Reconciliation and Anti-racism
The opening night of the Toronto Aboriginal Festival was joined by the editor of “In This Together” Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, and contributors of the novel, Erika Luckert and Carleigh Baker. The panel also included Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Chief Stacey Laforme and Elder Garry Sault.
Elder Garry Sault began the evening with a prayer. Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail was the moderator for the panel. She began by asking the panel to discuss what’s important to them when discussing reconciliation and anti-racism. Stacey Laforme took the floor by stating the importance of the environment and the dangers of geoengineering. Stacey said that in order for citizens of this land to truly respect and understand the importance of the environment, part of the solution should begin during the citizenship ceremony. He proposed, “words about protecting the land where you will rest your feet when taking citizenship oath.” After Stacey spoke, Elder Garry educated the audience about the residential schools, nicknamed “Mush Hole” . He described it as a horror place where beatings took place, emotional abuse, etc. He said the Mush Hole didn’t teach children love. He told us about his brother who had joined the Navy and how he described the Navy as a “piece of cake compared to residential school”. Eder Garry was honest and real. He said, ” Society never treated us any better”…and that now is the time to “bring the truth out, to show what we suffered and the atrocities.”
In the novel “In This Together”, there are often enlightening moments that are explored and discovered by the contributors . These moments are described as “aha” moments. Danielle asks the panel what are some moments they would describe as “aha”. Erika Luckert described that her moment of “aha” is when she truly realized how important education is. She came across this moment when she read the document of “Treaty 6” and took in what the document actually encompassed. That’s when she realized that as a society we need to be educated more on these matters. The importance of learning these things and making sure its in the school curriculum. Following Erika Luckert, was Carleigh Baker. Her point was bringing awareness to the Peel River, the gas and mining exploitation that occurs in that area. Her “aha” moment can be found as well in the novel “In This Together” , pages 11-22. On the panel she discussed a section from her contribution in the novel. The moment where she was on the River travelling for this documentary being filmed. On day 16 (of 21) they started to lack food and the Vittrekwas fed her and the rest of the voyagers. That bonding moment with the Vittrekwas , was her “aha” moment. Stacey followed Carleigh by reiterating again the importance of the environment. Stacey said, “This isn’t just for us, this is for all of us” , and THAT is the “aha”.
Danielle Metcalfe- Chenail followed by asking the panel how they witness reconciliation in their daily life. Elder Garry began by discussing the importance of education. He said that the Aboriginal children are in dire state of needing an education. He realized that when he saw Aboriginal children struggling and some unable to read traditional passages. He said, “…all those young people , somebody failed them”. He stressed on the importance of education and concluded by saying “…give Aboriginals proper and decent education.” Following Elder Garry was Erika. She also reiterated the importance of education. To have hope in the future generation , children need to be educated from a young age on past matters, such as the residential schools, etc. Carleigh proceeded by making the audience aware that she writes book reviews for the Globe and Mail. However, she stressed on the importance of reading. She encourages people to read books , especially books written by Aboriginal authors to have a better understanding of the past, present and to have a better future (Carleigh encourages Canadians to share their reading picks on social media with the hashtag #IndigenousReads. Here is a list of books you can read.)Stacey proceeded with a heart felt message. He thought he was being negative by saying facts, raw and honest facts. He mentioned that the “restoration of friendliness , and a step towards justice” is important. He also mentioned that in order for there to be change, there are plenty of issues that need to be tackled and changed , “health, education, law, water, media , culture, language, missing and murdered Aboriginal women, etc.” He stressed that those are , “vast, vast issues”.
The next topic of discussion moderated by Danielle, was whether the panel had any hopes for healing. Elder Garry explained the prophecy given by Elder William of Algonquin. The prophecy was of the Tsunami. The reason Elder Garry mentioned this prophecy to explain that people must be taught to “respect the earth again”. Elder Garry said “people have no respect for earth, people have forgotten spirituality , they thought and think more about money”. He also followed by giving the corn analogy. He said, “Indian corn has red, brown, black on the cob, just like the difference races on earth. All these colours grow together on the cob, just like humanity should.” Erika reiterated that in order for their to be healing, education is important. Society needs to be educated on matters. She said, “knowledge should be engrained since children learn many things, especially in Elementary school. They should be educated on where we came from, hope that the future generation will know much more than what we knew and were taught growing up.” Carleigh also find that education plays a big role. She mentions that teachers should get help teaching such matters. She also mentioned, children are sensitive. Therefore, if they are educated from a young age about the past, (ie. the abuse in residential schools, etc.), they will carry that sensitivity with them and there is hope for the future, since the awareness will be present from a younger age. Stacey concluded the panel by sharing a poem her wrote about an Oak Tree. It was a touching poem that resonated with anyone sitting in the audience. The poem was basically a message from his childhood Oak Tree , reminiscing the good old days where children took care of it, how its been through rain and shine, and a reminder of the, “importance of the environment and looking after it”.
Often times when we hear the term “reconciliation” people may feel guilt, awkwardness, sadness, ignorance, pain etc. However, this was a panel of speakers that were educated in the matter and gave us their insight, their advice and created a welcoming and open dialogue. There is no such thing as a stupid question, and if you feel ignorant or not educated, it’s never too late to educate yourself, you friends and loved ones.