The following was created as an introduction to a panel discussion about how to build pathways toward reconciliation. What are the qualities that help people along this journey for a more inclusive society?
As a Manager at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning, I have been helping the University move forward in building reconciliation for more than 5 years. Over this time, I have witnessed our institution take significant steps forward. Unlike many other universities, we are well on our way to acknowledging the truths about colonization and the harms that Canada has committed against Indigenous Peoples.
So many educational institutions, including our own, have not provided culturally appropriate supports to Indigenous students, they have omitted our histories, worldviews and ways of knowing from the curriculum, and failed to stand up and advocate for justice and an equal society. All the while they prosper from the treaties that were signed; never giving anything back to my people.
Imagine if you will, inviting people into your home and then watching them set up, settle down and eventually kick you out to live in the garage.
Thankfully, things are changing. Canada’s non-Indigenous society is waking up, as if from a long and blissful sleep, to see the world as it is, not as they dreamed it to be. Many postsecondary institutions are leading the way for Canada to become the place it was before Europeans arrived. A multicultural society with 100s of languages, customs, and ways of knowing. A place that provided for everyone, living in sustainable ways, and using reciprocity as a foundation for peaceful interactions.
These are the truths that are helping to guide the USask as it builds cultural programming, on and off campus, for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. We have begun rewriting our curriculum to be more inclusive of Indigenous content and worldviews. We are doing research that matters to Indigenous Peoples and promoting reconciliation locally, nationally and internationally. We are investing our time, resources and money to help lift Indigenous communities up.
Is this enough? Imagine preparing for a marathon and thinking, or hoping, that after the warm-up exercises that you are nearly done.
We are only at the beginning of long journey. You can’t undo 100s of years of oppression and harm in a few short years. It will take generations. What we are doing is setting up the next generation to do better … and then they will do the same.
I see it this way because I am Michif, and this is the Metis way.
Me and my people are the gift of two worlds that came together with intention, equality, a little humour and a lot of love. My great grandmothers and grandfathers didn’t produce a Metis nation overnight, it took time to get to know each other, to learn from each other, and to let that new knowledge shape who they were. Their children were raised in this loving, ethical space and used it to see the world around them. Eventually, it was the children of these grandparents who were more than just ‘half-breeds’, they were a proud people who created their own language, culture and identity.
So, this is how I chose to see and know reconciliation and I invite you to join me.
Now, for those of you who aren’t Metis, let me offer you a tip in the form of a metaphor for understanding my view of reconciliation.
Imagine back a few years, maybe a bit further. Remember the first French traders, the Coureur des Bois and Les Voyageurs? They were my grandfathers, courageous men who decided to head out into the unknown lands around them, and for what? Why did they risk trekking through and over lands that were filled with challenges, threats and potential harm or even death? Why do this? Why leave the guaranteed comfort of home to risk so much? I believe that they did this because they were looking for something more, something beautiful, something that didn’t exist at home.
But HOW did they do it not knowing or having the skills for the journey?
I believe that they had imagination and faith! Imagination is what inspired them to leave their comfort zone and faith in themselves carried them far, far into the unknown. I believe that imagination combined with faith is the secret sauce for all things Metis. These two qualities gave rise to our ability to see beyond what they had and looked to the future for what it could be.
The same can be said about reconciliation, it needs imagination and faith to be realized.
We do not know what reconciliation looks like in Canada, we have never had a time when everyone was equal, a time when people thrived off of diversity, and a time when we all benefitted from the land equitably. To find something that no one has seen, we need people who can imagine it. We need people who can look at the landscape in front of them, see it for what it really is, and then use their imagination to see beyond the horizon. The men and women who can do that … don’t fear the unknown … they are excited by it. They are driven by faith in themselves to see how much of what they imagined might be true. Each mile inspires more imagination, more curiosity, but it also builds wisdom, experience and appreciation for an unknown future.
Take a leap of faith and imagine what I tell you is true. See the unknown future as a landscape of teachable moments that help you, and the future generations, grow. For my great grandfathers, there was a happy ending! They arrived in a land where the sky is alive, where rivers flowed with fish, and the prairies were covered in bison. And, more importantly, a place where they found love with an Indigenous woman who shared their imagination for a beautiful future. The differences between them were not obstacles, but opportunities to know more, to be more. Together, they gave birth to strong and courageous children who built a nation based on Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth and Wisdom.
I can imagine this for Canada. I ask all of you to wake up and realize that reconciliation is not a dream, but a red river wagon that can carry us all to that place that we hope our children will inherit.