• reconciliactionyeg

Running Towards the Truth

Updated: Nov 13, 2021


Anita Cardinal-Stewart, photo credit: jodybailey.ca

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


“The heartbeat of reconciliation is faintly heard.”


Yesterday, we shared those words to describe what has come from nation-wide mourning for the no-longer-ignorable loss of life at residential schools. Yesterday, that heartbeat was pounding.


On the shores of the North Saskatchewan River, where indigenous peoples have been gathering for centuries,[1] more than 400 people came together for the first annual Orange Shirt Day Run/Walk. That afternoon, the beating of the drums, the rhythm of the jingle dance, the pounding of feet and hearts, were all offered up as testament to the truth that every child matters.


From the time the news broke out of Tk’emplups to Secwepemc,[2] one of our own has been tirelessly pursuing a meaningful way to honour their lives. Anita Cardinal-Stewart mourned deeply for those 215 children and for the others soon to be found, and yet to be found. And as is Anita’s way – she channeled that grief into action.


On a Sunday evening in May, Anita organized a vigil at the Legislature so the people of Amiskwaciwâskahikan could mourn together.[3] It was a powerful evening of acts of remembrance, of ceremony, and of testimony.


It was also an evening filled with awe. Awe at the strength of our friend who made the vigil happen amidst her own grief. Awe at the tangible knowledge that reconciliation is imperative for all inhabitants of Turtle Island. But most of all, awe at the fierce determination of Indigenous peoples, who despite having the force of the colonial state against them, have survived.


Residential schools were designed to “get rid of the Indian problem” by forbidding all expressions of Indigenous identity.[4] The schools operated for over a century and subjected more than 150,000 children to this torment.[5] In spite of that, on the night of the vigil, and every day in communities across this country, Indigenous people are dancing their ancestors’ dances and speaking their ancestors’ languages. Witnessing a young jingle dress dancer in person, left many at the vigil awe-fully grateful that Indigenous peoples are still here, despite Canada's genocide.


Yesterday, Anita gathered us together again, not to mourn but to act. In the shadow of the teepee, we listened to the honour song, learned from Elders, marveled at traditional dancing, and then we ran. Before she sent us on the trail, Anita asked us to make a promise to ourselves – that we would demand action and accountability so that the voices of the children lost are never silenced again, and that we would amplify Indigenous voices so the cycle of burying the truth can be broken. She reminded us that the truth was never supposed to be known, that much of the truth is still being hidden and denied, and that we must demand the truth be told.


The TRC’s Calls to Action (which you can find in podcast form here and video form here) affirm “Aboriginal peoples' inalienable right to know the truth about what happened and why, with regard to human rights violations committed against them in the residential schools.” [6]

We have a right to know what happened and why. Although we may never understand the "why", each of us should wrestle with the hard truth of what Canada's colonial state has done, and continues to do, to Indigenous peoples. Advocates like Anita create space for all people to learn, grow, mourn and act.


Dear readers, we hope you have a friend like Anita to walk (or run) with on your search for truth, and then reconciliation.


Until next time,

Team ReconciliACTION

 

While we’ve focused on Anita’s work in this post, Team ReconciliACTION would be remiss not to mention others who made yesterday's run possible: the devoted co-organizer of the run, Adam Erasmus; Amanda Wagar, who shared her exceptional artistic skills and designed the run’s meaningful logo; and the University of Alberta Indigenous Law Students’ Association members who gave their time and effort to promote the event and take care of the children on their 2.15km run.


 


[1] “amiskwaciy-wâskahikan (Edmonton) History” (February 3, 2020), online: Edmonton & Area Land Trust <https://www.ealt.ca/indigenous-connections-blog-list/amiskwaciy-wskahikan-edmonton-history>.


[2] Courtney Dickson and Bridgette Watson, “Remains of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school, First Nation says”, CBC News (May 27, 2021), online:

<https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/tk-eml%C3%BAps-te-secw%C3%A9pemc-215-children-former-kamloops-indian-residential-school-1.6043778>


[3] Ashley Joannou and Dylan Short, “'Unavoidable evidence of cultural genocide': Vigil held at Alberta legislature Sunday after Kamloops discovery”, The Edmonton Journal (May 31, 2021), online: <https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-vigil-at-alberta-legislature-sunday-evening-in-wake-of-kamloops-residential-school-discovery>.


[4] Robert L. McDougall, “Duncan Campbell Scott” in The Canadian Encyclopedia (last updated January 18, 2018), online: <https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/duncan-campbell-scott>.


[5] “Residential School History”, online: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation <https://nctr.ca/education/teaching-resources/residential-school-history>.


[6] Calls to Action 69 and 70.


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