Thanks to an accident of birth, I’m free to live in Canada. It’s a land I have no claim to, and though we acknowledge every day that we are here on someone else’s land, we still hide behind sophistry. We say “unceded”, when we mean “stolen”.
We live on the land that was taken from people who had lived there for thousands of years. Because they looked different, because they valued different things, lived a different life, they were judged lesser, deemed uncivilized. Though the people who stole the land professed to hold to a religion that says stealing is wrong, they compounded their crime by trying to eradicate the people who lived there first. They tried to destroy their way of life, and they stole the children to separate them from their families and their culture and their heritage.
There’s no excusing what was done. It’s not enough to say “It was a different time.” or “They didn’t understand the impact of what they were doing.” They did know. They were very clear that the culture that existed in North America must be replaced with that of the European Colonists. That no act of violence was too terrible if it resulted in cutting the next generation of the First Nations off from their families, their stories, their history.
We talk about Truth and Reconciliation, but it’s not ours to give, or to take. The uncovering of the Residential School graves last year was a step towards truth, but like many things, this was a truth the indigenous peoples have been telling everyone for years. Any reconciliation has to be on their terms, not ours.
And if you think that’s too much to ask, imagine having your children torn away from your family, being denied contact, having them raised in a culture and religion that is not your own, and perhaps facing the horror of them never returning. Having no idea what happened to them, or where their remains lie. This one aspect of the crimes committed against the First Nations should be enough to stop us in our tracks.
We have allotted one day to mark Truth and Reconciliation, to stand against decades and decades of abuse, erasure, prejudice, and mischaracterisation. It’s a long road that we must walk now, and the First Nations have to be the ones leading. We can’t ask how far we have to go, until we acknowledge the terrible weight of the burdens they have already been carrying all these years.