Kairos Blanket Exercise – a participatory history lesson developed in collaboration with Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers and educators – at St. Matthew’s United Church in October 2018
Almost every day, I learn about another inspiring reconciliation initiative by the outstanding people in Toronto-St. Paul’s. From the blanket exercises at St. Matthew’s United Church and Christie Gardens, to the book clubs focused on works by Indigenous authors, inspiring plays like Drew Hayden Taylor’s Cottagers and Indiansand Kiviuq Returns at the Tarragon Theatre, and Susan Aglukark’s reading of her children’s book Una Huna at the amazing Mabel’s Fables — where Eleanor LeFave has launched her project to send books to northern communities — we see reconciliation in action.
Our teachers and our schools are amazing. The murals at Davisville Jr. Public School/Spectrum Alternative Senior School (formerly Vaughan Road Academy), the Ojibway classes at Humewood School, and the Gord Downie-Chanie Wenjack projects are just a few examples of the commitment demonstrated by many students (and some parents) who have worked hard on their reconciliation activities.
Ever since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report over three years ago, Canadians have been challenged to work towards “Knowing the Truth” and to play their part on Canada’s journey of reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. It was clear that there had been over 150 years of misguided and harmful government policies, and it was clear that government policies had to change. As it said in my mandate letter — and in the mandate letters of all federal ministers — it is time for a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. We had to move away from the paternalism of settlers arriving on this land and insisting that the European ways were superior and replacing the First Peoples’ governance, languages and culture. Because of decades of advocacy and legal challenges by First Nations, Métis and Inuit, Canada has had to change its ways.
All Canadians have had to relearn our history and change our attitudes. What we learned in school was false and we are still fighting racism every day.
We are excited that Grizzlies the movie just opened, and we loved Indian Horse the movie and then wanted to read everything Richard Wagamese had ever written. Reading books like Lee Maracle’s Conversations with Canadians and Thomas King’s An Inconvenient Indian are able to help fill in the gaps with what we never learned in school.
We are thrilled to be exposed to the beauty of Indigenous art and music, such as the awe-inspiring work of Polaris Prize winning tenor Jeremy Dutcher.
In June, we go to the Na-Me-Res Annual Traditional Pow Wow and attend the Solstice Sunrise Ceremony.
As a Member of Parliament and as the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, I have a huge advantage. Almost every day I have the opportunity to make new friends — First Nations, Inuit and Métis — who share their stories, fight for their rights and change my understanding of what it means to be a Canadian. From coast to coast to coast we have an obligation to do better in ensuring that all Canadians have an easier time establishing the meaningful interpersonal relationships that will heal our country.
Last summer, I attended a Treaty 3 Chiefs meeting at Obashkaandagaang First Nation on Lake of the Woods in Northern Ontario. When we arrived at the breakfast, the Chief welcomed us and then took us to the kitchen to meet all the cottagers from all around the lake, who were preparing and serving the pancakes and bacon for the Treaty 3 Chiefs. It was heart-warming reconciliACTION. They were making new friends.
I’m excited that our Budget 2019 will provide funding for an Indigenous youth project delivered by Canadian Roots Exchange. Already, Canadian Roots Exchange is advancing reconciliation by bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth to promote mutual understanding and respect under the leadership of the inspiring Max Fine Day. It is wonderful to see that our children and grandchildren will have these life-changing opportunities on the land and the water and the snow.
Last month in Iqaluit, the prime minister delivered an apology for a terrible chapter in Canada’s history, when we separated families for months and years as we brought tuberculosis patients south for treatment — away from their language and culture and land and water and ice. There we attended a screening of Benoit Pilon’s award-winning film The Necessities of Life, the heartbreaking story of Tiivii from Baffin Island who is brought to a sanitarium in Quebec City so alone and sad and frightened. I immediately went online to buy the DVD so I could screen it for my friends and colleagues.
June is National Indigenous History Month, as well as our Indigenous Book Club Month. We are encouraging all book clubs across Canada to choose a book by an Indigenous author to read in June. Let us all know which book you’ve picked by posting it on social media and using the tag #IndigenousReads.