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Editor’s note: The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our focus away from many important issues. To keep some of those matters in the public eye, we reached out to thought leaders from across Atlantic Canada and asked them to write guest editorials around the theme: What’s one simple gesture or thing people could do to make the world a better place? This is the first submission.
I am often asked how people can contribute towards Indigenous reconciliation. What can they do? What does reconciliation even mean? How can they be an Indigenous ally?
How can there be reconciliation without truth? Many people are quick to reference truth and reconciliation. But what does it really mean? How do we begin to take steps forward?
Indigenous people in Canada are often treated as people without a history or, perhaps worse, there is the notion that our history begins with the arrival of colonists to our region and it is then interpreted through their lens.
From our perspective, Canada did not begin in 1867, nor did it begin with the arrival of Jacques Cartier in 1534. These are but points on a timeline that reaches back tens of thousands of years in the life of our home. Do Canadians appreciate the full scope of our history?
Do Canadians know that this place had a name before they arrived? And that each river, mountain and valley was known before they knew it?
Do Canadians know that our treaties are their treaties — that promises made to us are their promises to keep?
Do Canadians understand the impact of the Indian Act on our peoples, and the racist ideology that originally fuelled it?
Do Canadians understand the ruthless intent of residential schools and the horrific impacts that they had on our people, their fellow Canadians?
Do Canadians accept that Indigenous people, with the inalienable right to self-govern, have to prove how they governed themselves in courts rather than be given the freedom to live as our treaties intended?
Not until we acknowledge the full truth in our story as a nation can we begin to truly reconcile and make real progress.
That said, it does not mean we can’t take steps forward together.
If there is to be meaningful truth and reconciliation, we need to decolonize our history. I believe that the history of Canada needs to be reframed and Indigenous people must be placed at the centre of our new shared narrative.
Once we understand how it was, we will better be able to understand the damage that has been done.
That will take time, but steps can be taken now.
To begin, we should start embracing Indigenous history as our history. In New Zealand, for example, they share and celebrate the Maori culture as their collective culture. They, too, are a colonized country.
Prince Edward Island’s recent decision to mount signs featuring Mi’kmaw place names for locales across the province is a great example of how this can be accomplished in an easy yet meaningful way.
We should all take time to learn.
Once we have a story that includes us all, then we have a place to begin.
Jenene Wooldridge, of Kuntal Kwesawe’kl (Rocky Point), Epekwitk (P.E.I.), is executive director of L’nuey, an initiative focused on protecting, preserving, and implementing the constitutionally entrenched rights of the Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island.