#MyReconciliationIncludes Decolonizing Canada

Adryan Bergstrom-Borins

I would like to begin by acknowledging the sacred land that I exist on, which has been a site of human activity for over 15,000 years. This occupied land is the territory of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the “Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant”, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes*. Today, what is now known as Toronto, Canada, is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island, and I have the great privilege, as a white settler, of living and thriving on this sacred land.

As a white settler, I believe that recognizing the land on which we exist as settlers is an important part of the process of reconciliation. I emphasis the process because reconciliation is ongoing. It does not end with fiscal transfers. It is the process of building relationships based on respect, making reparations for harm done, and the restoring of rights and responsibilities to Indigenous people. As settlers, our process of reconciliation needs to include learning about the history of Indigenous people across Turtle Island, the land that we live on, and the treaty rights involved. We also need to educate ourselves about Canada’s colonial history and current policies of oppression, and become active and compassionate allies to Indigenous communities. In essence, genuine reconciliation can be the process through which we begin to decolonize Canada.

Through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to contribute to “truth, healing and reconciliation” as part of a holistic response to the legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential School policies. Over the course of those policies, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in government-funded, church-run residential schools for over 100 years. Including the residential schools, the Canadian settler colonial state’s policies of oppression and violence also included the outright extermination of Indigenous populations and forced sterilization of Indigenous women; as well as the current high rates of sexual violence against Indigenous women and the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2Spirited people; the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the child welfare and prison systems; and the oppressive policies of the Indian Act that seek to ‘define’ Indigenous peoples ‘out of existence’ (Landertinger, 2011, p. 7-8).

However, it is important to note that these policies of oppression and dispossession by the Canadian state have been met with incredible resistance by Indigenous people, whose history is also full of courage, strength, and resilience. As settlers, it is crucial that we begin educating ourselves on this history and unshackle our minds from the oppressive stereotypes about Indigenous people that are rampant throughout our society. For example, I grew up in Victoria, B.C., on the territories of the Te-mexw Treaty Association and close to the Beecher Bay Scia’new First Nation. In fifth grade, we learned about Indigenous people through art lessons and by comparing the different tribes and their “ways of life” (e.g. kinds of food, hunting mechanisms, types of homes, cultural traditions, wars, etc.). But this information was taught in a way that made it seem like Indigenous people and cultures no longer existed, leaving little room for appreciation of contemporary Indigenous culture (such as A Tribe Called Red and Tanya Tagaq) and completely neglecting to mention Canada’s colonial history. Without teaching us Canada’s colonial legacy (and without sparking any drive in the students to teach ourselves), negative stereotypes become engrained in us and contribute to the maltreatment of our Indigenous peers.

As a white settler on Turtle Island, reconciliation for me looks like an ongoing process that is built on respect, trust, education, responsibility, compassion, allyship, and transformative justice. Yet, it also means recognizing our privilege and using it in a good way – because to not contribute to this process of reconciliation is to remain complicit to the systemic discrimination and oppression of Indigenous people. While reconciliation is a two-way process, when it comes to the question of “What Does Reconciliation Look Like to You?” it is crucial that the voices of Indigenous people and their communities are being heard and their stories told. Throughout 2015 and coinciding with the release of the TRC’s findings, people took to social media to contribute to the conversation on reconciliation. In the Twitterverse, the hashtag #MyReconciliationIncludes is constantly being used by people to express their lived experiences and visions for reconciliation. I would like to highlight the following tweets below (and throughout) as they are particularly poignant and begin to illustrate the depth of what reconciliation needs to include**.

I would like to thank the authors for providing me with consent to include their thoughts and ideas in this piece, while also emphasizing that this does not equate to an endorsement of my thoughts explored above. I also want to express my love and appreciation for those who demonstrated such strength and resilience in launching the TRC process and those beautiful souls who continue to work to bring justice and reconciliation to Canada and the Indigenous People of Turtle Island.

 

*This statement of land recognition was prepared by First Nations House at the University of Toronto and the Council of Aboriginal Initiatives’ Elder Circle. It can be found here: http://cou.on.ca/about/more/traditional-land/.

**Please note permission has been received to use these posts from all authors. Consent is an important part of reconciliation as all knowledge forms should be properly recognized, especially from Indigenous People whose permission and consent is often neglected or disregarded. I wanted to do this post in a good way and made sure to receive permission from all authors before submitting the blog post. Please note although permission was gained, this does not mean the authors endorse this blog post or anything written herein.

References
Landertinger, L. C. L. (2011). The Biopolitics of Indigenous Reproduction: Colonial Discourse and the Overrepresentation of Indigenous Children in the Canadian Child Welfare System (Order No. MR77118). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1009791905). Retrieved from
http://search.proquest.com/docview/1009791905?accountid=14771.

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Adryan Bergstrom-Borins (she/her) is a Master’s of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance, Class of 2017. Adryan is passionate about gender and inclusion policy, actively writing and working within an anti-oppressive, de-colonial, trans-inclusive intersectional feminist framework. When she isn’t volunteering her time with the Gender and Public Policy initiative or the Women & Trans* People Caucus for the Graduate Students’ Union, she is working at UofT’s Multifaith Centre for Spiritual Study & Practice. Adryan is an avid tea drinker and lover of most things sci-fi. 

 

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