Truth & Reconcilliation

So I mentioned before that I’ve had a hard time wording the post about the cultural training I attended back in September. I think this weekend is appropriate because if any of you have been following Gord Downie’s project “The Secret Path” you may know that it airs tonight on CBC. If you don’t know about it, he tells the story with music surrounding the end of life and death around Charlie Wenjack, a 10 year old boy who attended a residential school in Kenora, Ontario (less then 2 hours west of where I am)

I was admit almost complete ignorance to the whole Aboriginal history in Canada up until a few years ago. The lack of governmental support toward the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women was a topic of the last Federal Election and that was the introduction point for me. Then there was discussion in my Global  Health course with Mohawk earlier this year. But reading articles, and discussing does not given you a real sense of what happened.

Let me take you through some highlights I learned attending Anishinaabe Cultural Training. This is mandatory orientation days for all new staff and generally coincides with the cultural sensitivity in healthcare orientation day.

The day began by introducing our three facilitators. One a longtime advocate of Aboriginal rights who is the manager of traditional health practices at the facility and the other two are brother and sister and both residential school survivors. The VP of health services started by introducing the events and wanted to stress to the 20 hospital employees in the room that councilors are available if anyone needs to talk.

Then we attended a traditional smudging ceremony in the traditional healing room. As well as the Ojibway story of creation and what is then medicine wheel. I have tons of resources for these if anyone else is interested.


Photo Credit

Then back to the conference room for a history lesson.  Points of interest

  • The population of North America was estimated to be 112.5 million people in 1500 – before contact with Europeans
  • Although different languages and cultures each society had their own laws, justice system, governance, policing, medicines, healthcare, teaching/learning, decision making processes, family/social systems & economies.
  • Christopher Columbus landed in Bahamas in 1492 & John Cabot landed in Newfoundland in 1497
  • With the Europeans exploring the Americas they brought disease that the inhabitants could not combat. Small Pox, Influenza, Cholera, Scarlet Fever & Bubonic Plague were estimated to killing off 90% of the original inhabitants of the Americas.
  • Traditional medicines were no match for these diseases and in some cases allowed for further spread among groups – like sweat lodge ceremonies.
  • The Hudson’s Bay Company and the fur trade begin in 1670 (Watch the Revenant for more information related to the Fur trade)
  • Missionaries began to plan the education of Aboriginal children in 1830
  • 1857 the first of many legislations that were put in place to assimilate the Aboriginal people or move them away from the railroad, industry and towns
  • late 1800s- Treaties were signed in English by the Aboriginal peoples through the use of interpreters – not all of the information was translated effectively and more of the rights of the First Nations people were taken away without their knowing.
  • 1883- Sir John A McDonald (Superintendent General of Indian Affairs) authorizes the creation of boarding schools to be operated by the churches, “to assimilate Aboriginal people into mainstream society”
  • 1920 – Attendance to residential schools is made “compulsory”
  • 1928 – Sexual Sterilization Act – legally allowing for sterilization of people deemed to be mentally disabled in order to prevent “undesirable” traits being passed on

How this act in Alberta translates years later in Sioux Lookout

  •  1960 – Aboriginal people allowed to vote
  • 1969 – The White Paper Policy drafted by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau & Minister of Indian Affairs Jean Cretien
  • Multiple legal battles ensue fighting for and against the rights of the First Nations Peoples in Canada – outside of government offices racism and segregation continue to plague cities and towns across Canada.  The facilitator describes 1988 as being a turning point for people as things slowly begin to change .
  • 1996 – Royal Commission for Aboriginal Peoples
  • 1998 – Statement of Reconcilliation
  • 2008 – Truth and Reconcilliation Commission launched
  • 2015 – First report of the Truth & Reconcilliation commission released with 94 recommendations

So here we are now. What does it all mean.. to shortcut it there have been multiple times across history that the original inhabitants of these lands have been swindled or just plan lost their rights. And I of course recognize that any of you reading may not share the same feelings I had — embarrassed at my ignorance, feeling of being lied to through all of the history courses I had taken in elementary and high school. When you are being told this information and it is peppered with personal and cultural stories that really get the point across, it is just different.

The other real eye opening aspect of this day happened after we returned from our afternoon break. The facilitators spoke in Ojibway and worked to line us up. Girls on one side and guys on the other. We were given numbers and told multiple things that none of us understood. Then on the wall was the Ojibway characters that spelled out something and we were taught the lines. When someone screwed up, moved or tried to speak English they were removed and put facing another wall at the front of the conference room.

Now we are all adults, and as mean as the facilitators tried to act they did an effective job of simulating what the first day at a residential school felt like. We worked on a group collage of all the words that described our feelings and then we heard from the two facilitators who went to Pelican Falls Residential School just outside of Sioux Lookout.

Now I knew a bit about this dark part of Canada’s history. The government and the churches wanted to isolate the children to then mold them into the people they wanted them to be — how does this effect the health care system today? Good question…

There are generations of parent’s who don’t know how to be a parent because they rarely saw their children. And those children who were isolated, abused, starved and witness to atrocities on other kids grew up to have issues that are difficult to deal with and for some effected their parenting and social abilities. And the cycle just goes on and on.

Did you know that breastfeeding is not common among Aboriginal women, especially when the cost of formula is ridiculously expensive. Can you think why that is? Because instead of having that bonding time with their babies they would rather hand it off to another family member, and I have seen evidence of distance between mothers and tiny infants. The cycle goes on and on…

Well there is more I could go on to say, but I am back to work for a night shift tonight!

I’d love to hear any comments about what I have shared. Sadly I’m gonna miss CBC tonight but hope to watch it tomorrow online.

Make sure you’re all caught up on my posts Click HERE

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