I first learned of residential schools as an elementary school aged kid in the mid 80s, in Burlington Ontario. I realize now how unusual it was that my peers and I were taught about the schools (although I had no idea at the time some were still open). Indigenous history and teachings were included in a lot of our social studies type classes as well as though activities like Girl Guides. While I am sure some of it was whitewashed versions of history, some of the teachings were from elders. Which is how we came to learn of the schools. We were on some kind of overnight field trip that involved orienteering and identifying plants and animal tracks. We learned how to make a tea from ingredients we gathered in the forest. Much of these teachings came from two indigenous men involved in the program. In the evening, they shared Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) legends with us and explained the importance of oral traditions and histories. And then they told us about the schools. We had a lot of questions, which they answered as best they could, quite openly. I remember being sad, angry and not understanding why anyone ever thought those schools were necessary or the right thing to do.
The experience stuck with me. In high school I wanted to learn more. There really weren’t any books on the subject or mentions of residential schools in encyclopedias so I dove into learning about the Indian Act (also horrible), still trying to make sense of it all. But of course, that wasn’t possible because you can’t make sense of the way indigenous peoples were treated by the government and settlers over the last several hundred years.
And here we are, 25+ years later and the majority of settlers (including me) are only just learning about the full extent of what went on at residential schools, the intergenerational trauma caused and the unimaginable loss of lives, languages and culture. I am glad that there is more awareness, more attention being given to Truth and Reconciliation - although we have a lot of learning and work to do, from both a government perspective and individually.
For the City of Calgary perspective, I would like to see the following initiatives prioritized:
- Commit to creating a central Indigenous Gathering Place and healing centres in each quadrant of the city – set aside land and have an action plan and timelines including funding sources by the end of 2023.
- Provide additional funding (perhaps a match program with the private sector) to the Calgary Public Library to increase their Indigenous Language programs for Indigenous learners as well as other programming to support Truth and Reconciliation awareness.
- Provide additional funding to the Indigenous Affairs office to ensure they are able to effectively move their initiatives forward in a timelier fashion.
- Allocate funding to support mental health, housing and addictions-related agencies who serve at risk Calgarians, a disproportionate number of whom are indigenous.
- Increase education around Truth and Reconciliation, anti-racism and intergenerational trauma for Calgary emergency services, City of Calgary staff and City Council.
- Identify key heritage indigenous landscapes/resources and ensure they are added to the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources. Work with province to ensure they are designated as protected resources.
- Support community groups and agencies (physical space, funding, partnerships) that do risk prevention work with indigenous youth and families. Ensure these services are available city wide.
There are many steps the City can take as we move forward in Truth and Reconciliation as well as improving inclusivity, and needs may change overtime. It is critical that any program, strategy or plan be vetted and approved by Indigenous departments, task force(s) and committees.
What can we do as individuals?
I recently saw someone on social media say that Truth and Reconciliation is solely a federal governments responsibility. I very much disagree. Here are some of the things I have participated in as an individual
Books: There are a number of books available (many at the Calgary Public Library) to help guide our understanding of what has happened and how we can support moving Truth and Reconciliation forward. I have read some of them and will continue to read more.
Documentaries: Many of the streaming services have documentaries on residential schools, as well as social issues faced by some indigenous communities – I have watched many and continue to look for others to watch.
Programs: The Calgary Public Library has a number of programs supporting Indigenous Learning – both for the Indigenous community and settlers. They also have facilitated presentations by a number of Indigenous authors and community leaders. The Elders Guidance Circle is also a unique opportunity to hear from Elders and Knowledge Keepers from Treaty 7 nations. They are available to share their knowledge and expertise to individuals and groups (virtually right now). Through my time working at the Calgary Public Library, I was able to participate in a number of these programs and learning opportunities
Donate money to an organization directly supporting indigenous community needs. I currently provide a monthly donation to the Awo Tann Healing Lodge Society, an agency that provides emergency shelter support for women and children and a broad continuum of support services, guided by traditional teachings, that include prevention, intervention, and healing to anyone affected by any form of abuse. Many agencies are also open to receiving donations of gently used household goods and clothing.
Support Local Indigenous Businesses
A favourite of mine in Ward 11 is Pawticular Pet Supply
Be an Ally.
Listen. Reflect. Learn. Be uncomfortable with history. Stand up to racism. Honour and celebrate Indigenous cultures. Change my own behaviours and be mindful that I are not contributing to keeping systemic inequities the norm. Support.