Before visiting Vancouver and the UBC campus, I had never witnessed a land acknowledgement. Born and raised in Montreal, to my knowledge, this was something that was simply not done. So, when I arrived at UBC in the fall, and learnt that land acknowledgements were fairly common, traditional practices, I realized my understanding of colonialism was far from where it should be. If I’m being honest, I had a truly defining moment the first time someone asked me what land I was born on. I had absolutely no idea. I remember feeling so embarrassed; this was not a difficult question, yet I could not figure out the answer. No one had ever asked me that before I moved out west, so it was something I simply never had to think about.
I realized I had a responsibility, not only as a feminist, but also as a Canadian-settler, to learn more about the implications of colonialism and the ongoing effects that are still present today. As an outreach volunteer at the SASC, I was fortunate enough to participate in workshops that discussed decolonisation and the continuing effects of colonialism. Moreover, I met wonderful, intelligent people who helped me understand the complexities of these issues and the implicit connections between colonialism and violence against women. Most importantly, I learnt that Canadian-settlers, such as myself, have so much work left to do in order to fully understand and address the needs of indigenous people in this country.
As part of my learning process, I decided to write a paper about residential schools and the ongoing effects of colonialism. I focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and highlighted some of the ways the Canadian-settler is essentially removed from the healing process due to the broad terminology and discourse that is used. While I was researching, I learnt that an alarming number of Canadians are not even aware of the current matters surrounding Aboriginal people, like high incarceration rates, substance abuse and continuing poverty in indigenous communities (TRC, 2015). A survey conducted in 2008 found that one third of Canadians have trouble identifying even one issue that affects First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples (Nagy, 2012).
Ultimately, I discussed that one of the main issues in this report is the emphasis the TRC (2015) puts on learning about the history of the residential schools, implying that revealing these past experiences is key to establishing reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Towards the end of the introduction, the commission (2015) writes “All Canadian children and youth deserve to know Canada’s honest history, including what happened in the residential schools, and to appreciate the rich history and knowledge of Indigenous nations…reconciliation offers a new way of living together” (p.21). The language used here is very general and suggests that if all Canadian children learn about residential schools everyone can live together peacefully. This does not offer a critical approach to reconciliation whatsoever and isolates the current struggle that Aboriginal people face everyday. It is of utmost importance to be aware of the past but focusing the learning process around residential schools limits an understanding of colonial violence. Additionally, it construes an idea that the responsibility of reconciliation falls on the government. While it is necessary to call upon the government to invoke change, reconciliation must be addressed and lived between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
So, while volunteering with the SASC and writing a paper on colonialism has definitely enriched my knowledge on this issue, I am aware that I still have so much left to learn. I am committed to fully recognizing my role as a Canadian-settler and working alongside other social justice workers to address the various issues that are present in indigenous communities.
Nagy, Rosemary. (2012). Truth, Reconciliation and Settler Denial: Specifying the Canada-South Africa Analogy. Human Rights Review, 13(3), 349-367. Retrieved November 7, 2015, from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12142-012-0224-4/fulltext.html
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015, June 3). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future. Retrieved November 1-12, 2015, from http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Exec_Summary_2015_05_31_web_o.pdf