By Issa Kixen
Special to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Issa Kixen is an Anishinaabe Two Spirit comedian, producer, and writer whose roots lay in Couchiching First Nation, Ontario. They have travelled across Canada and the USA as a comedian and improviser. They use comedy as a tool in dealing with racism, homophobia and sexism. They are the co-founder/producer of WOKE Comedy Hour, featured on APTN’s The Laughing Drum, a member of the Bannock Babes drag collective and they are the executive producer for Minogondaagan: the good voice podcast and Tales from the Ripped podcast.
A hot topic for the Indigenous community is whether we are mourning on our own or whether the entire country will stand in solidarity with us as we continue to unearth the bodies of young children at residential schools across Turtle Island.
Three weeks ago, as literal and figurative fires raged on across the country and here in Manitoba, Dr. Alan Lagimodiere, our newly appointed Minister of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations, made a massive, yet passive, mistake. Five minutes into his first scrum, a question regarding residential schools was posed to Dr. Lagimodiere, a self identified Métis man. The Minister responded with ignorance and disrespect, seeming to claim that those who ran the schools were well-intentioned.
“The residential school system was designed to take Indigenous children and give them the skills and abilities they would need,” Dr. Lagimodiere declared.
Manitoba NDP leader and Honourary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Wab Kinew immediately interrupted Dr. Lagimodiere with a history lesson.
In the days that followed, the Manitoba PC Caucus responded on Twitter by calling Wab Kinew a “bully” engaging in “showmanship” and “doing nothing to advance that reconciliation” for interrupting Lagimodiere’s first scrum.
The PC Caucus then deleted the tweet.
This is not dissimilar to how Premier Brian Pallister alleged the protesters who toppled two irrelevant statues on July 1 of setting back reconciliation, like reconciliation was dependent on niceties and complacency.
Lagimodiere has since apologized and acknowledged that his words may have caused harm but he didn’t realize just how far those words alone could set reconciliation back.
Here lies the problem. Even within the Indigenous community there is a very desperate need to justify the atrocities of what happened to our families -- and what still happens to our families and communities under the guise of child welfare. What we have is a country terrified to acknowledge the continued atrocities and the perpetual refusal to call it what it is: genocide.
Truth and reconciliation can only happen when the entire nation is honest and acknowledges this ugly truth. We have First Nations communities still waiting on clean drinking water and entire communities that do not trust the health care system (and for good reason).
Residential school survivors were experimented on for vaccines and to see how long a child could survive without food before they die. When COVID-19 reached Canada, we had scientists hard at work coming up with a vaccine, but when First Nations communities were hit with the virus, a large number opted out of the vaccine.
Why? Because of generations of ill treatment of residential school survivors, and because racism still exists in Canada, and can end in death. (Just look up Brian Sinclair, Joyce Echaquan, and women in Quebec being forced to undergo sterilization.)
If we are going to admit that residential schools were not the greatest idea, we need to admit that it was our own country that did this. Yes, the last operating residential school closed down in 1996, but I was only 13 years old and I could have attended it, as could all my siblings.
25 years was not that long ago. We say “never forget” and “never again” when talking about war. World War II was horrible and we are engrained with the notion that if we forget we could end up repeating those atrocities.
Why does that notion not stand true for what happened to Indigenous peoples across this continent? Why are we told to get over it and that it wasn't that bad? That the architects of residential schools “believed they were doing the right thing?” Why do so many of us not know our mother languages or practice our cultural ceremonies?
Because it was beaten out of us and continues to be a line of contention that we, as Indigenous peoples, have to tiptoe around.
We are at an impasse where the trajectory can hurl us onto a path of healing and reclamation -- or where we continue to surfer at the comfort of all other Canadians.
People are holding anti-lockdown rallies and disobeying the law, therefore putting the greater public at risk. Police presence is barely found at these events, and maybe a handful of ticket violations are handed out. But when you have Indigenous folks protesting the destruction of lands and water, whether it be a blockade or peaceful protest where the greater public is not in harm's way, police, RCMP and the military are ready and willing to shoot with rubber bullets, arrest and beat protesters and use pepper spray.
We have a violent history with the Canadian government. What the rest of Canada needs to catch up on is that we can't do this alone. We need allies to join the movements, to advocate for families threatened by the child welfare system, and to make sure that no other person dies of a treatable bladder infection simply for being Indigenous. We need allies so we no longer have to fight for our fallen ones in court, to do the work so that we can heal our families.
Apologies are nice, but changed behaviour is often the best form of recourse and that is something I have taught my children. You can say “sorry” all you want but the actions that follow are what tells me whether you are meaning to make things right or if you’re just offering lip service.
We have the 94 Calls to Action written out and waiting to be implemented, and yet we are still at “sorry.” We do not pass go, but at least we get to collect $5. (Canada holds Treaty Days where the government gives every status-card-carrying-person $5 as part of the treaties they signed hundreds of years ago.)
If you are wondering what you can do as an ally today, please read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and talk about it with your co-workers, family and friends -- especially the bigoted ones. Make it a goal to reach some of those calls to action in your community and whichever industry you work in. Start a letter-writing campaign, organize in your workplace, demand change.
The Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island need it.
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