Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day and it's time to reflect on 'Reconciliation'. What will it take? What can all of us do to advance reconciliation?
All the reading I have done suggests that the first important thing to do is to educate ourselves, that is those of us who do not have Indigenous heritage. There is so much we need to learn. If reconciliation is to lead to mutually respectful relationships we each need to at least understand each other!
I`m really tempted to leave it just there. The 94 `Calls to Action` in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are central, but for me they are big, overwhelming and mostly directed at government. We need simple first steps that the average person can start with, so start with just learning.
Learn about the Indigenous people who live (or lived) near you; that`s what I`ve been trying to do. And learn about at least one aspect of the bigger picture - the story of residential schools in Canada would of course be the appropriate place to start today. You can always learn about orange shirt day and ribbon skirts too if you want!
Like I said, I`m tempted to leave it just at that, but obviously the entire education system has a similar huge responsibility to provide some focus on reconciliation. I learned absolutely nothing about Indigenous history through all my years of education. Future generations have a lot to catch up on.
There are also much more practical things that must be done. Indigenous communities need access to clean drinking water, and they need modern quality housing. They need health and education systems themselves that match those elsewhere in the country. We need changes to both the judicial and the welfare systems to remove discrimination.
And in the immediate future we need financial support for survivors of residential schools to find any unmarked, unrecorded graves at the other 129 former schools in the country. Finding the graves of course is just the first step, deciding what to do next is a major challenge for the communities. Archeological excavation is a long, slow and costly process and appropriate commemoration will vary at different schools.
In all this it is obvious to me that first we must move beyond the polite words and apologies to action. We`ve had enough of those nice words from politicians and some church leaders; we need to see real action.
Are there signs of hope in this dismal picture I`ve painted. Of course there are!
Along with orange shirts we now have ribbon skirts, thanks to 10 year old Bella Kulak in Saskatchewan. she wore her traditional ribbon skirt to her grade 5 class at school and was ridiculed by a teaching assistant. Thousands of women have since posted pictures of themselves in ribbon skirts on Facebook in support of Bella.
The amazing resilience of residential school survivors is an incredible sign of hope. If they can accomplish that, then we can do a lot. The diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples across Canada is a huge reason for celebrating. Those western totem poles are the things that interest me the most, but all Indigenous cultures have a rich history. With mutual respect these communities can share a great deal of their way of life that is rich and meaningful for us.
Sadly the discovery of those 215 unmarked unrecorded graves in Kamloops has been enough of a shock for the country that perhaps we will now see real change.