Photo credit: Colin Smith
This blog post is being written just as CBC announced that Wet’suwet’en, Canada, and British Columbia have reached a proposed arrangement.
On Friday afternoon I visited the youth staying at the legislature. They are there to defend their lands, rights, and Indigenous title. I stood in circle with them and listened to their passion, their concerns and their fears.
I went to see them in part because I was on a panel on Friday evening at the Victoria Urban Reconciliation Dialogues hosted by the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. One of the questions that panel host Shelagh Rogers said she’d be asking us is about the role of Indigenous youth in the future of reconciliation. So I went down to the legislature to learn.
A key part of my role as mayor is to support and nurture our young people, the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow. When I heard these Indigenous youth say that they are afraid, when I heard them say that our country has failed them time and time again, when I heard about the sacrifices they are making – putting their own lives on hold and at risk – I am moved to speak up.
As non-Indigenous allies, we must speak up against the racism that is rearing its head in response to Indigenous people standing up across the country. We must denounce racism in all its forms. We must call it out. There is never, ever, any excuse or any “good reason” for racism.
When I met with the youth on Friday they told me that they think reconciliation is dead. I can see how they feel this way – it took more than two weeks of protests across the country to get everyone around the table in Wet’suwet’en territory just for the conversation to begin. And along the way there were arrests and further displacement of Indigenous people from their homelands. In a so called era of reconciliation, it shouldn’t have taken this long and it shouldn’t have been so difficult for the conditions for dialogue set by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to be met.
What I want to say to the youth is that it is our responsibility as non-Indigenous people to show them and their elders and all Indigenous people that reconciliation is not dead.
We do this by telling the whole truth about the history of our country: that it was built by the removal of Indigenous people from their lands, the tearing apart of Indigenous families, the obliteration of Indigenous laws and ways of knowing the world. We acknowledge that all of these things are still happening today and we do everything in our power to change this. Reconciliation is not dead as long as we are willing to name the colonial and painful truth of Canada’s origin story.
Reconciliation is not dead if we as non-Indigenous community members are committed to decolonizing Canada, to working together to create a new story. This means being committed to honouring Indigenous rights and title and ensuring that Indigenous legal orders can exist side by side with the Canadian one. For me, reconciliation is not dead but it is really, really difficult and painful work, for everyone.
After participating in the Victoria Urban Reconciliation Dialogues this weekend, I am also hopeful. As Shelley Cardinal, the president of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre said in her opening remarks on Friday evening, “Now when the discomfort is here is not the time to abandon each other, it’s the time to walk together.” And as Tsartlip Nation member and MLA Adam Olsen said in his opening remarks, at times like these “We need to call each other in, not call each other out.”