(This article first published in Vancouver Sun on January 4, 2019, by Kory Wilson)
Core to the act of reconciliation is working together for the betterment of all through giving and sharing. In the midst of our holiday season I think it’s apt to reflect on where we have been — and imagine a new year’s resolution for all Canadians.
It has been over 70 years since “Indians” were granted the right to leave their reserve without a pass and 58 years since we gained the right to vote federally. Thirty-six years ago the Canadian Constitution was amended to recognize and affirm existing Aboriginal and treaty rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted. Since that time progress has been made through court cases, agreements, blockades, policy changes and a Royal Commission on Aboriginal People — all in the pursuit of the recognition of rights and title.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released their final report on the tragic legacy of residential schools in Canada and 94 calls to action. The report increased the national conversation about the lasting effects of intergenerational trauma and the calls to action challenged Canadians to work toward reconciliation. However, we mustn’t lose sight of the multitude of other challenges facing Indigenous people and the colonial legacy that still exists.
While progress has been made on many fronts, Indigenous people are still at the negative end of most socio-economic indicators. We make up 4.9 per cent of the Canadian population, yet our people account for 52 per cent of the children in government care and 27 per cent of the admissions to federal correctional services.
Indigenous people across the country experience unprecedented rates of youth suicide, infant mortality and disease that, by all accounts, should be unthinkable in Canada. Poverty, food insecurity and poor housing all play a role, but there is no question that institutionalized racism and discrimination contribute to this systemic inequality.
The reality of the statistics is heartbreaking and one can easily get lost in the enormity of the legacy of colonization. And yet, as the year ends, I still choose hope. I must choose hope.
I have hope because even after 170 years of policies and laws intent on eliminating and assimilating Indigenous people, we are still here. The endurance and fortitude of our ancestors has ensured that there are more Indigenous people in positions of power than ever before and every day our people are outrunning the colonial legacy as hard and as fast as they can. I strive to honour their resistance and resilience.
I have hope as I see nations move beyond the Indian Act through self-government agreements, treaties and land codes. I see communities banding together to make positive change. I see people breaking the cycles of addiction and trauma, despite horrendous odds, to follow their dreams.
I have hope because I see non-Indigenous people across the country working to amplify Indigenous voices and knowledge. I see allies standing in solidarity and initiating acts of reconciliation in their homes and workplaces. I see B.C.’s K-12 system instating Indigenous content across curricula and grade levels. No longer will students learn that Louis Riel was a traitor, as I did, but rather that he was a warrior for his people.
I have hope because I see 1,700 Indigenous students across our five campuses — many of them the first in their families to attend post-secondary education. The B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT) has always been a special school that supports unique paths to learning and provides relevant, innovative and hands-on education.
When BCIT signed the Indigenous Education Protocol of Colleges and Institutes Canada, we committed to continuing to enrich our campuses with Indigenous wisdom, knowledge and traditions — building these values into the heart of our classrooms and services. We have begun Indigenous 101 training with our staff and faculty, created three open-sourced Indigenous Awareness Modules, and are working to complete an Indigenous Wellness Toolkit that will provide students with holistic support.
Through our Indigenous Vision and Action plans we continue to fulfill the promise of a richer educational journey for everyone in our community. We are committed to cultivating partnerships and authentic relationships that lead to change. And yes, there is much work yet to be done.
When leaders make Indigenous education a priority in this country, they showcase their commitment to reconciliation. The false act of “education” is what got us here and I’m certain meaningful education is our way out.Reconciliation is the work of all post-secondary institutions, indeed of all Canadians.
As a proud Kwakwaka’wakw woman, my foundation and teachings come from the potlatch — our cultural and governance structure. Underlying the beauty of the masks, button blankets, dances and songs is the principle of the redistribution of wealth. You share what you have with others and no one goes without as generosity is vital to the nation’s good governance.
As you connect with family and friends, take a moment to recognize your privilege, and then ask, “what can I do?” and “what do I have to share?” Everyone has something to share — knowledge, time, money and expertise.
Start a conversation with your children about equity and compassion. Discover the Indigenous territory upon which you live. Connect with an elder. Seek the truth about Indigenous people and our history. Sponsor a bursary for an Indigenous student. Ask how you can contribute. Read the 94 calls to action.
I ask that this year all Canadians make a renewed pledge to reconciliation — in your hearts, in your homes, in your workplaces. Ask yourself what you can do to make your community better and how you can be a partner in reconciliation. Indigenous people and nations must be empowered to be self-determining, thus transforming our nations and Canada for the better. Together we are stronger.
Kory Wilson, BSc., LL.B, is Kwakwaka’wakw, a mom, an educator and the Executive Director of Indigenous Initiatives and Partnerships at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.