Truth comes before reconciliation. That’s the message a group of Indigenous organizations in the London, Ont. region have this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
The group is launching an online education hub for the wider community to learn the truth about Canada’s history of colonization, to grow understanding of the realities Indigenous people face today.
“The work of educating about colonization and residential schools is a really heavy one. It requires a lot of emotional labour that’s often placed on Indigenous people,” said Alana Pawley, Atlohsa Family Healing Services’ knowledge exchange co-ordinator.
“We are aware that it can be a really difficult day for Indigenous communities, and we wanted to be proactive by creating this website,” she said.
It contains background information on topics such as the Doctrine of Discovery, Indian Act, residential schools and cultural traditions.
The group hopes the public will use the resources to educate themselves and grow cultural awareness and to “look at the history of how Canada was created and the injustices that continue to exist as a result of that.”
Pawley says she has seen the need for more education while doing workshops in the community.
“It’s really common for people to be very surprised as they learn about the history of how our country came to be here, and so that is why the education is much needed,” she said.
She says she believes truth and reconciliation is a two-part task that requires action, and the first step is knowing the facts.
… it does begin with learning the truth about what’s happened in the past,– Cassandra Harris, Atlohsa Family Healing Services
The idea for the website first emerged at a planning meeting for commemorating the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Atlohsa Family Healing Services is guiding the project in partnership with the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, City of London, Oneida Nation of the Thames, and Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre.
Local Chippewa and Oneida knowledge keepers were consulted to ensure accuracy for cultural questions about smudging, sacred fires and pow wows, said Pawley.
“I continuously see Indigenous people doing this work and being so generous and gracious and inclusive,” said Cassandra Harris, cultural safety trainer at Atlohsa, who is part of the team launching the website.
“I’d really love to see more settlers stepping up to do that work. But it does begin with learning the truth about what’s happened in the past.”
Learning is a responsibility and a privilege
Harris believes the work of truth and reconciliation starts with education and listening, she said.
“There’s no simple, quick answer. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of openness, patience, and it takes the willingness of people to sit with the discomfort of learning the truth.”
Sitting with that discomfort is necessary for healing, and eventually those conversations can lead to true change, she said.
Pauline Wakeham sees the work of truth and reconciliation for non-Indigenous people as a life-long learning process, she said.
“I don’t see learning just as a responsibility for settlers, but actually as a profound privilege and honour,” said Wakeham, an associate professor in English and writing studies at Western University with expertise in settlers’ responsibilities to truth and reconciliation.
Being present, building relationships, and making the effort of showing up to listen and learn is a big part of the ongoing work, she said.
‘There’s still so much work to be done’
To Wakeham, the website is a “tremendous” gift.
“I think it is a really important report and reminder of how much work that needs to happen still with regard to learning and engaging with the truth for settlers and other non-Indigenous peoples across Canada,” she said.
She’s grateful for the Indigenous intellectuals, artists and community members who take the time to share their knowledge, she said, but believes there’s still so much work to be done at a societal level.
“It’s really remarkable that these organizations are giving to help non-Indigenous Canadians learn,” she said. “It’s also very important to recognize that this week and [the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation] is a very emotional and difficult day for those communities as well.”
Visit the website here: Truth Comes Before Reconciliation.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.