This week, I joined a circle with over 1000 people to honour the 215 Indigenous children found on the grounds of the Kamloops (Tk’emlups) Residential School. It was the fourth and final gathering being hosted by Reconciliation Canada, the theme was “Moving Forward Together.”
My heart has been aching for the children who suffered, for their families and communities who loved them; I can only imagine how this is impacting the survivors and intergenerational survivors of the more than 150,000 children that were forced to attend Indian Residential Schools in Canada. It is the kind of ache that enters your body and spirit. I was grateful to be invited in and held in the virtual space with song and sharing.
I am saddened by the discovery of the Tk’emlups gravesite, but not surprised: thousands of children did not return home from those “schools”. We know this because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recorded over 6,500 thousand of survivors’ testimony of atrocities and abuse from a government endorsed system that was designed to cause harm. I listened to some of these testimonies. I have never witnessed such strength, courage and resilience.
My great-grandparents settled in Canada in the 1920s, each from a different country; each escaping some form of hardship or oppression; each then benefiting from land that was taken and a culture that favoured those of European descent. A century later, I am thinking about my role and accountability. It’s easy to slip into shame, but that is a luxury; shame centres the self and inflicts paralysis. Regret, however, spurs us to action, to change, to be accountable, to do things differently. Regret is about those who have been impacted.
It is often assumed that the TRC was a voluntary initiative of our government and paid for with tax dollars. In fact, it was paid for by the survivors from the proceeds of the largest class action suit in Canada’s history. As Canadians, we have all benefited from what was taken from Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. We are all accountable.
The truth is, systemic racism continues to break up and harm Indigenous families. It is how the system was designed, it’s one we inherited, and it’s one we can change.
In Canada, Indigenous people suffer from impacts of every aspect of our country’s social infrastructure:
- Housing system: 18% of Indigenous Canadians do not have a home they can afford that meets their needs
- Health care system: the death of Joyce Echaquan is just one of countless examples of systemic bias therein
- Education system: Educational funding is approximately 30% less for Indigenous children
- Justice system: Indigenous youth accounted for 50% of custody admissions, while representing 8% of the Canadian youth population.
- Family welfare system: 52% of the children under 14 in foster care are Indigenous
In 2013, as the CEO of the Inspirit Foundation, I collaborated with a group to co-create the Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action. We invited our sector to join us in holding ourselves accountable for engaging in Reconciliation. Eighty-five philanthropic organizations across the country pledged to listen and learn about the intergenerational effects of residential schools, remember and acknowledge the harm caused, then and now, by colonization and systemic racism, and participate and act to share our resources, networks, and influence to support Indigenous leaders and organizations. I now work at Social Innovation Canada, and am wondering what Reconciliation means here.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission made 94 Calls to Action; the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report presented 231. Each of these recommendations will require a systems change, a design process that brings together disparate groups, that holds the wellbeing of Indigenous children in the centre.
There are jurisdiction challenges, policy challenges, cultural barriers, market impacts – these are the kinds of systemic repairs that social innovation has been created to address. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible.
It is clear what needs to happen – we have been told by many, and there are numerous reports! We have processes to help us. Our job as innovation practitioners is to understand our own positions and clear the many barriers to the success of Indigenous-led solutions, to respond to the calls to action, to change our behaviour to be accountable individually and as a society.
If we are to move forward together, we must support Indigenous leaders and organizations with healing and capacity building – they are the ones that will ultimately lead this change.
And to the children: I hope your souls can rest now that you have been found.
– Andrea Nemtin, ED Social Innovation Canada
Donate to support Indigenous communities:
- Reconciliation Canada
- Anishnawbe Health Foundation
- Indigenous Peoples Resilience Fund
- The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (The Circle)
Indigenous Charities on Canada Helps
Health supports for survivors:
- A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
- The Indian Residential School Survivors Society offers a crisis line for grief, crisis, and trauma counselling at 1-800-721-0066.
- First Nations Health Authority provides mental wellness and substance support on their website