For National Truth and Reconciliation Day, I am reading a story by native storyteller Patricia Yellowhead Tobey. Almost 20 years ago we took our daughters to the beautiful outdoor gardens and amphitheatre of the Saugeen First Nation. There we saw a live outdoor performance of this book and bought the book from the author. She looked at my young daughter's eyes with concern and love and then signed our copy. This book tells a story that I can more fully appreciate with the stories from #metoo and #churchtoo and wolves in sheep's clothing.
As we wandered through the beautiful Saugeen First Nations gardens and amphitheatre, we admired the word "Friendship" outlined in large white letters, indicating a warmth between whites and First Nations. The band council owns the United Church next to the amphitheatre was built in 1891. The church previously on that spot was the site where treaties were signed. We also visited their Pow Wow and bought their souvenirs.
A treaty signed in 1836 surrendered about 500,000 acres of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation on the promise that the Crown would protect the Saugeen Peninsula from further incursion by non-indigenous squatters.
Treaty 72 of 1854 was signed when the Crown said they could no longer protect the Saugeen lands from settlers. This treaty is now before the court, and in 2020 the church was destroyed by arson.
When I was a child, my mother to the beautiful outdoor gardens of the Six Nations Friendship Centre and enjoyed their shows and sales. I inherited this book of poetry from my mother and read it on National Truth and Reconciliation Day. It is written by E. Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake. She was proudly biracial, her father being Mohawk and Head Chief of the Six Nations (also called Haudenosaunee or Iroquois). Her mother was from England.
As a youth, I visited Chiefswood, the home where E. Pauline Johnson was raised. It has two front doors: one facing the road to welcome British visitors and one facing the Grand River to welcome Six Nations visitors.
She performed her poems in the 1890s in a unique costume made for the purpose. She never married and travelled extensively to perform. She advocated for the new Dominion of Canada to include both British and indigenous cultures. She wrote many songs about nature and canoeing as well as culture.
A Cry from an Indian Wife is an 1892 poem showing indecisive loyalty to her British and her Indian blood. It tells of a woman during Riel's Northwest Rebellion, indecisive about encouraging her husband to stay safe at home or to:
"Go forth, nor bend to greed of white man's hands,
By right, by birth we Indians own these lands,
Though starved, crushed, plundered, lies our nation low...
Perhaps the white man's God has willed it so."
In the poem called Ojistoh, she recounts how a kidnapped woman tricks her captor, stabs him, and escapes back to her home.
In As Red Men Die, she uplifts honour and defiance even if it costs death.
In The Corn Husker, she mourns the loss of her people, banished from their lands.
Her final poem before her death in 1913 states:
"But though I fight alone, and fall, and die,
Talk terms of Peace? Not I."
In the Haldimand Treaty of 1784, the British compensated the Six Nations for their alliance during the American Revolution by promising them six miles on either side of the Grand River in Ontario. It covers almost one million acres, but the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve is now about 46,500 acres. This land claim remains unsettled.
Canadians had been told for decades about the problems in residential schools for native children.
In 1847, Egerton Ryerson supported free and compulsory education and recommended educating Indigenous students separately, converting them to Christianity, and assimilating them into Euro-Canadian culture. These boarding schools would train students in agriculture and industry as well as language, math and science. He proposed the schools be run by religious organizations and overseen by the government. His recommendations influenced the development of Canada's residential schools.
In 1879, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald (Conservative) boosted spending in what was called the Indian Department and rolled out a food aid program. The federal government doubled its spending on what was called Indian Affairs from 1879 to 1881. By 1885 it had almost tripled. Under attack by the opposition to spend less, he replied we cannot allow them to die for want of food.
In 1883 based on the recommendations of the Davin Report, Sir John A. Macdonald (Conservative) authorized the creation of the residential school system with the goal of integrating indigenous people into British culture.
In 1907, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce – a Canadian public health official, submitted a report to Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier (Liberal) exposing poor health conditions and staggering death rates at residential schools.
In 1920, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott made attendance at residential schools mandatory for every First Nations child between 7 and 16 years of age.
In the 1960s, residential schools began to close and more than 20,000 First Nations, Metix, and Inuit children were taken from their families and placed in non-Indigenous homes. This was known as the Sixties Scoop.
In 1969 the Canadian government took over responsibility for the remaining residential schools from the churches.
In 2007, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement provided compensation to Survivors based on the number of years they attended residential school and funded the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
In 2013, Ian Mosby, a food historian and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Guelph made public his discovery of unethical nutrition experiments performed on Canadian Aboriginal children at residential schools between 1942 and 1952. The Department of Indian Affairs of Canada continued these experiments even as children died.
In 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented their findings that the residential school systems had amounted to a “cultural genocide” of Indigenous people in Canada.
In 2021, the Tk'emlúps te Secwepemc near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School announced they found over 200 potential unmarked graves of Indigenous children. We visited Ottawa that year and saw over 200 pairs of children's shoes in front of the Parliament building to demonstrate the loss of indigenous children's lives.
*Canadians were shocked*
They said they didn't know that indigenous children had been abused or died at residential schools. They never heard before that Indigenous people in Canada had been treated unfairly. They said schools and News sources had been negligent in informing them.
Suddenly we realized that #everychildmatters We started to realize the truth of our racist history. We recognize our mistakes on #Orangeshirtday The name comes from the children's picture book by indigenous writer Phyllis Webstad, describing how they took away her orange shirt on her first day at residential school. September 30th was first officially observed as a holiday in 2021. We are proud of Canada but need to know the truth of our past and commit to reconciliation.