Reconciliation and Kindness

Indigenous Peoples have had a respectful and reciprocal relationship with the lands and waters of Turtle Island, known as Canada today, since time immemorial.

The Land Between is located within Williams Treaty 20 Mississauga Anishinaabeg territory and Treaty 61 Robinson- Huron treaty territory, in the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg. These Nations are the inherent stewards and
caretakers of this Land. The Original Treaties of Canada indicated that only the land would be shared equally between Indigenous Nations and Settlers, and only as deep as the plow. There was never any indication of sharing water. The sharing that was the basis of the Constitution also enabled a protocol of discussion and informed consent related to subsequent treaties. Similarly, there is a Duty to Consult with Indigenous peoples about areas that affect their rights and title. This Duty is embedded in the Constitution and has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada time and time again. This Duty is to be honoured at all levels including at municipal or individual levels. Therefore, in terms of conservation and care for land and waters, Indigenous peoples have inherent rights and are our allies.

Moving forward, reconciliation is about walking hand in hand and maintaining respectful understanding and relationships with Indigenous peoples and Nations, learning about and acknowledging the harm of the past, the present disparate conditions and treatment of Indigenous people, and with an open heart and commitment to kindness.

It is important to recognize that environmentalism and Indigenous rights go hand in hand, as Indigenous peoples hold the traditional knowledge and relationships that are necessary to truly maintain thriving ecosystems [13]. Reconciliation is an important step in the future of lake stewardship, as we must foster a respectful and reciprocal relationship with Indigenous peoples.  As non-Indigenous people, we must acknowledge that Indigenous peoples and their way of knowing has been excluded from decision making processes, and our goal is to instead seek partnership with them and guidance from their invaluable skills, knowledge and relationships with the natural world.

Do you know the history of the land your home is found on, and the Indigenous territories that exist on it?  There are great masses of land in Canada that were unrightfully taken from Indigenous people, known as unceded land [1].  Unceded land is territory that First Nations peoples never legally signed to the Crown or Canada.  In fact, ninety-five percent of British Columbia is on unceded traditional First Nations territory [1].  It is known that 97% of the land in Canada was not “taken” legally as most treaties did not follow proper protocols to allow for prior and informed consent. A first step in reconciliation includes acknowledging the land that rightfully belongs to Indigenous peoples, the First Peoples of Turtle Island, now known as Canada, and acknowledging that we currently live and work on lands steeped in rich and dark history.

A Land Acknowledgement statement recognizes the traditional territory of the Indigenous peoples who called the land home before settlers arrived.  These statements are commonly used at the beginning of meetings, gatherings, and events to allow for time to reflect on the history and future of Indigenous lands, treaties and peoples.  Before creating a Land Acknowledgement, we recommend your Blue Lakes group to research Indigenous history and self-reflect on your intentions to ensure your acknowledgment is meaningful and connected to thoughtful action [2].  Refrain from copying other Land Acknowledgements word-for-word, and instead, take time to learn about the true meaning of reconciliation.  We encourage your Blue Lakes group to follow through with your words of Land Acknowledgements and find ways to put them into action.  To learn more about Land Acknowledgments, click here.

Indigenous History

For some who are at the beginning of their learning journey surrounding Indigenous culture and history in Canada, Land Acknowledgements may spark curiosity to learn more about Indigenous ways of life. With over 50 difference Indigenous Nations across Canada, many Indigenous peoples follow a form of the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers to guide their human conduct towards themselves and others [12].  These teachings are used to guide the morals, values, governance structures, ceremonial practices, and spiritual beliefs of Indigenous peoples [3]. Each teaching is accompanied by an animal that demonstrates these traits in nature and varies from Nation to Nation. The Ojibwe seven teachings are: Wisdom (beaver), Love (eagle), Respect (buffalo), Bravery (bear), Honesty (raven), Humility (wolf) and Truth (turtle) [3].  The Seven Grandfather Teachings form the foundation for the way of life of Indigenous peoples, and are a guiding light for all by setting the example for harmonious living with the Earth and each other.  Here at Blue Lakes, we seek guidance from the Seven Grandfather Teachings, and we encourage each Blue Lakes committee to incorporate these values into their stewardship efforts.

Indigenous peoples lived and cared for the land across North America since time immemorial, and the settlement and colonization of Europeans forever impacted the lives of Indigenous peoples [14].   European settlement imposed laws to control and assimilate Indigenous peoples in Canada.  You may have heard of the Indian Act, but did you know that it is still in use today?  Since the Indian Act was first passed in 1876 [4], it has undergone numerous changes but still largely retains its original form.  The main goal of the Act was to eradicate First Nations and have them subscribe to Western practices, meaning all Indigenous culture, traditions, languages, religions and rights would be lost.  Enfranchisement was a method introduced by the government to support their assimilation policies.  Enfranchisement [5] is a legal process for terminating a person’s "Indian Status" and forcing them to become a Canadian citizen [6].  Indigenous peoples were threatened that they would have no rights if they did not become Canadian [6].  The Canadian government sought ways to increase Canadian citizenship amongst Indigenous peoples, even stripping away women’s status if she married a non-status man [6].  Additionally, Indigenous peoples who received a degree, became a doctor or lawyer, or served in the armed forces would automatically lose their status through enfranchisement [6].  These tactics all contributed to Canada’s vision of a nation without Indigenous cultures and practices.  In 1876, enfranchisement became legally compulsory in the Indian Act, which stood until 1961 [5].  To continue learning about the Indian Act and how it continues to dictate the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada, we recommend this article written by Bob Joseph that highlights 21 things many people may not know about the Indian Act [7]. 

“Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic.”

Canada’s deputy minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott in 1920

Until recent years, Indigenous history was out-of-sight for many Non-Indigenous peoples.  Learning about Indigenous history and their existence currently is a step towards understanding the true, dark history and its continued implications today.  It teaches us about the important role that Indigenous peoples continue to have in shaping the lands and waters of Canada today.  Generations of Canadians were and continue to be uneducated and uninformed about the truth of Canada’s history such as the measures the government put in place in attempt to erase Indigenous peoples, like through an illegal Reserve and Pass system, and through residential schools.  Residential schools were supported by the Indian Act, as they shared the common goal to assimilate Indigenous peoples into Canadian society.  These institutions were federally funded that operated in Canada for more than 160 years, forcefully separating over 150,000 Indigenous children from their families [8].  The primary objective of Residential Schools was to remove and isolate children from the influence of their families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the ‘dominant culture’ as their way of life was deemed uncivilized [15].  The Residential school system forcibly removed children from their communities, bringing them to institutions where they were inadequately fed, clothed and housed [15].  Children suffered emotional, physical and sexual neglect and abuse at Residential schools [15]. They were forced to abandon their language, cultural beliefs and traditions [15].  In 1920, the Indian Act made it mandatory for every Indigenous child between 7 - 16 years of age to attend an Indian Residential school [8].  The last school closed only in 1996 in Saskatchewan [9].  The closest schools to The Land Between bioregion operated in Brantford until 1970, and in a town called Spanish, located west of Sudbury, until 1962 [9].  It is difficult to put a number on how many Indigenous children lost their lives at residential schools, however in early 2022 the confirmed number sits at 6,509 deaths and continues to grow [10].  Residential schools have long-lasting impacts through intergenerational trauma for Indigenous cultures, communities and families as they continue to heal from these injustices.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is about acknowledging the disproportionate oppression Indigenous peoples face and maintaining a genuine, mutually respectful relationship as commitment to change future behaviors. Reconciliation means coming to shared understandings between Indigenous peoples and Canadian settlers [11]. The history of First Nation peoples in Canada should be acknowledged by every Canadian, and their cultures, traditions and languages should be honored, respected and celebrated.  Reconciliation is not a one-time event, but instead a journey that requires willingness, humility and action amongst individuals and governments.  Reconciliation is also more than learning and sentiments; it is about walking hand in hand with Indigenous people and taking action where necessary to right the wrongs done.

Learning about and acknowledging the past is the first step in Reconciliation.

In the Blue Lakes project, we challenge you to incorporate Reconciliation into your life -- and you have already made the first steps by learning here today.

To continue learning about about Reconciliation, Indigenous cultures and the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, follow these links:   

Personal Acts of Reconciliation - 10 actions individuals can take to support and learn more about Reconciliation

Pass System  - A method to control the movement of Indigenous peoples to prevent large gatherings.  Indigenous people were not allowed to leave their reserve without approval from Canadian Government’s Indian agents.

60’s Scoop - The mass removal of Indigenous children from their families into the child welfare system from roughly 1961 to the 1980s.

Rights and Titles of Indigenous People - There is no simple definition of Indigenous rights in Canada because of the diversity among Indigenous peoples.

Duty to Consult - The legal obligation that the Crown must fulfill prior to taking actions or making decisions that may have consequences for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Attend a Powwow - Ensure the Powwow is a public event before planning to attend.  Here, non-Indigenous people can learn about Indigenous cultures, traditions and ceremonies.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act - An international framework outlining the rights for survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples.

Works Cited

[1] Wilson, K. (2018). Pulling Together: Foundations Guide. Victoria, BC: BCcampus. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationf

[2] Williams, C. (2020). Giving a meaningful land acknowledgement and connecting it to action. University of Waterloo.  Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/public-health-sciences/giving-meaningful-land-acknowledgement

[3] Uniting Three Fires Against Violence. The 7 Grandfathers Teachings. Retrieved from https://unitingthreefiresagainstviolence.org/the-7-grandfathers-teachin/

[4] Hanson, E. (2009). The Indian Act. First Nations and Indigenous Studies at The University of British Columbia. Retrieved from https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_indian_act/

[5] Crey, K. (2009). Enfranchisement. First Nations and Indigenous Studies at The University of British Columbia. Retrieved from https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/enfranchisement/

[6] Crey, K and Hanson, E. (2009). Indian Status. First Nations and Indigenous Studies at The University of British Columbia. Retrieved from https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/indian_status/

[7] Joseph, B. (2016 April 13). 21 Things you may not know about the Indian Act. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/21-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-indian-act-1.3533613

[8] Restoule, K and Union of Ontario Indians. (2013). An Overview of the Indian Residential School System. Union of Ontario Indians. Retrieved from https://www.anishinabek.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/An-Overview-of-the-IRS-System-Booklet.pdf

[9] The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2020 February 21). Residential Schools in Canada Interactive Map. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/residential-schools-in-canada-interactive-map

[10] Deer, K. (2021 September 29). Why it’s difficult to put a number on how many children died at residential schools. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/residential-school-children-deaths-numbers-1.6182456

[11] Restoule, J.P. What is Reconciliation? University of Toronto. Retrieved from https://www.oise.utoronto.ca/abed101/what-is-reconciliation/

[12] Northern College. The Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers. Indigenous Services and Initiatives. Retrieved from http://www.northernc.on.ca/indigenous/teachings-seven-grandfathers/

[13] Wikler, M. (2020 October 30). Indigenous Stewardship is true Conservation: We Need to Move Beyond Eco-Colonialism. RAVEN, Retrieved from https://raventrust.com/indigenous-stewardship-is-true-conservation-we-need-to-move-beyond-eco-colonialism/

[14] Parrott, Z. (2020 May 28). Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-people#:~:text=Indigenous%20peoples%20have%20been%20in,of%20life%20were%20forever%20altered.

[15] Government of Canada. [2008 June 11]. Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools. Retrieved from https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100015644/1571589171655

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