Honouring the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

Artwork by artist Carey Newman.

Honouring the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation: Having the humility to learn

On September 30, 2021, we mark the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in this land now known as Canada. Today and in the future, as we honour the strength and culture of Residential School Survivors and honour the memory of those who did not survive, those of us who do not self-identify as Indigenous can take steps to actively engage in learning, unlearning, and decolonizing actions.

Here are some reflective questions we might ask ourselves in this ongoing work:

  • Have I taken steps to educate myself, for example by reading key documents such as reports from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal PeoplesUNDRIPTRCMMIWGIn Plain Sight?
  • Am I aware and familiar with my own wounds, triggers, fears, and defence mechanisms that might be activated in this work? What steps can I take on my own healing journey? How might I self-regulate when I am feeling triggered myself? How can I respond in the moment and in culturally sensitive ways in my relationships with Indigenous colleagues, students, and friends?
  • Do I understand the difference (and connection) between individual acts versus structural and systemic discrimination, including racism and other forms of oppression?
  • Do I understand Indigenous-specific racism? Do I recognize how terminology like equity/equality, diversity, and inclusion can be problematic in that it erases the specificity of Indigenous peoples’ experiences in this land? For example, to this day, legislation that dictates aspects of Indigenous Peoples’ everyday life is still in effect through the Indian Act.
  • Have I reflected on how and what I first learned about Indigenous people and examined my mental models (preconceived perceptions) about Indigenous people?
  • Have I explored and understand the power imbalances inherent in being non-Indigenous and how I might be perceived, received, and understood by Indigenous people as a result of this and their experiences historically and presently with non-Indigenous people and systems?
  • What am I doing to understand how my own lived experience influences how I interact with others? How can I expand my cultural humility and ability to foster cultural safety?
  • Do I recognize the importance of my choices in language, e.g.,
  1. Noting Residential Schools as institutions to recognize that the intent was so much more than education, and these were not just schools.
  2. When speaking of Indigenous Children’s attendance at Residential Schools, referring to children as taken (even if parents brought their children to the school). This was not voluntary as parents faced legal and judicial ramifications if they did not send their children to residential schools; it was law.
  3. Using the term genocide to reflect the true experience and not softening the language to mitigate discomfort. The Residential School system was intended to “kill the Indian in the child;” this is documented in government correspondence. Page 1 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Final Report describes cultural genocide and why this term is appropriate.
  4. Not using possessive pronouns like “our” or “Canada’s" when referring to Indigenous peoples.
  5. Referring to Indigenous communities as rights and title holders, not stakeholders.
  • Have I explored and do I understand the significance of Indigenous people working from a rights-based framework and have I taken the time to learn more about Bill 41 DRIPAUNDRIPSection 35 of the Constitution, the Tsilhqo’tin court decisions and other case law to understand more about Indigenous resistance and resurgence and how these policy contexts might apply to my work /organization?
  • Do I endeavour to keep myself up to date with current affairs related to Indigenous rights, for example through news media such as Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and IndigiNews
  • Do I know how to pronounce the names of the Indigenous Peoples whose lands I’m currently on and do I understand why I acknowledge Indigenous territories? Maps themselves are imperfect and constantly shifting and here’s one place to begin: https://native-land.ca/
  • Have I endeavoured to build authentic relationships with and learn more about the Indigenous Peoples on whose lands I currently live?
  • Do I appreciate the natural and cultural heritage of the lands and waterways near my home? Do I understand how Indigenous peoples have stewarded the lands and waterways for time immemorial and respect how these relationships continue to this day? Do I make time to get outdoors to cherish the natural systems that are surviving or thriving near my home? Do I support the next generation in developing this connection with the land?
  • Am I familiar with my own cultural heritage and the names of the Indigenous peoples on whose lands I was born?
  • Have I given some thought to Murray Sinclair’s four questions: Where do I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? Who am I?
  • How might I integrate the Seven Grandfather Teachings into my work? Or consider the impact of my work seven generations into the future?
  • Have I explored what it means to walk alongside Indigenous people, and why Indigenous people are working to amplify their voices?
  • Finally, the term ally can be controversial, especially in this era of performative activism/allyship. Have I reflected on what it really means to be an ally to Indigenous communities? See also: http://reseaumtlnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Ally_March.pdf  and https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/beyond-red-dress-day-7-calls-to-action-for-indigenous-allies/

We acknowledge that this list of reflective questions emerged from two School of Leadership Studies (SLS) circles (March 29 and April 26, 2021) with Indigenous Alumni, Indigenous Advisory Council members, Indigenous Staff, and current core and associate faculty. Thank you to the many people who contributed their wisdom to compile these questions.

In particular, we would like to extend our gratitude to

  • Christine Webster, whose 2019 Master’s Thesis titled, Traversing Culture and Academy, offered guidance to faculty and staff at RRU
  • Teara Fraser for hosting the two circles in the spring of 2021 that led to these reflective questions
  • Dr. Mike Lickers for his ongoing work as the Indigenous Scholar in Residence in the MA-Leadership program and his former role on the SLS’ Advisory Council
  • All the Indigenous Alumni, including Marcia Turner, Dawn Lindsay-Burns, Charles Ayotte ᓱᐦᑲᐦᒑᐦᑫᐧᐤ, Courtney Defriend, Erin Dixon, Loren Sahara, and others who participated in the two spring 2021 circles and have shared their wisdom, experiences, and feedback with SLS
  • Eunice Joe for her helpful edits to this revised post.
  • David Stevenson and Lorelei Higgins for their participation in the March 29, 2021 circle and for their work as members of the SLS Advisory Council, where David is also the Chairperson
  • Lexi (Alexia) McKinnon for her work facilitating circles with LEAD 516 MA-Leadership students and her guidance in centering Indigenous wisdom and decolonizing practice
  • Drs. Susanne Thiessen and Paul Whitinui for their ongoing support and work supervising MA-Leadership thesis students
  • RRU’s Indigenous Leadership Team and members of the Heron People Circle for their ongoing guidance

With humility we acknowledge that reflecting on these questions is only the beginning of a lifelong learning process and a first step on the long road to decolonization.

This blog has been updated since our June 21, 2021 post here.

Thanks to Carey Newman for his permission to use the image in this post.