Lisa Beaucage is a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. She is also a police officer in Ottawa and has a master’s degree in Canadian and Indigenous policy.
Since the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation observed on Sept. 30, we as Canadians have celebrated Thanksgiving and Halloween, observed Diwali, marked Remembrance Day, and celebrated Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and the New Year. We have even participated in a federal election. Many of these events are evidence of Canada’s inclusive and diverse mosaic of nations and ethnicities.
However, despite Canada’s claim of inclusion and multiculturalism, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is the first national holiday that even acknowledges Canada’s First Peoples. Even then, it is not so much a collective understanding but a single day to recognize the devastation visited upon Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government.
Many Canadians have folded their orange shirts and tucked them away into a drawer for another year. The media cycle has run its course on the tragedies that took place at residential schools. The memorial on Parliament Hill to victims that symbolically showcased hundreds of children’s shoes has been carefully, quietly – and perhaps just as symbolically – dismantled. As a nation, Canadians have collectively grieved the loss of children found buried at residential schools, and they have moved on with their busy lives.
But now – more than ever – Indigenous people need allies and must remain at the forefront of social consciousness as they fight for a seat at the table. Indeed, despite the atrocities of residential schools, many Indigenous youth living in remote communities continue to be forced to relocate far from home simply to obtain a high school education.
It is imperative to recognize that, as a direct result of government interventions, Indigenous people in Canada are still suffering from intergenerational trauma, addiction, unsafe drinking water and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Indigenous communities must frequently contend with governmental agencies over their unauthorized use of Indigenous land, and are often quick to encounter violence from police sent by those same agencies to restore the status quo.
Canada’s Indigenous peoples continue to face adversity, even today. The very identity of Indigenous people is stolen and exploited by university professors and authors. Meanwhile, Indigenous fish producers on the east coast of Canada fight to have their treaty rights recognized – yes, the very treaty rights negotiated on the government’s own terms. Groups working to get compensation for First Nations children who suffered owing to discrimination and underfunding of child and family services had to fight the federal government in court for years to get a settlement.
Being socially conscious is exhausting, but it is necessary. Although these issues can seem daunting, Indigenous activists do not ask that they be fixed by tomorrow. Instead, they are asking to be kept in the forefront of the collective conscience.
Indigenous people are not looking for pity. We do not need to be rescued, or saved. We have been viewed as helpless wards of the state for far too long. We have spent generations training to be heard and included in the settlers’ world. We are doctors, lawyers, academics, policy writers and members of Parliament.
We are trying to generate change from within the colonial hierarchy. Our tradition is rooted in reciprocity, and for generations we have been stripped of our right to live and move on the land, to hunt and fish our traditional territories, and even simply to raise our young in our own culture.
It is time for the Canadian government to recognize its policy toward Indigenous peoples merely extinguishes fires it has itself set. As a nation, we have collectively grieved for the loss of our children.
It is also time for Canadians to collectively answer the Indigenous call to establish our relationship and role within our parliamentary system as a self-governing entity. This is not a call for the descendants of settlers to be burdened with the guilt of their ancestors. Instead, it is simply a call to remain relevant, and to have a place at the big table that is Canada.
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