The "Canadian" Problem: A Letter to Canadians in lieu of Orange Shirt Day

Today I had posted a photo to my Instagram account talking about my connection to the Indian Residential School and day school systems in Canada. I talked about how my parents and grandparents had attended these schools and how we, or rather I, am still working through the emotional and mental effects that were passed down intergenerationally. Such emotional and mental effects include dealing with my anxious tendencies, internalized anger and shame, experiences that are often far too common among Indigenous peoples. I can’t speak to my parents’ experiences or my grandparents’ but I can speak to my own.

As I published the photo and caption I began to think of ideas and thoughts I may have failed to include. One of them in particular, was the fact that these experiences are ongoing issues and continue to be connected to the contemporary political, social and economic climate that is Canada. While it is true that it is my (our) responsibility as an Indigenous person(s) to find ways to cope and heal from the remnants of pain that have been passed down to me (us), this does not mean that settler-Canadians are let off the hook.

 There have been numerous studies conducted in Canada that affirm that there are many positive effects to integrating or reintroducing Indigenous cultural knowledges and practices to Indigenous peoples and communities. As Indigenous peoples, we know this is a given. We hear it time and time again. We hear about the success story of the Indian who was lost, but then found themselves through ceremony. The success story of the Indian who traded in the bottle for a feather and “found” happiness. There are mainstream Canadians who often love to hear about these stories about the Indians who find their way. While there are many Canadians who genuinely care about the fact that Indigenous peoples are healing from the impacts these residential and day schools had on our families, these stories are often only celebrated when they fit within a framework that is palatable to them.

 The reason I say this, is because there are still obstacles in place that prevent us from healing. As mentioned earlier, integrating and reintroducing our knowledges and practices have positive effects on our spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health. There is a discord in many of our people where connections to and understandings of our laws, philosophies and practices have been severed. Our bodies are healthier when we hunt, gather and eat wild foods. Our emotional, spiritual and mental health is improved when we have a firm understanding of who we are – when we are confident in our identities. Our identities are rooted in place and in our connections to land. How can we transmit our knowledges and practices when we are restricted from accessing these lands? Our responsibilities to our homelands extend beyond the confines of the reservation.

 If reclaiming our identities through our traditional knowledges and practices facilitates healing, then it is harder to heal, because our traditional land-use areas become altered or increasingly restricted year after year to make way for the extraction of resources. It is harder to heal when young Indigenous girls are dehumanized, and are taken advantage of for not having enough “street smarts” in the cities because they lived in the reserve their whole life. It is harder to heal when Indigenous youth have to fear for their lives in their own homelands because there are trigger-happy, territorial Canadians who value capital over morale.

 And so while I may still have a lot of work to do in healing myself to ensure that I am healthy, kind, and conscious of my own emotions in my interactions with you, you and your families still have, if not more, work to do too. As Indigenous peoples we know how to heal ourselves, we know what to do, but we can’t do it we are prevented from doing so on our own terms and in accordance with our own laws and belief systems. The residential and day school era are part of a much greater timeline of gaining control and conquering the land by removing us from it, since 1492, through the use of colonial laws, policies and belief systems.

While the residential and day school systems may not be your fault, you are still faced with a choice, everyday, on whether you will choose to be a part of the solution or continue being a part of the problem. Being part of the solution begins with listening, opening your heart and mind and making the initiative to learn more about us and our stories.

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