Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An Open Letter To #BCED On The Subject Of Truth & Reconciliation

Dear #BCED,
Last week, I attended the Truth & Reconciliation Gathering and, while I was deeply affected by it- the various statement gatherings and words from panelists and witnesses and survivors are personal and moving- I have been more than a little ambivelant about reconciliation. I don't know what it means or what is expected of everyone. Not to take away the experience of any of my friends and colleagues, I can't help but think that, in many ways, it feels like we aren't seeking out true reconciliation. 

The day after the Walk for Reconciliation, The Nanaimo Daily News posted another letter decrying the special status accorded First Nations and making misinformed comments about the lack of evolution in thinking, etc., etc.  This follows commentaries in other newspapers over the summer that I couldn't be bothered to respond to because of how distasteful I found them. This latest, however, is problematic for two reasons: the first is the fact that the paper has been called to account over the overtly racist commentary that it has seen fit to publish in the past; and the fact that it might be perceived that the latest was timed to coincide with the national TRC gathering, when emotions were at their most raw.

If we are taking reconciliation to mean to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant, than we are on the right track. Neither side, First Nations or Canada, seem happy with each other right now and neither side seems reconciled to the fact we need to find a way to walk together.

Why then, dear #bced, am I sending this letter to you? I saw many, many teachers and students at the education day at the TRC event and I was happy to see so many engaged in learning about this unknown piece of history. It is nice to know that the stories we have always known in our communities, the nightmares our families' experienced and experience, were getting an audience that desperately needs to know them. Things like this fill me with a tempered hope because the stories are being given voice but I worry that this is where it will stop. What comes next,#bced?  Now what?

Teachers, Administrators, Support Staff, Parents, Ministry, Government, "Stakeholders", Students, I am asking you "Now what?"  The event ended and the next publication printed the next misinformed diatribe.  What comes next #bced? When I look at the responders to this piece and the last one and the one before that and so on and so on again, I see the same people responding. I see the same people challenging and talking back to these voices that belittle and bemoan "special rights" and "refusing to evolve." I reconciled myself a very long time ago to the unpleasant unease that co-existing here requires. I reconciled myself a long time ago to picking and choosing which of these attacks I would talk back to because it takes a lot out of me to challenge them and I put myself at risk in the attempt. I let some pass because sticking my neck out is not worth it in every case. I bring this up because I am asking you, after seeing my history writ large in Vancouver, in the voices of our youth, our Elders, survivors every one of them, WHAT COMES NEXT?

If you participated in the powerful Kairos Blanket project, where they tell the story of colonialism with the audience standing on blankets while the blankets were folded up and the people were forced onto smaller and smaller pieces until there are very few people crowded onto tiny pieces of land, what did you take away? If I tell you that you can go back home after that demonstration while I return to my little piece of "land reserved for Indians," will you be reminded that it is more than just a history lesson? WHAT COMES NEXT?

You have had the privilege of getting a glimpse of the intergenerational trauma and ongoing oppression that has been visited upon the First Nations and Indigenous people in Canada and you get to return to your lives while our youth, our Elders and our families will return to ours. We will be grateful for having been allowed to share, however briefly, and we will hope that something we have said will be heard beyond the purely visceral emotion of sadness about it all. I want to know, Teachers, Administrators, Support Staff, Parents, Students, Ministry, Government, Stakeholders, what are you going to do about it now? WHAT COMES NEXT?

Does it stop here? The Federal response seems to be that "we apologized, get over it". What is your response? Get over it? How, when it is still happening? And I wonder if that is something that has been truly learned in this event. This oppression, this marginalizing, demeaning and blaming is still going on. The above-mentioned letter is merely a symptom of this. You, #bced, have an enormous responsibility here and it is one that you have failed miserably at. These comments, letters, opinion pieces in the news media, on television, on social media are your responsibility. Yes, I blame you #bced for how this flourishes, checked only, it feels like, by the same Indigenous voices trying to educate and inform.

Where were you when these thoughts were being formed? Where were you when I asked you for help in challenging these last year and the year before? Where will you be tomorrow when the defenders of these types of diatribes launch their defenses of the commentaries? Are you finished your units on First Nations issues now that the event is over? Did you only feel sad over what you were hearing and seeing or did you actually listen to what was being said and shared with you? Indigenous people shouldn't have to be victimized over and over and left to defend ourselves in a void. #BCED, you have been entrusted with teaching our children, all of #bced, and your silence is deafening. What are they learning from your silence?

Dear #bced, you have an opportunity here that you shouldn't, cannot, pass up. This is a moment that can change lives for the better. If we want reconciliation to mean something other than accepting something unpleasant or to cause to submit, than you need to realize that you hold the key to changing the non-Indigenous voices that demean and misinform and attack. Truly hear what our survivors were telling you and take it into your heart because we can't do it alone and our truths need to be shared. I have asked before and I will likely continue to ask in the future: Challenge these commentaries. Don't remain silent when something comes up. Our children are watching and listening. Teach them that you care and that it isn't okay to attack the victimized again and again and again. Teach our children that it is okay to be First Nations, that they shouldn't have to give up a part of themselves to be a part of Canada, that they deserve the time to heal before they "get over it." Don't let the stories you witnessed fade with the end of the gathering, learn from them, teach with them and seek transformation through them.

As ever, thank you for your time and consideration,
All my relations,
Robert Genaille
(Stó:lō/ Saulteaux)

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