The Firelight Group

Sources of Support for Indigenous Peoples

September 30, 2022: today marks the second annual National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, which is a day to honour the stolen children and survivors of Indian Residential Schools and recognize its intergenerational impacts.

I’m writing this post as the child of two residential school survivors. My mother was a student at Gordon’s Indian Residential School, which closed down in 1996; while my father briefly attended the Muscowequan Indian Residential School, which is the last-standing residential school building in Saskatchewan. My position isn’t unique and every Indigenous person in Canada has been impacted by the Indian Residential School legacy in some way. 

By this point, I would hope that most settler Canadians understand that it’s their responsibility to educate themselves on this topic and I won’t put too much time into recounting this history. What I will do, however, is share a link to a blog post written last year by my colleague Sabrina, who does a great job of sharing resources and amplifying the voices of Indigenous peoples: National Day of Truth and Reconciliation 2021: How can settlers meaningfully be an ally to Indigenous People.

What I do want to write about is the incredibly complicated feelings that may arise for Indigenous folks on this day and how important it is to refuse one-dimensional narratives. 

For example, yesterday I went to drop off lunch for my little brother at school, which is one of three Cree bilingual schools in Saskatoon. When we arrived, my mom & I tried looking for him in the sea of children but it was difficult because the playground was filled with kids wearing orange shirts and there were too many little boys with braided hair for us to pinpoint him out. I couldn’t help but feel lucky, knowing that we’re at a point in time where this is possible: where we can exist in public spaces and be visibly Indigenous, and attend schools where classes are taught in the languages that they tried to erase. Yet, this feeling of gratitude was soon replaced with sadness because such a sentiment overlooks the reality of the situation.

Yes, the residential school system has ended, but many advocates have pointed out that the foster care system has simply replaced it since over half of all children in care are Indigenous. Additionally, when coupled with systemic racism, being visibly Indigenous can be devastating. Joyce Echaquan, for example, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven, filmed herself dying in a Quebec hospital as nurses mocked her. In 2019, a group of Indigenous women also brought forth a class action lawsuit alleging coerced sterilization, with the most recent account happening in 2018. 

This is where one-dimensional narratives become dangerous and where being mindful of how we frame and discuss issues becomes important. As settlers, it’s important to remember that Indigenous peoples aren’t waiting to be saved and are quite capable of finding their own solutions and versions of success. On the other hand, it’s also important to acknowledge that the ideology that justified residential schools is still deeply embedded within the culture, systems and institutions of Canada. Changing these deeply rooted systems will require action, coupled with a deep level of self-awareness and of holding oneself (and others) accountable. 

As Indigenous peoples, I also think it’s important to remember that we’re more than just trauma and tragedy. That we can honour the stolen children and survivors of Indian Residential Schools, while also telling the stories of the ones who burnt their schools down to the ground. Yes, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s ok to feel proud and thankful for how far we’ve come, too.

Image Source: S.A. Lawrence- Welch (Twitter)