Leading Indigenous activists speak on the meaning of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, remain patient in their progress towards healing
Want to tune into this event? Here is what that day sounded like.
The march begins with a greeting, a must for any Indigenous ceremony. “We give thanks to our mother the Earth,” says Kahnawà:ke elder Steve McComber, “so that we can continue to grow, and have a good life.”
“As we gather here on this day,” he says, “we are here to commemorate and to make people all over the world aware of the things that have gone on. When I listened to the Prime Minister talk about truth and reconciliation, I thought this was nice, it is a beginning. But without really knowing the truth, how can we really reconcile?”
Inflamed and armed with her arguments, Nakuset, the director of Montreal’s Native Women’s Shelter, says not much has been done since the first rendition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. “Last year, when I did the first march, I said I wanted people to hand out subpoenas. No subpoenas were given.”
“Somebody decided to dig that grave, someone decided to put a child in there, someone decided that they were not going to tell the families,” she follows. A whole group of government and church officials were involved, yet it was all hidden, and no one was blamed.
“If we actually hear the truth and change the history, that will bring some kind of comfort to the people, because there is no accountability,” Nakuset says.
With Premier François Legault elected for four more years, systemic racism will continue to be questioned by the governing body. “He is someone that says there is no systemic racism,” she says, “yet we live it every single day with every single institution, and we fight it every day.”
“When Legault says stuff like that,” Nakuset says, “it diminishes our importance.”
That same week, the second anniversary of Joyce Echaquan’s tragic death was commemorated at Place du Canada. Nakuset says that Legault “is creating generational trauma to the children.” She adds that “At the hospitals, when you mistreat people like what happened to Joyce, that’s generational trauma, because her kids may never want to go to a hospital.”
She then emulates shaking someone by the shoulder, saying that “Today we need to shake people up!”
Off to the side, away from the crowd is Kanehsatà:ke activist Ellen Gabriel, sat on a bench, planning the speech she would deliver later during the march.
“You know, I was surprised that, when we first heard these stories, we didn’t riot,” she says. What is important now is to let these stories slowly come out. “I think it’s important to let Indigenous people lead, when it comes to telling these stories. To listen, to be comfortable in the uncomfortableness, as it will be difficult for both sides,” she says.
“What we need is for reconciliation to be initiated by the other side. It is usually the party that has harmed that should begin the process of reparations and restitutions.”
For Indigenous people, “We see genocide ongoing,” Gabriel says. “The denial of Premier Legault to say there is no systemic racism, that creates an atmosphere that perpetuates genocide.”
“We want reconciliation to be ongoing, and to be on a daily basis.” She says that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation should be more than just a holiday, but also “a national day of remembrance.”
A few things should be put in place at the government level to ensure that reconciliation is moving forward. “I think there should be an independent group that monitors the government,” she says. “The government is supposed to have an annual report on their reconciliation progress, and as far as I am concerned, they really have not done anything.”
“Human rights are interrelated and interdependent,” she says, “if one is being violated, you cannot enjoy the rest of the human rights.”
“Indigenous Affairs minister Ian Lafreniere or Premier Legault often say that it’s a success, it’s not a success,” she says. “I have been doing this for 32 years, it’s really frustrating seeing the government continue its propaganda, saying look we have done it! Well no, you have not done it, because you continue to do it.”
She calls upon us, Quebecers and Canadians. “You have an obligation, not just a moral obligation but also a legal one, to make sure that reconciliation begins.”
“The government cannot claim it doesn’t know, “she says, “Canadians and Quebecers cannot claim they do not know, if you’re not doing anything to be part of the change then you are part of the problem.”
Inuk singer-songwriter Elisapie stood to the microphone, and performed a small excerpt from a song by her uncle Irsutuk Kakayuk, lead singer of the band Sugluk. For her, art is also part of the process, as it’s part of the stories being told. “Art has always been there, we have always had our ceremonies, our dances, and our stories,” she says.
“I think, nowadays, we are just expanding our realities, exploring how we want to tell them.” What matters most is to listen to Indigenous peoples, and understand the trauma they have faced for generations, without infringing on their will to share.
In her speech she quotes her friend, Innu doctor Stanley Vollant, who was standing in the crowd, looking at her with admiration. She says “We might be sick now, we might have great pain, but with time, maybe in a few generations, we will be healed. But for now, to move towards healing, we need to be heard, and to be given space.”
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