Canada 150 is behind us and we’re into the next chapter of our country’s history. For First Nations, Inuit and Métis, it was not possible to celebrate 150 years of colonial and racist policies.
The disparity in health, education and economic outcomes in Indigenous communities today are legacies of the Indian Act, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and so many more destructive government policies.
I’m inspired that the prospect of Canada 151 is gaining traction. Canadians admit their profound lack of knowledge that most non-Indigenous Canadians have for the land and the people that were here for millennia before the colonization.
First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders, and particularly the youth, are prepared to be full partners in charting the way forward for Canada. More and more non-Indigenous Canadians and institutions are eager to play their role in the journey that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission laid out with its 94 Calls to Action.
Book clubs are reading Indigenous Canadian authors like Thomas King and Lee Maracle, and share our sadness in the passing of Richard Wagamese this year. Sheila Watt-Cloutier has persuaded us of her “Right to be Cold,” and that not everyone wants to live in the South. Métis artists and writers like Christi Belcourt and Marilyn Dumont are bringing Métis culture and history “out of the shadows.”
We are beginning to appreciate the Indigenous ways of knowing. Mother Earth is the boss. We need to think seven generations out in all the decisions we make. We now understand the importance of the medicine wheel, which emphasizes ongoing wellness — mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is what Tommy Douglas meant as an original goal of medicare — keeping people healthy, not just patching them up when they get sick. The Indigenous respect for elders and the voices of women are, thankfully, permeating “settler culture.” Our school systems are finally recognizing the efficacy of Indigenous pedagogy — learning by doing. Great leaders now appreciate the importance of ‘asking not telling.’
At the heart of these changes is a proud, secure personal indigenous identity. Coast to coast to coast, Indigenous youth are asking us to help ensure that their grandchildren will be fluent speakers of traditional languages, competent on the land and the water, with great educations that will allow them to be proud Indigenous people, able to walk in both worlds. They have felt the tragedy of previous generations, many of whom were ashamed to be Indigenous, forbidden to speak their languages or practice their culture.
What we’re learning in Toronto-St. Paul’s
Here in in Toronto-St. Paul’s, we are so proud of the work of Steve Teekens at Na-Me-Res and Sagatay.
Steve and his teams are helping to turn around the lives of Indigenous men one by one by one. Men arrive from the streets and are put back in touch with their language and culture, which puts them back onto a good path of dignity and pride, inclusion and contribution.
Steve is also helping all of us learn what we never learned in school. One of my favourite memories of this past year was the sunrise ceremony at Wells Hill Park on Canada Day. We hoped that forty or fifty people would attend, but more and more neighbours arrived through the trees until well over 200 people joined the circle. Together we all learned little more from Steve about the importance of welcoming each day with ceremony.
I was honoured to present Steve with one of our Outstanding Neighbour Awards, and to hear from him at the ceremony about his difficulty with Canada 150 and the need to work together on the next 150 years. We now all feel deputized to learn more, call out racism, and put ourselves in situations where we can develop the interpersonal relationship that lead to new First Nations, Inuit and Métis friends.
We can do this — reconcili-ACTION for 2018 and beyond.