Go Beyond Ticking a Box
Amelia Williams, Director, Indigenous Relations & Public Affairs, Proof Strategies
For many, Canada’s residential schools are rooted in history, generations ago. But the last residential school in Canada closed, in Saskatchewan, in 1996. That was only 27 years ago – in my lifetime. So it is frustrating when people say “get over it.” Intergenerational trauma is real and very much alive today. Society is so quick to cast judgement on, label and stigmatize Indigenous people, but how well would you do, how would you cope, if you’d been forcibly removed from your parents at age four?
“Get over it”? No.
Celebrating and acknowledging the history of Indigenous peoples during the month of June is a step in the right direction towards reconciliation in Canada. But we cannot limit ourselves to this. Social media posts and events within National Indigenous History Month merely scratch the surface. For real progress to be made, recognizing and learning about Indigenous peoples and their history should be done year-round through intentional and meaningful actions.
No person or organization can be excused from this. Each has a role and responsibility to learn about Canada’s dark history and the treatment of Indigenous Peoples to ensure a better, brighter future. Fortunately, there are meaningful actions we can take to move forward in our journey of reconciliation.
Organizations and leaders must provide Indigenous peoples better access and opportunity within the business community. Companies must invest in the Indigenous communities they work with or whose traditional territory we occupy. Let’s be clear: Including and listening to Indigenous peoples does not mean that others must be excluded from having a seat at decision-making tables.
But Indigenous peoples need to sit on company boards, feel represented and empowered in the workplace, and have access to safe education. It is time for Indigenous communities to have the same access that cities and suburbs have to clean water, food security, reliable housing, education and economic prosperity.
We must also be mindful of the important role Indigenous communities have in addressing the enormous challenge of climate change. We all must protect nature and biodiversity, and, through our value systems, Indigenous people can support sustainable use of environmental resources and enforce conservation management.
June and, as important, beyond
Indigenous History Month is a chance to raise awareness, showcase powerful and successful individuals, and provide the opportunity for Canadians to learn more about this land’s rich and diverse Indigenous cultures. Indigenous peoples have earned the recognition and awareness that the month of June offers, but it cannot stop there.
Indigenous culture and peoples exist in every month and every season, and widespread social education about them should, too. Educational resources abound in every medium imaginable, making it easy for all of us to continue to learn about Indigenous peoples of Canada.
The history and the truth are uncomfortable, painful and, at times, heartbreaking. But the amazing thing is that we are still here. There is so much to celebrate about our people and our communities – all year long.