In Canada, the last day of September carries a profound significance that extends far beyond the changing of seasons. On September 30th, Collective Results (CR) observed the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a time to reflect on the historical injustices faced by Indigenous peoples and commit to a future built on understanding, empathy, and reconciliation. The CR team also participated in Orange Shirt Day which falls on the same day, by wearing orange t-shirts in support of the North Bay Indigenous Hub’s upcoming Residential School Warriors Wellness Day on November 15th.
Acknowledging the Past
The path to reconciliation begins with acknowledging the painful history of colonization, forced assimilation, and the harmful legacy of residential schools. These institutions, which were operated by the Canadian government and various Christian denominations, forcibly separated Indigenous children from their families and communities, stripping them of their language, culture, and identity.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation serves as a reminder of this dark chapter in Canada's history, a chapter that left deep scars on Indigenous communities. It is a day to honour the survivors and those who did not return home from these institutions, recognizing their resilience and strength.
A Call for Action
Beyond reflection, this day calls for action. Reconciliation is not a passive process; it requires a commitment to change. It calls for listening to the stories and experiences of Indigenous peoples, valuing their traditional knowledge, and respecting their rights.
One crucial step is to educate ourselves about Indigenous issues. CR is committed to learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we are very interested in addressing the unique needs and challenges faced by Indigenous communities. Through our work, we have learned about the importance of having Indigenous partners at the table and listening to their voices. In particular, I’ve learned that Indigenous organizations should be involved in the collection, use and sharing of Indigenous information and data. This prompted me to expand my knowledge of data sovereignty and the principles of OCAP (Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession) and come to understand that data sovereignty is not just about data rights and privacy; it's about respect for the cultural, spiritual, and historical significance of the information held by Indigenous communities.
My goal is to build meaningful and collaborative relationships with Indigenous partners to better understand and address their concerns regarding the use of Indigenous data. Indigenous partners have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that is vital to working towards improving outcomes for Indigenous communities. However, we must prioritize consent and ensure that they can access their data and control who else has access to it. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation provides an opportunity to reflect on why this is so important and reinforces our dedication to incorporating principles such as OCAP into our work.
Book Club Reflections
In our journey towards understanding Indigenous issues and the importance of reconciliation, literature plays a pivotal role. Earlier this year, CR read Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga as part of our book club. Seven Fallen Feathers is a powerful book that has touched the hearts and minds of many readers, prompting profound reflections and discussions within book clubs and communities.
Tanya Talaga's book takes us deep into the heart of the tragedy faced by Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It sheds light on the deaths of seven young Indigenous students who left their homes to pursue education and, in doing so, exposed the harsh realities faced by Indigenous communities and the urgent need for improved education, healthcare, and safety for Indigenous youth across the country.
For many book club members, reading Seven Fallen Feathers was an emotionally challenging experience, but one we were glad we did as a team. We learned a lot about the challenges faced by Indigenous communities, which prompted meaningful discussions. Lindsay shared that the book enabled her to recognize the privilege she experienced while growing up with the educational opportunities she had. Parents of the children in the book described the gut-wrenching choice they were faced with between sending their children away to schools in Thunder Bay - with the hope of better opportunities but knowing there could be a cost to safety - or choosing to keep their child home to attend local schools that would not provide the same level of educational opportunity. It was heartbreaking and frustrating to learn that some parents are faced with this awful decision.
Here are some other reflections from our team:
Melissa: Reading Seven Fall Feathers is a really important step in every Canadian’s journey of Truth and Reconciliation. As I read this book, I was constantly reflecting on my life during 2001 to 2011, when seven Indigenous youth died in Thunder Bay. The stark contrast of my experience graduating high school and choosing a university to attend, and finding belonging and support is the strongest illustration of the privilege that I have in our society. Privilege that I have not earned. While I was enjoying my youth; peers and neighbours of Thunder Bay, were experiencing a very different reality of discrimination, surveillance, traumatic separation from their homes and families; that all had tragic endings. The context and environment that shaped the experiences of the seven Indigenous youth were a direct result of the complex historical and current issues surrounding Indigenous rights, education, and the ongoing effects of Colonization. As a white settler of Swiss Mennonite heritage living in Waterloo, Ontario I must start with the truths of our past and present. The Mennonites were the first permanent white settlers in present day Waterloo region. In reading this book I also faced the hard truths that the Mennonites ran three residential schools. Growing up in the Mennonite faith tradition, I was taught about the values of pacifism, which is to refuse violence, and to seriously live this out in the daily practices of peacemaking. And we know that residential schools used forces of violence, abuse and cultural genocide on Indigenous families and children. Reckoning with my personal connection to this horrific past and impacts of intergenerational trauma, lead me to further reading in the Conrad Grebel Review - the myths of peacemaking. I believe these are necessary steps on a deeply personal-level to be able to understand how we show up in our work and efforts to embody the values of peace, friendship and respect - which were the foundations of our treaty relationships that we have failed to uphold as settlers.
Michi: I am grateful to work for an organization that takes their commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion seriously by encouraging learning and listening to others. Reading Seven Fallen Feathers opened my eyes to the seriously flawed educational system that impacts many Indigenous communities in Ontario. While there is still so much to learn and understand, I am hopeful that we can continue to move towards reconciliation in Canada.
Tin: Seven Fallen Feathers offered very important learnings about Canada’s history of colonialism and the impacts that are still felt to this day. I had the privilege of learning about the forced assimilation, residential schools, and other colonized destruction of First Nations on Turtle Island. The language used in Seven Fallen Feathers felt intentional to remind us of our nation’s colonial history and the slow-moving or inaction by political leaders and non-Indigenous communities. Seven Fallen Feathers offered heart-warming/heart-wrenching stories that emphasize the importance of our work to expose inequities in our respective communities and bring a lens and line of questioning that truly seek to enhance the lives of all people and those historically marginalized by policies, practices, and social norms embedded in our lives. It saddens me by the lack of progress towards reconciliation in Canada.
Talaga's journalistic approach in giving voice to the families, friends, and communities affected by these tragedies highlighted the need for us all to listen and learn from Indigenous perspectives. Reading Seven Fallen Feathers not only exposed the problems, but also encouraged us to take meaningful action and reinforced our commitment to reconciliation. Our book club discussions ignited a desire to get involved in local initiatives, support Indigenous causes, and advocate for systemic change.
In our book club, we've learned that reading and discussing books like this one are essential steps towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. Have you read any books lately that have inspired you? We would love to hear any book recommendations for our book club!