S.P. Joseph Lyons read from his childrenâ€™s book â€śLittle Bear in Foster Careâ€ť as a group looked on, including Patsy Anne Day, pictured at right.
By Spencer Seymour
When the term "Truth and Reconciliation" is mentioned, we rarely break down what it means. It's become somewhat of a blanket term for issues connected to the historical mistreatment of the Indigenous peoples in Canada. During the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation ceremony in St. Marys, Indigenous author S.P. Joseph Lyons spoke to St. Marys residents and one of the key ideas he discussed was what the truth in "Truth and Reconciliation" means. As he explained, the truth isn't just about residential schools -- though that is obviously a major part of it -- it's also about understanding that the Indigenous people weren't cavepeople before the European settlers arrived.
"When I was in school, history lessons about North America started with a covered wagon," Lyons remembered, "Wide-open free land for anybody who wants it. Nobody's living here." Of course, that disregarded the existence of the Indigenous people, and Lyons explained how, when the Indigenous people were mentioned in those history lessons, the education given didn't come close to painting a complete picture.
There is some belief that, before the arrival of the Europeans, that Indigenous people were very primitive and unenlightened. That they wouldn't have survived long-term were it not for the settling by the Europeans. However, Indigenous populations had not only survived but thrived on Turtle Island.
"We were not savages. We were not cannibals. And we did fall behind because of the technological advancements brought over from Europe. We were strong. We lived with the land. We lived with each other." Lyons also explained how the communities were run by den mothers and for over 25,000 years, the women-led societies lived successfully, with respect and care for the land they borrowed from future generations.
Then, there are the truths after the arrival of settlers. Many of us know very little about the interactions between the Indigenous peoples and the settlers because little has been taught about those interactions. And as Lyons made clear, making people aware of these truths about our history isn't to make non-Indigenous people feel guilty, but knowing what happened is the only way to begin to move forward and create a truly equal society.
At first, Indigenous communities welcomed the settlers and, in the early days, things were fairly harmonious. However, the settlers began to ask for more. More control over the land and its resources. More control over the Indigenous peoples. And when the indigenous peoples began pushing back at the overreach of the settlers, the settlers began to take rather than ask. Through economic manipulation, control over Indigenous children, and even the weaponization of smallpox -- a disease against which the Indigenous communities had no immunization -- the settlers seized more and more power. What once seemed like it had the potential for a collaboration of cultures and backgrounds became an unbalanced societal construct that favoured the European face and suppressed the Indigenous culture.