The best things non-Indigenous people can do is listen and learn

June is Indigenous* History Month in Canada. June is also the month in which Canada was provided the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

We now have over 100 years of reports into the mistreatment and ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples by Canada. It started with the Bryce Report in 1907, in which Dr. P.H. Bryce noted the horrendous conditions of residential schools and the extremely high death rate of children who were sent to them. Prior to that, there was the extermination of the Beothuk people of Newfoundland during the 1800s. Their demise is a significant strand in the pattern of ongoing genocide.

However, it must be noted that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and the MMIWG reports are merely the latest—not the first—of their kind. Canadians have repeatedly been asked, for over a century now, to honour the treaties and dismantle the oppressive systems that uphold and reproduce colonization and white supremacy. For over a century, we as a society have ignored that call. 

For over 100 years, numerous commissions, reports, and inquiries have taken place in an effort to showcase the impacts of ongoing colonization, genocide, and systemic oppression experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. In 1996, The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples issued its final report, urging Canadians to begin engaging in a national process of reconciliation, and to change the existing relationships. The recommendations were provided to the governments of the day, and the same result occurred: recommendations for change were heard, shelved, and ignored. The issue here is not lack of knowledge: it is one of apathy. 

As with previous publications, the MMIWG reports outline next steps to be taken, both on individual and systemic levels. We have been asked, once again, to take our relationships with Indigenous peoples seriously. We have been asked to honour the promises made when treaties were signed. We have been tasked with the responsibility for doing better and building community instead of sitting back and benefitting from ongoing oppression. The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is found here:

While there are specific calls for justice outlined in the report, it’s crucial to address the four pathways listed below and quoted directly from the report:

Historical, multigenerational, and intergenerational trauma;

Social and economic marginalization;

Maintaining the status quo and institutional lack of will; and

Ignoring the agency and expertise of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

In learning, we must remember: as colonized and targeted groups, some nations or individuals may not be in any way interested in engaging with non-Indigenous people. That response is justified, and yet, it must not stop you. Learn the names, histories, and protocols of the nations whose traditional territories you live and/or work on. For example, whose territories were stolen in the process of establishing Edmonton, St. Albert, Redwater, or Leduc? In order to do better going forward, we must first understand what has occurred to get us to where we are now. We are not responsible for what others did prior to our existence, but we are responsible for repairing the damage they did in the name of creating our systems.

Canada’s mainstream media and journalists, predictably, responded without apparently even reading the report or its 46-page supplementary report, “A Legal Analysis of Genocide.” Cindy Blackstock (Gitksan), executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, created a learning series on Twitter in response, with the hashtag #isitgenocide. The best way to learn is to listen to Indigenous peoples themselves. Whether on social media or through literary works, some folks I particularly recommend are Alicia Elliott, Dawn Dumont, Jesse Wente, Russ Diabo, Richard Wagamese, Tanya Tagaq, Tanya Talaga, Arthur Manuel, and Pam Palmater. Treaty acknowledgements usually discuss the fact that things are happening on the traditional travelling grounds of numerous nations. What about acknowledging the responsibilities we have as partners in these treaties? I, personally, further acknowledge my responsibilities under and as a beneficiary of Treaty 6. We are all treaty people.

*While “Indigenous” is used as an umbrella term, it must be noted that “Indigenous peoples” belong to many different nations, with each community having their own histories, cultures, languages, perspectives, and so on.

Featured Image: The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls outlines the next steps to be taken. | Pixabay