The New Generation of Reconciliation
On the last week of school my seven year old daughter came home & told me what she learned about residential school in class. You can view the video I recored on my twitter feed which she stated, “the Settlers thought they were smarter so they invented residential school to teach the First Nations a lesson.” I was impressed with the school for educating Grade 2’s on Canada’s history of colonialism and the impacts of residential school. It was never discussed when I was in school, and I didn’t start using the word “settler” until university. To me, Kayla’s ability to articulate that phrase meant we’re succeeding in educating our children on Reconciliation. (If you want to learn more about residential school and reconciliation please listen to the Women Warriors podcast EP09 Marcia Mirasty on Language Revitalization, Residential School & Reconciliation).
As their proud Metis mother, and Indigenous adoptee that has struggled to claim my heritage, I feel compelled to educate them on Canada’s colonial legacy and reconciliation. I told them my own story of adoption and my Journey to Reconciliation (click to listen to the podcast episode), about our Metis heritage and how their Great-Grandma, Anne attended residential school. They know that Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their parents and only allowed to see them during the summer. We discussed how these children weren’t allowed to speak their language or practice their culture, and that it resulted in trauma for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples.
My explanation and demonstration of trauma was the homeless people downtown Yellowknife. I told them that some residential school survivors became sick in their bodies and minds and that their “trauma” prevented them from getting a job and having a home. Also, that we are privileged, and with that privilege comes a social responsibility to advocate on behalf of those that are sick, suffering, and unable to overcome their trauma. We can help those that are suffering by educating our family and friends about residential school – this process is called Reconciliation.
My girls represent the first generation of Canadians that will have a powerful understanding of Reconciliation. They will know the Canadian governments role in historical trauma and how social structures, power, and inequality continue to shape the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Some Indigenous peoples are discouraged by the lack of progress with reconciliation. In this CBC interview Metis artist Christi Belcourt calls reconciliation a farce, but I believe that we are planting the seeds of change in our children. I also understand that I cannot force these seeds to grow faster, and that it may take generations for these seeds to bloom.
I choose to be hopeful about Canada’s future of reconciliation because I have faith I am teaching my girls how to be inclusive and respectful of Indigenous peoples history. They will have the knowledge they need to form their own opinions on how to reconcile the past with the present, and create a brighter future for Canada.
Part 2 of 4 Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife
My next conversation about land and healing took place at my Aunt Karan and Uncle Arnold’s house. I wanted to have a conversation with Karan about restorative justice because she’s a Supreme Court Judge, she intimately understands the North and she’s my family so she can’t escape me. Plus, she listens to my podcast and I considered interviewing her, but I now understand that judges must remain neutral and cannot be activists, especially on a podcast titled “Women Warriors.”
The highlights from our conversation included reconciliation and justice, restorative justice and some suggested resources. We start the conversation by Karan telling me she organized a Superior Court Judges conference in May in Yellowknife centered on the theme reconciliation. We discuss the differences in understanding of reconciliation across this country and how the people in the Northwest Territories may have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the impact of colonialism due to the prominence of the Indigenous population, and the awareness of the “intergenerational transmission of historic trauma”. She states that many offenders are dealing with the impacts of residential school including addictions, mental illness, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It can be difficult to get treatment before these afflicted individuals commit a crime.
Next, Karan states that the criminal justice system has traditionally been based on punishment. But, the idea that “everything will be fine after a person goes to prison” is not reality in many cases. The sentence is served, but the effects of trauma remain.
Many Indigenous peoples historically practiced restorative justice. It is defined by justiceeducation.ca as focusing “on healing the harm done by the offence and rehabilitating the offender to avoid future harms.” A healing circle is more effective because “offenders are made to face and accept the harms they have caused. Victims often find the process much more satisfying and empowering than conventional justice procedures as well. They often report feeling less fear and trauma after taking part in a healing circle.” Because Indigenous peoples’ survival was dependent on cooperation and living in harmony with one another, their goal was healing relationships.
Karan says one way reconciliation can move forward within the justice system is by paying close attention the Gladue factors in a person’s background. For example, here’s a case in which Justice Shaner considered Gladue and Ipeelee factors in sentencing. Judges can take into consideration Indigenous peoples backgrounds and may insist on more detail about their past in their pre-sentence report. They can use the TRC report to guide them in understanding the impact of Gladue factors on a person and they must consider reasonable alternatives to jail like probation, suspended sentences, and recommend correctional facilities within NWT to stay closer to family and participate in on the land and other culturally relevant programs.
Finally, Karan states that the justice system works in silos, which means judges are limited to imposing sentences. It’s up to Corrections to place the offenders, but not all correctional facilities offer on the land camps, or appropriate Indigenous cultural land activities for inmates.
The justice system is where many Indigenous peoples suffering from the impacts of residential school end up. Within the system they cannot access the healing they need due to the nature of the system and the lack of resources or understanding dedicated to traditional Indigenous justice principles, including “on the land” programs. Karan suggested two resources to better understand how the land, Indigenous culture, and healing are linked: Elder Be’sha Blondin “Land is Our Education” and the Angry Inuk.
In relation to last week’s newsletter about my essay on the Giant Mine Site, here are links to articles on CBC North.