I write this article to you today, from the Treaty 6 territory, home of the Cree, Nakota/Sioux, Blackfoot, Salteaux and Metis Region 4. I write it specifically from, amiskwacîwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ) the ancestral home of the Papaschase Cree Nation. I begin in this way, because every step that every single one of us makes on this continent is on stolen Indigenous land. It is our responsibility to understand exactly whose land, and the treaties and languages and government structures of those people as a crucial first step for our entire nation to collectively decolonize.
Another crucial step is understanding the colonial history that has shaped this country and made it what it is today. Our country was birthed by misogynist, European colonizers, with direct ties to the transatlantic slave trade (and some members of our first parliament were slave owners) and along with the birth of this country came the agenda to completely eradicate Indigenous people. Their goal was to have every single Indigenous person dead. When we did not succumb to diseases, when our warriors fought back against their military, when we resisted and this government realized that we were not conquered, they struck the hearts of our communities.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a police force created by Sir John A McDonald specifically for the purpose of subjugating Indigenous people and imprisoning runaway slaves, infiltrated our communities and stole all the children, often waiting until the warriors were away hunting and providing for their families or in ceremony. There are countless stories from elders alive today who were told to go hide in the bush, or who were old enough to go hunting with their parents and then came back and every other child in the community had disappeared. This destroyed the core of our family structures and our way of living which was all for the sake of providing a future for the next generation.
Contrary to popular belief that residential schools were somehow beneficial to Indigenous people, (by ignorant people who believe that we learned to read and write the French or English language through this process) understand, that we already had complex systems of language, of mathematics, of astronomy and biology, and yes – we did read and write – a complex system of syllabics, petroglyphs and wampum belts still exist to this day with cave drawings carbon dated at several thousands of years old as proof.
The only purpose residential schools posed was assimilate indigenous children into Canadian citizens, or more aptly put, to “kill the indian in the child” a phrase most commonly misappropriated to Duncan Campbell Scott, but was however a common philosophy that the Canadian government operated by from the opening of the first residential school, the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario, which accepted its first boarding students in 1831 until the closing of the The Gordon Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan in 1996. During that time over 130 residential schools operated in Canada with an estimated 150,000 children attending these schools and an estimated 6,000 died while in the schools or while attempting to run away. In 1931, there were 80 residential schools operating in Canada. This was the most at any one time. There are people still alive today who went to residential schools, and for their descendants who didn’t, we still face the intergenerational trauma of having our languages ripped away from us, our cultural identity, and shame in regard to our indigeneity.
Indigenous people face daily barriers such as not having clean drinking water, poverty, mental health issues, our rights to hunt and fish and protect the land that the Creator gifted to us, stripped away by corporations that only want to make money. We are still to this day being colonized, there are more Indigenous children in the care of Child Protective Social Services than ever before, Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people are going missing and being murdered by the thousands every year. I challenge all of us, as a society, to take a good look at how we benefit from colonization, how we benefit when Indigenous people are being subjugated and ask yourself, if this is really what you want from this country? Will you simply stay complacent in the benefits of your privilege or will you rise and do your best to effect positive change for the people around you? For the Indigenous nation’s land on which you live and work on every day? That change starts with bringing awareness to our traumatic history, and wearing an orange shirt and discussing the impacts of residential school is the beginning. It’s the bare minimum.
Taking that decolonial practice and making it a daily reality, is the most important life-long commitment you can make.
Chi miigwetch for listening,
Mixed Anishnaabe, L’nu & white settler, Scottish, French
Further reading and resources about Orange Shirt Day:
What is Orange Shirt Day?
Alberta Orange Shirt Day 2020 – Alberta Opportunities
Autonomously And With Conviction: A Métis Refusal Of State-Led Reconciliation