In light of the most recent discoveries of children’s graves in residential schools, I’d like to speak to white folks of settler origin.
First off, may the spirits of those whose remains have recently been found come to peace, and may the light of their discovery burn like a beacon to illuminate the insidious history of Canada and call to the table all the elements needed to address this in a good way that is rooted, not tokenized.
Long ago, our white westernized world forsook mother earth. Consciously or unconsciously, we severed our connection to place, land, culture, and ceremony. The fear resulting from this separation led us to focus on the illusions of scarcity and security – on the money we make and the things we think we need. We have lived this way for hundreds of years. When our ancestors crossed the waters, they were fleeing starvation, persecution, and poverty. They had been under colonial rule for well over 1000 years. Being able to acquire land and support your family free of the industrial workhouses of Europe was nothing short of a miracle.
Homesteads = hope.
There was likely little to no thought given to what our homesteads cost the First Nations. It was easier to think of “them” within the context that our ministers and politicians programmed us to believe: savages, worthless, not human. In ignoring their humanity, we did not have to consider the impact our arrival and subsequent mass migration had on them. Our ignorance was justified by the norms of our society: we were civilized people of God, and they were not.
We turned a blind eye to the mass genocide happening right alongside of us. To see it meant we might have to change something within ourselves or our lives—our own greed or need to have. If we knew First Nations were not allowed to leave the reserve (pass system) or conduct ceremonies (potlach law), that their children were taken by force (mandatory residential school/imprisonment of parents if refused) and their means for self sufficiency outlawed (Inuit sled dogs sleds killed, buffalo slaughtered, salmon sacrificed to dams, Treaty lands continuously made smaller and insufficient for hunting, wildcrafting, and farming), would we have done anything? The answer is clear. We didn’t.
And we still aren’t. We have been sold a lie about all the “free stuff” First Nations get, what a blight on the system they are. Such irony when we are living off the richness of the land they stewarded for thousands of years. Investigate the real truth of this story. All First Nations do not have free houses, university education , government money, and free land. Conversely, they live without basic resources and infrastructure, have a low high-school graduation rate and high suicide rate, and their communities are still decimated by the trauma of colonization. Unaddressed grief and trauma overflow in these families and communities.
In the face of such historic and current suffering, what can we as white people do? It’s time to come to terms with the truth of our ancestry. It’s time to notice the ways your ancestry refused to see what was happening or played an active role in it. Both had an impact. It’s time to notice how you, too, are blind, and how your lifestyle sustains that oppression.
To heal from the past and move forward as a nation requires those who have been the dominant peoples to start doing things differently. We are called to ponder the costs of resource extraction and commoditization of the land in a culture in which First Nations often lack clean drinking water. We need to wonder how our need to have more is related to our disconnection from the land as mother, from our own ancestral earth-based traditions, and from the First Nations that are here. For their healing and our own, we need to be willing to face the massive suffering—past and present—our brothers and sisters endure, acknowledge the role we play, and wonder what justice will look like. It’s a good first step.
Great resources to begin in educating yourself:
- 21 things you may not know about the Indian act – Bob Joseph
- White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo
- My Grandmothers Hands – Resmaa Menakem
- Layla F. Saad – Me and White Supremacy
- The Inconvenient Indian – Thomas King