Coming out of a heavy summer where some of us may feel battered against the rocks of a stormy sea, my mind turns to keeping the conversation going with everyone at the table.
The tragic news out of residential schools of children’s graves unearthed after being hidden from sight for years, folks wonder what do we do now? The words that do these last few months of learning any form of justice have not been invented yet.
A mere three months after the initial news stories of unmarked graves in May and I already see the conversation disappearing into the background as the number of graves continues to rise in the shadows. Indigenous children went missing, many never came home, and for the first time families are half a step closer to answers of where their loved ones were hidden. This year I experienced a summer of overwhelming truth and for the first time, I took a break from social media and news for a week – twice.
Our people and communities knew these truths for years and no one believed them. In fact, an agenda and a modern day fight to keep the truth hidden away should remain our focus as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Have you asked yourself why this genocide was hidden from you as Canadians or new Canadians? We hide things when we know we have done wrong. We hide things when we are afraid of the consequences.
That aside, I strive to see hope. I see hope for a conversation bringing people together as we grapple with what it means to have a history hidden from us for generations. I understand the frustration, shame, anger, guilt and hopelessness, or even numbness that comes when you feel powerless to make change. As someone who walks in two worlds, an Indigenous woman with maternal ties to my community, Gitxaala, and also non-Indigenous English and Irish from my father.
Two worlds, two ways of knowing, and oftentimes caught in the crossfire of heated conversations. I learned a long time ago that my path in this world was going to be teaching, listening, talking and holding space. An ethical space. To enact an ethical space we first agree that we see the world different from one another, we have diverse histories and experiences, and our knowledge systems do not often see eye-to-eye. Ethical space is an agreement and recognition of these differences so we can focus on what is more important – relationship building and respect for one another. We do this by listening, talking and holding space.
Talking and reaching out - this is the summer I have had. Folks approached me to ask, “what do I do now?” While some find questions overwhelming, I find comfort in questions and inquiry. If you have crossed paths with me you have likely heard the words “lets unpack that”
Yes, let’s unpack what to do now as Canadians just like that camping gear from your last adventure you’ve been avoiding.
But first, let me be clear – you should not feel shame, lowering the flags of this country is not a sign of shame, as Conservative leader Erin O’toole attempted to indicate in late August. Lowering the flags is a sign of recognition and honour for children who never came home. The overarching significance of lowered flags begs Canadians to take pause and ask the tough but transformational questions for change.
Canada is a young country, with much to learn but often too proud with blind hesitance to reflect and be truthful. I see this failure when new Canadians come my way to express overwhelm of learning a small part of what happened here. New and old Canadians alike are learning a history that was hidden away in the hopes that the truth would be forgotten and that Indigenous peoples would remain silent.
Once something sees the light, it cannot be hidden away and the people will be silent no more.
Let this fall, this harvest time, be a time of harvesting new relationships – a coming together to talk. Here are some ideas of what you can do as the new year approaches:
• Learn whose territory you live, work or play on. What language do they speak? “Hello” is a great start.
• What do people call themselves? Do they go by the name of their Nation, Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nations, Indian, Inuit, Métis? Ask the questions and remain respectful in your approach. Be humble.
• Speak up (if it is safe to do so) when you witness mistreatment towards Indigenous peoples. Be brave.
• Keep space. If you want to be an ally or act with humility, ask yourself how much space you take up. Be aware.
• Learn about privilege and what aspects of your life you may have certain privileges not automatically given to others. Be reflective.
• Discover possessive terms and remove them from your conversations (ie. “Our” First Nations/Indigenous) and consider how our shared history has brought us here today. Be perceptive.
• Find time to review recent reports such as: Sacred and Strong – Upholding our Matriarchical Roles: The Health and Wellness Journeys of First Nations Women and Girls Living in BC, In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-Specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action – Explore Indigenous Canada through the University of Alberta for free.
• And finally, challenge yourself to see the strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples and their communities. We are still here for a reason and we welcome the potential for relationships.
Jessie King, Hadiksm Gaax (Swimming Raven) is an assistant professor in the First Nations Studies department at UNBC and a member of the T’symsen Nation with maternal ties to Gitxaala.