Town of St. Marys marks first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

  • Community   Wednesday, October 6, 2021   Spencer Seymour
A large group gathered in Milt Dunnell Field to hear Indigenous author S.P. Joseph Lyons who spoke for about one hour on a various of issues and did a reading from his published book, “Little Bear in Foster Care.”

A large group gathered in Milt Dunnell Field to hear Indigenous author S.P. Joseph Lyons who spoke for about one hour on a various of issues and did a reading from his published book, “Little Bear in Foster Care.”

By Spencer Seymour
A solemn yet hopeful day of education took place last Thursday, September 30th, as St. Marys was one of many communities across Canada to take part in marking the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The purpose of the national holiday was to educate Canadians about the suffering and inequality endured by Canada's Indigenous population and to promote true fairness and equality between all Canadians. To mark the occasion, a sacred fire led by local Indigenous educator Patsy Anne Day was held at Milt Dunnell Field along with handprint art and a reading and discussion of "Little Bear in Foster Care", a book written about Indigenous author S.P. Joseph Lyons.
Andrea Macko from the Town said there was a steady flow of visitors all day, keen to learn more about Indigenous issues. She also noted that around eight or nine school classes from Holy Name, D.C.V.I., and Little Falls visited the sacred burning. Sacred fires are lit in Indigenous cultures to honour Creation, to give thanks, and for personal reflection.
A large sheet was decorated throughout the day with orange handprints and will likely be displayed by the municipality at some point. At around 4:00 p.m., S.P. Joseph Lyons arrived to speak to the visitors and read his children's book, "Little Bear in Foster Care". The main character of Lyons' book is a young bear who is taken from their family and ends up in foster care. This fate is painfully common for Indigenous kids, so the book tries to help Indigenous kids stuck in the foster care system that feel angry or upset know that they're not alone. It isn't just for Indigenous kids, though, as it also should be considered an educational resource for non-Indigenous kids.

The Indian Trust Fund

By Spencer Seymour
Where misunderstandings on issues facing Indigenous peoples take a sharp, divisive turn in Canada is when it comes to funding for Indigenous communities. A common feeling among non-Indigenous people is that Indigenous communities get everything for free, paid for by Canadian taxpayers.
However, S.P. Joseph Lyons introduced me and many others to the Indian Trust Fund, which was an account created that holds all the money collected or held by the Crown for the "use and benefit" of Indigenous peoples. In 1951, the Indian Act and Financial Administration Act were amended to consolidate the Indian Trust Fund into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF). This means that after 1951, funds owed solely to the Indigenous peoples were no longer held separate from Canadian funds. At the same time, new status and registration rules increased the Canadian government's control over First Nations' governance and monies.
According to the Yellowhead Institute, the Indian Trust Fund currently sits at $634 million. The money in these accounts comes mainly from the sale of land or capital assets or revenue generated by First Nations, such as "interest earned on Band capital and proceeds from the sale of renewable resources."
However, when Britain stopped funding Indian Affairs in Canada, the Canadian government used money from the Indian Trust Fund to fund First Nations-Crown relations. Essentially, the money owned by Indigenous peoples was used by the Canadian government to pay for its treaty obligations as opposed to being delivered and spent on improving and bettering Indigenous communities. More money was taken from the Indian Trust Fund and used for colonial infrastructure, while more rules and restrictions were placed on Indigenous peoples in terms of how they could spend their own money. The control now wielded by the government over Indigenous peoples and their financial resources was one of the central aspects in the Crown developing a strategy of total assimilation.
Unsurprisingly, record-keeping of the monies that flowed in and out of this fund was poor. Records currently show that around $36 billion flowed have passed through the Indian Trust Fund, but that is only the known sum and the actual number could be significantly higher.
Even if that $36 billion is the correct number, though, disorganization, mismanagement, and outright theft have seen much of that money not go towards its intended purpose of bettering the lives of the Indigenous people, even as the capital funds they create and the revenue they earn to this day continue to make its way into the CRF, where they may or may not be invested back in the communities in which they were created. Then, when investments are made in these communities, they face backlash from a portion of their fellow Canadians upset by these investments. The fact is that the Canadian government owes its Indigenous people a large sum due to centuries of their monies being used as a mechanism of control and not for improving their living conditions.

Intergenerational trauma and misconceptions

By Spencer Seymour
Many people today are afraid of bears, even if they've never seen or encountered one before. But somewhere along the way, many, many years ago, someone was traumatized when a bear attacked their family. That trauma became woven into their DNA and, thus, also was woven into the DNA of the next generations.
That same principle can be used, in part, to explain what the term "intergenerational trauma" means. Indigenous people who had their children stolen by the Canadian government or the children themselves who were placed in residential schools live the rest of their lives with a trauma that is impossible to get rid of. Even if they're resilient enough to overcome and build a better life for themselves, they still carry that trauma that is woven into their DNA. Because of that, the fear and trauma they've felt, at least in part, get passed along to the next generation.
Another aspect of intergenerational trauma is that one may not consider that there may be different forms of trauma stemming from the same cause. For example, a child is taken from their parents and placed in a residential school, where they suffer unspeakable abuse and neglect. They then are sent into the adult world with a warped mind and no memory of what a loving, caring household is. This person, now an adult, goes on to have kids of their own, and they become abusive and neglectful. As a result, those children either grow up in a traumatic household, are placed into foster care, or both. At the root of all of that trauma is the residential school abuse, and while it manifests in different ways from one generation to the next, the trauma, oftentimes, doesn't end after one generation; it compounds.
During his discussion during St. Marys' ceremony on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Indigenous author S.P. Joseph Lyons said one of his favourite things to do is take questions on misconceptions that non-Indigenous people have about their Indigenous counterparts. When asked about some of the most common, he listed that people believe that Indigenous people "are all alcoholics, we don't want to work, and why don't you just get over it?"
Firstly, Indigenous people are not all alcoholics and not all lazy and unwilling to work. These beliefs are examples of racially motivated stereotypes created many years ago by those who discriminated against Indigenous people to maintain power and dominance over them.
More difficult to work through is the thought that Indigenous communities should just get over what happened in the past. There is a lack of understanding on how deep the trauma that Indigenous people have endured is rooted and how hard it is to overcome that pain. In addition to the horrors that they've faced, Indigenous people are also discriminated against racially. As mentioned previously, they are dealing with intergenerational trauma that non-Indigenous people (like myself, for the record) could have no possible way to fully understand. And even for the people that do go looking for help and try to make a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities, the supports are simply not as accessible to them as they are for other people. If life was a sprint, Indigenous people are starting many steps behind non-Indigenous people because of a system that was built centuries ago with the intent to hold Indigenous people back.

The Truth

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.

The Reconciliation

By Spencer Seymour
"Were we ever conciled to begin with?"
Author S.P. Joseph Lyons asked this question to the attendees of the sacred burning at The Flats on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. And when you really consider it, it's tough to say we were.
In the early days following to arrival of the European settlers, there was trade and baseline cooperation. Though, deep bonds of friendship and an agreement to share the land and walk hand-in-hand were never really forged. Slowly, the settlers took more and gave less, until all that was left to take was the Indigenous peoples' culture.
Now, though, we are at a point as non-Indigenous Canadians where we are learning what the Indigenous peoples have gone through. As difficult as it is to hear, we need the First Nations communities to continue sharing these experiences and teaching us the whole truth of Canada's history. And in return, they need their non-Indigenous counterparts to listen, learn, and care.
It's okay if you have misconceptions. It's okay if, during your process of learning more about the history of the Indigenous peoples, you find out something you'd always thought was actually incorrect; that's called learning. It's okay to not want to believe that the country you love could have done such terrible things to its own people. None of this is about feeling like all of this is somehow your fault, just like Lyons told the people listening to him speak in St. Marys.
What this is all about is reaching the ultimate goal of a country where Indigenous communities have clean drinking water and aren't worried about discrimination because of the clothes they wear or the hair on their head. A country where the wide variety of Indigenous languages and customs can thrive and be enjoyed by everyone who wants to enjoy them. A country where there is real friendship between the Indigenous person and the non-Indigenous person. A country of compassionate friends, aware of their history, who fix the systems that are broken, and who finally heal the wounds of the past. A country, at long last, conciled, never to be in need of reconciliation.