Toronto / June 2021
The day began with the news that the statue of Egerton Ryerson, often lauded as the father of education, but more recently and more accurately known as a key architect of (Indian) Residential Schools, outside Ryerson University was torn down. The sculptured head was detached and dropped into the Toronto Harbour. A symbolic move, but one that resonated with many whose families - parents and grandparents, some still alive, others in the realm of the ancestors - experienced the violence of the residential school system and are still looking for acknowledgement and apology (Truth), restitution and redress (Reconciliation).
The heartbreaking discovery of the remains in unmarked graves of two hundred and fifteen children stolen from their families and Nations is a stark reminder of the urgency of the project of dismantling colonial systems.
We knew. We heard through the testimonies of the witnesses at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We heard through the painful stories of women and gender diverse people during the National inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We heard about the deep violence - killings and murders of Two-Spirited, women, men and children through the Church and State run schools for decades, and by police and others right up to the present day.
We, those of us who are non-Indigenous, who call ourselves allies, all rushed to make public statements as the news filtered out. Many of our organizations and groups talked about the shock and the surprise. But we knew. We heard it. From the mouths of survivors themselves. From the families of those who were taken and couldn’t speak their truth directly to us. We heard them, but from the great public outcry about the “shock and surprise’ of the finding of the unmarked graves, many of us didn’t listen. Many of us didn’t act. Many of us didn’t hold the Church - the Catholic Church specifically in the case of Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc in Kamloops, to account.
Many of us have not held the Government of Canada to account as it continues to battle Indigenous communities in court over funding of supports for First Nations children. We watched as the House of Commons voted in favour of the NDP’s non-binding motion earlier this week which requested the government to stop its pushback through the courts against the expansion of Jordan’s Principle and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling in 2019, that the approximately fifty thousand Indigenous children mistreated by the Child Welfare System should be compensated at $40K each. By some media estimates, more than $3M of our tax dollars have been spent by the federal government battling Indigenous advocates in court. The motion also spoke to the ongoing court battle with a small number of survivors of the St. Anne’s residential school and called for resources to be made available to search for other unmarked graves as per the recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.
The motion passed 271-0. But it is instructive that the Cabinet members including those directly charged with advancing the economic and social well-being of Indigenous communities abstained from the vote. Others didn’t show up. Our Prime Minister did not vote.
The discovery of the unmarked graves has brought renewed attention to the legacy of the ongoing colonial project that is Canada. As political leaders and Catholic Church leaders exchanged blame in the public sphere, the Native Women’s Association of Canada released their plan for moving forward the recommendations that resulted from the MMIWG Inquiry. They grew weary of waiting on the federal government to respond to the inquiry recommendations. In a bid to mitigate the fall out from the delayed response to the inquiry, the government released its own plan a day or two later and two years after release of the report. The government plan fell short of the expectations of First Nations, Metis and Inuit women’s organizations and communities. As allies we should stand at the ready to amplify the messages coming from Indigenous women’s organizations and communities.
Reconciliation is on the lips of many politicians and community advocates. But there has been very little action. The changes being made (if Bill C-8 passes the Senate) to the Citizenship Act (again a late response to one of the 94 Calls to Action of the TRC report) is positive and certainly a step forward.
But there can be no reconciliation without Truth. Chief R. Stacey LaForme of the Mississaugas of the Credit is a poet and storyteller, and a well-known face to OCASI members and the Ontario im/migrant and refugee-serving sector. He poignantly captures the pain and what it will take for true reconciliation to become a reality in his recently shared poem Reconciliation.
As I finish writing this for publication later this week, there is a vigil being held in London, Ontario to honour the four members of a Muslim family who were killed by a young man driven by white supremacism, Islamophobia and hate. Tonight there is a painful piercing of hearts and a growing anger of a scream - THIS must End!
One clear truth remains with me as a constant- my liberation is bound up with yours. Colonization and anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black, anti-Asian and other racisms, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and hate - all linked in their oppressive systems, policies and actions can and will be dismantled only through collective action.