WHAT IS THE TRUTH, AND WHERE IS THE RECONCILIATION?
Friday, September 30, 2022 – column #7136
The truth is, the people who came here first were free, ungoverned, and they had the run of the place – but they didn’t mistreat our land. They lived off the bounty of nature in a harsh climate and survived.
Humans have migrated and populated the planet for 200,000 years.
For somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago, the ‘first peoples’ of North America – populated this continent, probably migrating from Siberia across a land bridge that no longer exists. Whether South America got inhabited by those people moving south or if they got there from what we now call Polynesia is not certain …
My point is not that they migrated but that they were here first. ‘First Nations’ is the perfect term because they were here first.
And they survived, they lived off the land, and they didn’t go off conquering territory – they lived quite peacefully in stationary and migratory communities in a bountiful land.
In today’s terms, we might call their appreciation for and use of the land ‘stewardship.’
They didn’t have a concept of ownership, boundaries/territory or government as we know it, or as Europeans knew it in their countries. They appreciated and used it, moving about with the seasons and for food. Perhaps also to populate, to explore, but, so far as we know, they didn’t try to dominate or control the land or others. Societies developed on the coasts, in the north, and across the plains.
We have no way to imagine how those cultures might have evolved if left alone …
When the Europeans arrived, they came here to explore, to trade, to exploit, to battle for territory, and to govern. Mostly, they came ‘to take’ and to conquer for Britain or for France. Both those cultures prevail in many ways today in Canada – a legacy of history, legal systems, a battle on the plains of Abraham, and giving nation status to a country known as Canada, but still as a ‘colony’ of Britain.
We’ve severed those ties commercially and legally, but our ‘conquering peoples’ and ‘first peoples’ remain yoked by so much horrific history – and too little reconciliation and not enough peace. Compensation, reparations, apologies, and rights have come – too slow, too little, and with our governments fighting those claims and dragging our collective feet notwithstanding clear messages from courts, from the United Nations and countless rights organizations to call out the crimes and horrors of the past for what they were, a genocide.
The Europeans took Canada over – they took it to own it, by power and deception. They took control from peoples who never sought or had a concept of ownership or control, peoples who didn’t know the motives or culture of the Europeans.
They could not read those skimpy documents that masqueraded as fair treaties.
Those first peoples who lived and died here for centuries were fenced off their traditional territory into reserves – without any form of ownership. They’ve had little time in their history which isn’t some form of a horror story of culture/identity annihilation and abuses to describe their past 400-500 years.
That clock cannot be unwound, cannot be buried, cannot and should not be forgotten or obscured. The truth deserves to be widely known, and we all need to be part of a reconciliation.
I’m writing this column today, not about righting wrongs but to comment about the futility of a truth and reconciliation process that Canadians don’t own, don’t appreciate and, sadly, don’t embrace.
The government, to its credit, says it is trying, albeit with a non-credible history of being late and reluctant – but they fail to admit that the most significant part of these problems were the governments of Britain and Canada (both Liberal and Conservative governments). They caused these problems and have done an abysmal job of putting things right or owning responsibility.
They deserve all the criticism thrown their way – they’ve earned it, they deserve it, and we Canadians, all of us, need to own that responsibility and pay the costs.
By saying that, I don’t mean only money or allocation of taxes.
I mean, we all need to own the solution, as Canadians – as individuals. Not as taxpayers or party members but as citizens and neighbours. If we want to own anything worthwhile, we need to invest something. Most often, Canadians leave the paying/calculating to government officials, politicians and the courts – and then criticize that they blew a budget or our taxes increased more than expected.
Too often, we fail to see and confront this longstanding ineptitude on a scale that would never be tolerated in any business organization. There are many areas to point out, but how about the most fundamental one, water?
How many Canadians in towns and cities would tolerate unsafe drinking water?
Yet government after government promise to fix this – they throw money at it, but the legacy of delays and failures cannot be excused. Changes in party leadership and which party rules the PMO and Cabinet don’t seem to matter – they’ve all perpetuated an inadequacy because they’ve never made any first nations issues THE top priority of our government.
I struggle to understand that. I can see that budgets, the economy, and too many critically important issues du jour need attention, but this cannot be an excuse our government continues to maintain.
So, what can we invest, how do we do it, how do we measure it, how do we know if our efforts are practical, and how do we know when we are done?
The correct answer: we should never be done.
A country isn’t done; a country continues, but if we want this country to continue as the Canada we are proud to call ours, we must live up to our words.
We cannot be true, north, strong, and free until we are all equal citizens working together.
My cause, my mission, is in improving education.
We all have different skills and ideas to offer, but we can’t wait around for an engraved invitation.
We need to build the best of bridges, genuine connections – and make a better Canada by making Canada better.
That is what today is about for Canadians.
It’s more than orange shirts and a national holiday.
It’s not about what it represents for any one individual.
It’s what it represents for our country as we move beyond ticking boxes on a list of recommendations from a report. Important as that work is, and as game-changing for so many indigenous Canadians who those measures are meant to benefit, the more important thing, in my view, is changing our thinking, our words, and delivering actions consistent with those words for all Canadians.
This is not a problem we should wait idly by for some level of government to solve – because history has proved how poorly and slowly they change attitudes, policies, and procedures.
Every Canadian can change their thinking and take some deliberate action. No act of parliament is required to treat our fellow Canadians better. That starts with handshakes, meetings, greetings, and our culture of talk – what we say, how we say it, and how we call out bad jokes and racist commentary.
We can all shift that. When we want to, shift happens …
I don’t think we need 400-500 years to fix something, but we can’t do it too quickly either by not considering the overlapping and competing interests of everyone, and that starts with you and me.
We all have to do different things, but whatever we do, let’s start with an end in mind – like being better Canadians, whole ones, genuine ones – and recognizing that our inequalities are not permanent.
Change begins in our heads, our words, and our actions.
I know where I am starting.
What are you doing?
In our history – whether you read the Discovery Doctrine from the Pope of the day, the Charter of The Company of Adventurers Trading Into Hudson’s Bay, the government actions during the Riel Rebellion by having the NWMP feed tainted meat, residential school atrocities, policies to ‘train the Indian out of the child,’ the big-scoop and the indignities of the Indian Act, or the state of water quality of reserves today, it’s a genocide.
Not the ‘quick-during-war’ kind of genocide, but a slow unrelenting 400-500 year genocide. We decry things in foreign lands, but we tolerate them in Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation reports, the wisdom of Murray Sinclair and the declaration of today as the 2nd annual celebration of this holiday are not only about celebration.
It’s not only about picnics and ice cream.
It’s about Truth.
It’s about Reconciliation.
This date of recognition – is something we need to build on every year. It’s something that belongs to all 38 million of us who call this ‘our country,’ who need to recognize our fellow citizens as equals – not a second class or second rate in any way, but as fellow Canadians.
Yes, I know, we can’t go back and unwind time. But as we make progress, let’s be so much better than we have been.
Truth in the Canadian story has been hidden, buried, and obscured. Recent events have unearthed, both physically and emotionally, so much more.
And more must be done.
We walk around our country in our communities every day, but if we walk around believing falsehoods without understanding and owning the history – we’ll never be reconciled.
Where is reconciliation?
It’s here, inside all of us, and every Canadian’s job to help lift everyone we can, fix everything we can, and look each other in the eye as equals to build a better future – because we can.
p.s. I understand the Calgary Herald might be publishing an iteration of this column in their online edition, and if they do I'll post a link to it my column tomorrow