As citizens of Canada, where do we stand when it comes to acknowledging the indigenous peoples of Canada? As a nation we have gone through the healing process with the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission of Canada, having completed stage one of it’s work and having put forth 94 Calls to Action.
How will the Calls to Action change the general mindset of the average Canadian towards the indigenous peoples of Canada. The actions of government leaders often fall short of taking the 94 Calls to Action seriously.
Recalling a personal discussion
I spoke with an electrician who was transplanted to Fort MacMurray every two weeks. I asked him whether any aboriginal workers were part of the labour force with the Tar Sands project in northern Alberta. He told me that part of the contract is to have aboriginal workers make up ten percent of the work force. When I asked him if that was a reality he confirmed it.
He then went on to explain that while ten percent of the labour force is aboriginal, in his experience they were on the payroll but weren’t expected to work. In other words they were hired, got their pay cheque but they weren’t expected to be integrated into the work force.
The letter of the contract had been met, but in reality it was a sham. I guess with the high profits it was not considered a hardship for the company to have ten percent of the workforce add zero percent to the productivity.
Moving to a public discussion
I was reminded of the above discussion during an interview on CBC January 21, 2019, The Next Chapter, with David Johnston former Governor General of Canada. Johnston made a distinction between inviting someone to the dance or dancing with someone at the party. The one is an invitation while the other is inclusivity.
It is only through inclusivity that we begin to understand another person. Given the enormous challenges that Canada’s indigenous people have faced due to colonialism, it is not enough for indigenous people to be invited to join the work force when contracts are set up. They need to be engaged, they need to enjoy a sense of inclusivity.
Taking personal steps
I realize I am looking at this from a distance, living three provinces away from Alberta. Though I live within 20 km of the Alderville First Nations, a local indigenous community where I occasionally buy cheaper gasoline. That hardly counts for interacting with my indigenous neighbours.
How do we develop and sense of inclusivity with our indigenous neighbours? What colonial attitudes are biasing our view of indigenous people? What colonial residue underlies our comments and attitudes?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a clear statement. Without a willingness to developing inclusivity we will simply perpetuate the colonial mindset and issue apologies as needed.
The promise of reconciliation, which seemed so imminent back in 2008 when the prime minister, on behalf of all Canadians, apologized to Survivors, has faded. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission Volume 6 pg 11)
Every new law or policy that the federal and provincial governments of Canada introduce should move one step closer to a working relationship grounded in reconciliation. As Reverend Stan McCay of the United Church of Canada, himself a ‘survivor’ has stated, both perpetrators and survivors need healing. That healing can only happen in a posturing of humility and search for understanding.
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people of Canada each carry their own responsibility to work towards reconciliation. How do we most effectively do that? What does that mean for me?