Before I start, I would like to acknowledge my status as a settler on Turtle Island. My ancestors arrived from Ireland and Scotland 9 and 7 generations ago and have been implicit in the occupation of unceded, First Nations, Metis and Inuit territory.
I have been absolutely confounded in the recent months in my interactions with fellow settlers in my area (Kwikwetlem Territory). People sworn to upholding the truth have made very aggressive statements that directly contradict the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While of course our lived experiences may define our realities, Canada as a nation has agreed that the TRC is indeed the TRUTH, and deviation from this is contrary to the values we uphold as Canadians.
And we’re not even doing that well on a global scale, with the United Nations making several acknowledgements of the ways we violate indigenous rights in this country. Not great at all, especially with the way our Prime Minister talks about these issues, as though it were an issue exclusive to past governments.
Arguably one of the simplest things that we can do as settlers (for those curious, unless you are of indigenous heritage, you are also a settler) is to acknowledge that fact and recognise the land we’re on. For the most part, people in Canada are living on “unceded territory,” meaning that at no point in history was the land ever given, sold or surrendered to settlers. There is a lot of land that has been negotiated, “treaty territory,” but it is worth understanding that the context of the negotiations that led to those treaties were made pre-TRC, and therefore likely don’t respect how devastating the occupation of the land actually is, or the situation that led these treaties having to be formed in the first place. (Would we have just taken it if the treaty wasn’t negotiated?)
For example, when I meet with my Rotaract club, or my local Greens, we start our meeting by first acknowledging that we are currently on Kwikwetlem Territory. For good measure, as these organization encompass the Tri-Cities, I recognise that Port Moody is situated on Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam and Squamish Territory as well.
Too easy? Well, you’d think…
But for individuals and groups who have accepted this simple step as routine, it can quickly move from a first step to complacency. After all, other than starting to change mindsets, what does this acknowledgement actually do? It can indeed foster goodwill and understanding, but it doesn’t actually change the situation for the people whose land we have settled on.
As you can tell, this is an issue that resonates with me, and you can imagine that I’ve surrounded myself with lots of groups who share this value. We’ve all reached the point of wanting to do something more, and have since started taking steps to try and find more that we can do.
My very first step was one I recommend for anyone: go and visit the people in your area!
I was very much inspired in 2015 by Elizabeth May’s conviction towards reconciliation and on a whim I drove down to the Kwikwetlem First Nation reserve. I just pulled up to the administration office, said hello and asked what I could learn about them!
To my delight, I was introduced to the history, culture and present story of the people there. I learned how fortunate we are to have any history at all to speak of, as the majority of the people were either displaced or lost to any sort of settler related death. Those who remained also live with the history of residential schools, the last of which closed just in 1996. For the cost of less than an hour of my life I learned a great deal about the lived experience of the people whose land I’m living on. I learned about the significance of salmon (Kwikwetlem literally means “red fish up the river”), and the relationship between the nation and the city of Coquitlam.
Of course there will always be more to learn, but from an education perspective, the ground work has largely been done. But what now?
Traditional colonial thinking would have us just toss money at the issue and hope that it will go away, but years later we are still in a situation where the highest rates of discrimination are still against First Nations, particularly women and children.
As a youth advocate, I am quick to pounce on anything that leads to the empowerment of youth, and through my work with the Tri-Cities Rotaract club, I have been delighted to learn of the organization called UNYA (Urban Native Youth Association). This organization focuses on making sure indigenous youth in the Vancouver area, particularly those not living on reserve, have access to cultural education and experiences. Their primary outreach program is akin to Big Brother/Big Sister and partners youth with “buddies” who meet up weekly to share time together.
I am just so pleased that my group has also agreed that this is a really valuable program to support. We have now held multiple fundraisers to support this program, and we learned about an incredible project underway in Vancouver to construct an entirely new Native Youth Centre right in the heart of downtown! If you’re looking for a truly meaningful way to get out there and work on reconciliation, THIS is a great place to put your efforts!
In summation, here are some excellent choices for us as settlers to do to work on reconciliation:
- Learn about the land you’re on. You all have Google in your pocket, it takes mere seconds!
- Visit the people in your area! Meeting with real people is the number one way you can make meaningful connections with them. Coincidentally, they actually know best what is needed for their people.
- Sign up to the mentorship program at UNYA! For a few hours a week you can make a huge difference in the lives of young people in the city.
- Donate to the Native Youth Centre capital project! This is a surefire way to make sure that your donation goes fully towards a project that will make a difference in the lives of indigenous youth in the Vancouver area.
To reiterate, these are recommendations made by a settler with a basic understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There is always more to learn, and we still have a long way to go. Talk to your friends and family, visit your local politicians and ask them what they are doing to make reconciliation a reality.
This is not just a one-off project. Canada will likely be working on this for generations, but if we don’t start making headway soon, the can will continue to be kicked down the road.
Let’s make a difference now.