My NEW YEAR’s RESOLUTION is RECONCILIATION
by Patricia Harewood
On December 4th, as I began to think about preparing for the holiday season, I moderated a conversation about how racialized and indigenous communities can work together more effectively to implement the 94 CALLS TO ACTION of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The event was organized by Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO), Colour of Poverty, Colour of Change (in Toronto) and a number of other community partners.
When the TRC hearings were taking place, I was in the throes of being a new Mom. I was just trying to keep it all together as a solo Mama and did not have time to really engage as I would have liked to. I saw this invitation from Settlement Officer, Black History Ottawa elder and community activist extraordinaire, Godwin Ifedi, as a CALL for me to ACT individually and with my community. I saw it as a way to give back and explore things I have been thinking about on this journey that is parenthood…such as:
How do we teach our children reconciliation?
In a society that does not value indigenous people and cultures, how do we teach our children to value indigenous people and cultures, not as historical artifacts but as living and vibrant people with cultures and languages that are alive and in RENAISSANCE?
As a member of the Black community and a participant in settler culture and institutions, how do I teach my kids that reconciliation must be about more than JUST WORDS?
I know. I know. Given my children’s propensity to ask hard questions, why couldn’t I throw in a couple of easy ones, eh?
The panel conversation I moderated drew on the expertise of a number of elders and youth – Denisse Anne Boissoneau ( Policy Advisor, National Gathering of Elders), Tim O’Loan (Advisor, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada), Carlington Christmas (Youth Advocate, Native Women’s Association of Canada) and David Majok (Director, Newcomer Information Centre at YMCA- YWCA). It was a truly fascinating discussion which provided some answers to the questions that I was seeking.
To my first question, I learnt that one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s most important recommendation is around the role of EDUCATION in reconciliation. Part of implementing reconciliation requires one first to know what we are reconciling about. I mean over 120,000 indigenous children were subject to the residential school system in Canada, 6000 died. So many were sexually, physically and emotionally abused. All were removed from their family – parents, grandparents, siblings and from their indigenous ways of knowing and seeing the world. Many survivors lost their languages, their connection to parents and grandparents and their sense of self worth – all because the Canadian government had a policy of (and I quote)taking the Indian out of the Indian.
As Tom, Advisor to Justice Murray Sinclair stated, the TRC was the first Commission of its kind to primarily deal with children, since most of those that testified were survivors of the residential school system – people who had been CHILDREN when they were so terribly abused and traumatized.
We can teach our children about reconciliation by educating them about this painful HISTORY and by helping them to understand that this must NEVER EVER happen again, not in Canada, not anywhere. We can also help them to make friends with and really get to know indigenous people in their class, in a community program, by attending indigenous-run events, like Ottawa’s annual Indigenous Festival in June, by organizing campaigns in schools advocating for ALL indigenous communities to have access to SAFE drinking water, by looking at and using the resources available online by the TRC and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
We can help our children to value indigenous people and cultures by valuing it first ourselves. This means learning about it ourselves and getting our children to know and honour the history of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. For example, at the event I facilitated, I learnt that African-Canadians and Mikmaq people in the East Coast have a long history of living, working and even marrying into each other’s families. And in the West Coast, Indigenous and Chinese-Canadians have a history of working together. Many Chinese Canadians who came to work on building the railroad were tended to by indigenous healers when they fell sick. Did you know that? Some indigenous people actually passed as CHINESE Canadians in the 1950’s in order to access the right to vote since Chinese people gained the right to vote before indigenous people. Did you know that? I also learnt about the blanket exercise – a popular education tool being used by organizations such as KAIROS to improve knowledge and empathy around the history of indigenous rights in Canada.
After the discussion and further reflection, I realized that I have so much more to do on my end to make the TRC’s calls to action a reality in my life. Speaking of education….my kids love books and I have exposed them to many indigenous stories written by indigenous authors. I have also made it a tradition to take them to the annual Pow Wow at Vincent Massey Park in Ottawa during the Indigenous Festival in June. Still, they don’t have any close indigenous friends or acquaintances even though we live next to a community with the highest percentage of Inuit people outside of the North. So, that has to change.
The event I moderated really got me thinking about how I could build stronger relationships of trust and respect with indigenous communities. Towards the end of the event, one of the organizers mentioned that I had twin toddlers and so would have to go home soon. And just as I was packing up to leave, an Anishinabe woman approached me, thanked me for facilitating…and said we should hang out together…we can organize a softball match together, she said….and bring the kids. I love kids…though mine are older now. We also need to have fun and celebrate together with our families.
I thanked her, gave her my contact information and thought that for me, an atheist who celebrates the magic and wonder of the Christmas holiday season, – her offer, her invitation was really the best holiday gift ever. I committed to follow up with her and make this happen one family at a time. In this season of giving and receiving as we begin a New Year of resolutions, who could ask for anything more?
About the writer
Patricia Harewood is a labour lawyer and a mother of two toddlers. She works in Ottawa and is a volunteer co-host on “Black on Black” on CHUO 89.1FM. Recently, she launched her snapcast -Planet Zees: Parenting ABC’s – a podcast about her adventures in parenting with a social justice twist!