of the Caribbean has been erased and what it means for their descendants. And for us. There is much learning for us – for me to do there too.
The day of reflection and truth-telling ushers us in to Indigenous and Women’s month. This time of harvest when the earth shows off her explosion of colours and textures, is stock-taking time. I wish you dear reader, a season of reflection and action, walking in solidarity with all who are creating a just world. We are our ancestors greatest hope.
One of the most important and urgent issues for our sector as we head into the last months of this calendar year, is the movement for a broad and fair regularization program. We need organizations and individuals to send a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Immigration telling them that the time to act is now. There are too many women who because of the lack of legal immigration status are exploited, often remain quiet about abuse- intimate partner and otherwise because calling for help may lead to their deportation. Too many who labour long hours only to have their wages stolen. The time is now to act. Send an email letter (see OCASI’s letter here). Join the movement.