Reaffirming, inspiring, and emotion evoking, is how I describe last week’s lecture best known as The Woodrow Lloyd Lecture, presented by Justice Murray Sinclair. As a white citizen of Canada, I can’t help but feel guilt and shame in regard to the discrimination and bigotry towards First Nations people. Sinclair’s lecture acts as a reminder that although Canada’s relationship with First Nations people has come a long way, we are far from where we crucially need to be.
I grew up in a town called Fort Qu’Appelle where the closest reserve was ten minutes away. In elementary and high school, First Nations students took up the majority of my classes, and Native studies was a mandatory class if you wanted that high school diploma. I am proud of this. I am proud that I was privileged to grow up in a community where First Nations culture was widely understood and accepted. But even in a town literally named by a First Nation’s legend, racism was still a factor that refused to vacate.
It wasn’t until later in my teens that I experienced, what I call, my first blast of racism -I describe it as a blast because it literally blew me away by how racist some people could be in this day and age. I remember the day vividly as my mom had invited several of my extended family members over which included my rambunctious, hillbilly uncles. We were happily sitting around our dining room table sharing old tales and current news when my dad mentioned that there had just been a shooting on the reserve near our town. My lovely uncles’ eyes grew wide as they delved into the topic with horrific stereotypical remarks on First Nations people. I was absolutely mind boggled by the prejudice and was about to leave the room when my mom jumped into the quarrel and began to lecture the family on her understanding of the matter.
As I was listening to Justice Sinclair’s message, I realized that it resembled the same lecture that my mom had given my confused uncles after they had unjustly announced their racist opinions on First Nations people. It wasn’t until I heard what my mom said that I fully understood why our relationship with First Nations people is the way that it is. Just like Sinclair, my mom explained that because of the generations and generations of aboriginal people experiencing annihilation, the effects have been long lasting and affect generations to come. These people are still healing.
I was given the opportunity in grade 11 to hear, first-hand, the effects of the horrid treatment my people gave First Nations people while on a travel experience in Mexico with the Native American Indigenous Ministry. In Mexico, a group of mostly First Nations young adults and I worked at an orphanage where children with horrific pasts now had a safe home. During the day, we had the chance to play and care for some of the children and were told stories of the children’s pasts. In the evening, our group met around a fire where we shared how our experiences have been. The more time our group spent together, the closer we grew and by the last couple evenings in Mexico, the masks fell off and we began sharing our life stories. I was blown away (yes again) by how similar my First Nations friend’s lives were to that of the children’s at the orphanage. They shared stories of abuse, rape, abandonment, suicide… I realized in that moment that the Mexico trip that I was on was not only to help children at an orphanage but to help my Native brothers and sisters. To make a long story short, the trip consisted of many tears but ended with an abundance of smiles.
Until my trip to Mexico, I was oblivious to how severe Canada’s historic events are affecting First Nations people today. I had no idea that even MY friends were still living with the consequences left behind by events such as residential schools. But even with this new understanding, until listening to Sinclair’s lecture, I was mindless of how, as a country, we can truly overcome this.
Let it be known that reconciliation does not have to be about forgiveness. “The key to reconciliation is the education system”, Sinclair stated in regards to how we will make the past known and make change for the future, “we have to learn to be patient and committed”. He also explained that a key part of life is being able to answer four specific questions:
Where do I belong?
Where am I going?
Why am I here?
Who am I?
If an individual is unable to answer these questions, how are they supposed to understand life? Unfortunately, my friends who I went to Mexico with were asking these exact questions and owing to the fact that they were in a state of not wanting to live anymore, I fully accept that answering these questions are vital for moving forward. Sinclair went on with saying “every society has an obligation to help our children to answer these four very important questions”. With the numbers of citizens who have yet to know their answers, society has failed its people. Canada NEEDS to take action. We need to educate ourselves and others on the steps necessary to move forward, out of our past of inhumanity, and into a future of reconciliation because if we don’t, our progress will be lost. Our First Nations brothers and sisters have suffered far too long.