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Liz’s End-Semester Reflection

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


Today is my last day of blogging with team ReconciliACTION YEG. I am handing over the Monday slot to Hero Laird who you will meet in the new year. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to explore the truth about reconciliation, and the privilege of sharing what I have learned with you, dear readers.


“Sunset Song” by Kalum Teke Dan[1]


Over the past three and a half months, I often started my weekly research with a current issue related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. I read about Jordan River Anderson’s story and the jurisdictional quagmire over service-provision for Indigenous persons, A.C.’s story of abandonment as she transitions out of the child welfare system, and the inequitable funding of Inuktut language programs in Nunavut. I also prepared historical primers on child welfare and Indigenous language, culture and education to frame the context of the individual stories we explored in the following weeks. Along this journey, I realized that all of current issues I read about have roots in generations of systemic oppression against Indigenous Peoples. And yet all of the people in these stories had to turn to Canadian legal systems — those same systems of oppression — to seek resolution.


Every week I would start my research with a story about the truth. But my writing always turned to laws, systems and decision-makers that fell outside of Indigenous self-determination. Jordan’s story led me to a story about Canadian legal jurisdiction of child welfare services for Indigenous Peoples. A.C.’s story led me to a Government of Alberta decision to cut programming that helps young adults, including Indigenous young adults, to transition out of the child welfare system. The litigation over Inuktuk language in Nunavut led to a conversation about whether Indigenous language is an Aboriginal Right under Canadian constitutional law or a basic human right under international law. And along this journey I began to feel a combination of frustration and opportunity.


I felt frustration when I realized that Indigenous persons are forced to seek recourse for systemic harms through the very systems that have oppressed their Peoples for generations and continue to cause harm. Why should Indigenous Peoples trust Canadian systems now? The Government of Canada’s retaliation against Cindy Blackstock for her litigation on behalf of Indigenous children intimidates advocates for Indigenous interests and emphasizes the power imbalance between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples. The government-authorized use of force on Wet’suwet’en land, against Wet’suwet’en people protecting their land, perverts the understanding of “rule of law” and reinforces colonial doctrines that have no place in today’s world.


Worst of all, I worry that too many Canadians are not willing to listen to the truth or reconcile with the harms caused to Indigenous Peoples in our nation’s past and present. Can we, as non-Indigenous Canadians, be trusted to do what is right? To give up our position of power over Indigenous Peoples and walk the difficult path towards reconciliation?


On the other hand, I felt opportunity. Whenever I explored Canadian laws, I always found a path that could lead us towards reconciliation. The Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families[2] recognizes that Indigenous Peoples have the right to exercise jurisdiction. The Indigenous Languages Act[3] recognizes that section 35 Aboriginal rights “include rights related to Indigenous languages.” The Truth and Reconciliation Commission sets out a path for us to follow[4] and the Supreme Court of Canada’s definition of “reconciliation” creates a legal framework where Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples might live together on this land. The laws and the Constitution of Canada can grow and evolve to recognize Indigenous Peoples as the Peoples they are. We can use law as a tool to create a Canada that fosters the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples in an ongoing relationship of mutual respect. We just need to choose to go down that path.


So I leave you, dear readers, with mixed feelings of cynicism and hope. On one hand, Canada often continues to exercise its power over Indigenous Peoples in the colonial tradition, and the conflict between our Peoples festers and weakens us all. On the other hand, the path of reconciliation offers us an opportunity to move forward and rebuild, like Kalum Teke Dan’s mural represents,[5] towards an ongoing relationship of mutual respect. But the path of reconciliation arduous. It promises to tear open old wounds and force us all to reflect upon the privileges we enjoy and the cost of obtaining them.


As our collective resolve for equitable outcomes becomes stronger, I remain cautiously optimistic that reconciliation between our Peoples is possible.


But we must make a deliberate decision to walk the path towards reconciliation. We must face the hard truths before us. We must take an active part in the ongoing process of reconciliation. And we must all do this together.


Farewell,

Liz


Until next time,

ReconciliACTION YEG


 

[1] Kalum Teke Dan says this mural in Calgary’s downtown represents moving forward and rebuilding. However, this mural was recently partially covered up by a brick wall as part of a construction project on the neighboring property. Although the City of Calgary issued a stop-work notice and is investigating, the artist is looking for a new home for his piece. See Tamara Pimentel “‘I feel pretty disrespected’: Mural created by Blackfoot artist covered over in Calgary” APTN News (8 October 2021) online: <https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/i-feel-pretty-disrespected-mural-created-by-blackfoot-artist-covered-over-in-calgary/>. [2] An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, SC 2019, c 24. [3] Indigenous Languages Act, SC 2019, c 23. [4] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 1 Origins to 1939, vol 1 (Winnipeg: TRC Canada, 2015); Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 2: 1939 to 2000, vol 1 (Winnipeg: TRC Canada, 2015); Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada’s Residential Schools: The Inuit and Northern Experience (Winnipeg: TRC Canada, 2015), vol 2; Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada’s Residential Schools: The Métis Experience (Winnipeg: TRC Canada, 2015), vol 3; Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials (Winnipeg: TRC Canada, 2015), vol 4; Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada’s Residential Schools: The Legacy (Winnipeg: TRC Canada, 2015), vol 5; and Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada’s Residential Schools: Reconciliation (Winnipeg: TRC Canada, 2015), vol 6 [5] See Pimentel, supra note 1.

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