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Reconciliation

There's been a lot of discussion about reconciliation lately incited by Gord and Mike Downie's animated film Secret Path. Part of the discussion has been criticism that the broadcast and subsequent discourse have been too much about Gord. There's also been an assumption that this is a dying man's atonement on behalf of white Canadians so it's worth noting that the Downie brothers began work on the Secret Path long before the lead singer's cancer diagnosis. My mom (a residential school survivor) always said we need allies. And many of us Indigenous people have said that non-Indigenous community members have to hold their own accountable. I think Gord Downie is attempting to hold Canada accountable -- accountable for Chanie Wenjack and by association all the Chanie Wenjacks, the Neil Stonechilds, the Tina Fontaines, the Colten Boushies.

True reconciliation is going to take awhile, likely as many generations as it?s taken to create the need. And I believe it's a three tiered process.

Tier three is repairing the vast rift between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people which includes systems of government and corporations. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) may have put residential schools on non-Indigenous peoples' intellectual radar but Downie?s Secret Path got many to feel it, and cry about it. 

I resisted watching Secret path for the same reasons I didn't attend the TRC gatherings. I feared I would be emotionally overwhelmed. Then I thought about my mom and how she could never as much as lie down in a second floor bedroom much less sleep there. How she struggled to learn lines in Indigenous languages for plays and films she performed in. Both were wrought from the emotional baggage she carried to her grave from her residential school experiences (Birtle, Brandon). So I watched. And let myself cry.

I've been to funerals where pills have been passed around like candy to help people avoid emotion. I've seen and have participated in self medication (drugs and alcohol) to avoid emotion. As a result, emotions become suppressed and trapped. When those emotions surface, and they always do, it's often in dysfunctional ways, self-sabotage and lateral violence among them. I think tier one of reconciliation is learning how to feel, even if it hurts. Because if we can't learn how to feel when it hurts how will we learn how to feel when it doesn't? 

The second tier of reconciliation is also internal. We must seek reconciliation within our Indigenous communities, with each other.

What drives a 12 year old to try and walk 600 kilometers home? What drives a 10 year old to suicide? Sexual abuse. Many in our communities learned this behaviour in the residential schools and brought it home. In too many cases that cycle continues and we all carry the responsibility to break it. There was a powerful line in the film Spotlight, the 2015 Oscar winner for best picture, that underlines this. If it takes a village to raise a child it takes a village to abuse one. One of my uncles was a sexual abuser. I didn't learn this until I was a young adult, but my mother knew. My aunts knew. My kookum knew. I put the question to my mother, why don't we confront him on it? She said it would kill him, he was old by then, toothless, literally and metaphorically. So that part of our family history remained unspoken. In retrospect, I should've broken the shroud of silence and spoken up.

We know who the abusers are, we know who the drug pushers are (legal and not). They're the modern weetigos (demon-like cannibals of Indigenous mythology) in our communities and we have to hold them accountable. Until we do there will be no real reconciliation, no matter how many white people cry for us.

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