A Single Day

I learned that love can happen at first sight; it took only a moment.  

Driving – somewhat more complicated than love – took me five hours of formal instruction to become fully licenced.

And, in a single day, I learned how to administer live-saving CPR.  

It is remarkable what a person may learn and come to understand in the span of a single day. And this year, our nation has set aside a day to make a personal commitment – a step – toward Truth and Reconciliation

Now, truth is defined as a fact or a belief that is accepted as true, key word being ‘accepted’. And reconciliation is defined as the restoration of friendship or harmony; to be restored signals that these qualities were there in the first place. Perhaps a problematic choice of words when reflecting on colonization.

In a single day, I gathered a modest understanding of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and how it “laid the groundwork for what should have been as positive a relationship as possible between settlers and Indigenous Peoples.” A noted passage of the Proclamation recognizes the First Nations as “owners of the lands that the Europeans were using and occupying…”. One hundred years later, the passage of the British North America Act marked a significant change in the relationship between European settlers and the First People of this land, shifting from a “nation-to-nation relationship to one in which Indians were considered wards of the Crown who should be forced to assimilate into mainstream society.” Hope for future harmony demands that we learn for ourselves the truth of the last 160 years.

In a single day, I recoiled to read the words written by Duncan Campbell Scott, expressing his wish to “get rid of the Indian problem… to continue until there is not an Indian that has not been absorbed into the body politic…”.  Coming to accept the truth that our nation’s early leaders and their policies were created to obliterate the Indigenous cultures and Peoples is hard. Acceptance makes it impossible to retain a comfortable national self-image of the ‘polite Canadian’. Sorry, not sorry.

In a single day, I was inspired to learn the reverence held for women among Indigenous Peoples of this land. Women were central to the families, participated in government and spiritual ceremonies: “…they are the soul of the councils, the arbiter of peace and war.” Women were respected for the “sacred gifts bestowed upon them by the Creator.” Today’s reality is far removed from this tradition when a Highway of Tears is a scar through our province. Accepting this truth will require time, but it can begin this day.

In a single day, I despaired to imagine the pain felt by parents when children were seized from their homes at summer’s end. As a father, I turn my imagination away from such a crippling pain because it is too disturbing. To visualize an agent, in the company of law enforcement, entering my home and forcibly removing my children evokes in me something deeper than fear.  Rage follows this trauma when the letters arrive, offering the “privilege” to have my children home for a Christmas break, providing that regulations are followed. As parents, our hearts forever “go walking around outside” our bodies; and Indigenous parents had no choice when their hearts were taken to residential schools where “boys and girls were dying like flies.” And this was known. Reported. Ignored. It must be understood that residential schools are recent history. I had been an educator for nearly ten years before the last of these schools closed.  

In a single day, I feel shamed to reflect on how easily I exercise my voice along with only 62% of eligible Canadians, taking for granted what was long denied the Indigenous People of this land because – among other reasons – an Indigenous vote was “an encroachment on the rights of white men.” Only a decade before the right to vote was extended to all Indigenous Peoples, the definition of a “person” in the Indian Act read, “an individual other than an Indian.” To be considered people, an Indigenous Person had to give up their status and treaty rights. Understandably, an imposed system of government that was not only foreign but also redundant, dismissing ancient “traditions, conventions, and practices of governance”, met with a “general antipathy” of Indigenous People. Faith in leadership is delicate.   

In a single day, I questioned the integrity of a nation’s leader who spoke in contradictions. An apology was issued, acknowledging the great harm caused by the “emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families…”. The apology goes on to recognize the impediment to healing and reconciliation posed by an absence of truth and accountability. The Government of Canada concludes by asking forgiveness of the “Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.” One year later, the same leader declares: “We also have no history of colonialism.” We must accept the truth before we can ever approach reconciliation.

In a single day, I spent time and learned from Bob Joseph’s 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

One book. One day. One step.

Media

CBC Radio – The Early Edition, interview with Angela Sterritt about school exposure notification procedures:
Listen

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