Learning How to Approach the Work of Remembering

"If you are going to do this Remembering Project, you have to start right" Charlotte Tookenay told me, when we first met in the pow wow circle. How do we even begin to discuss the harm done, as members of the community that caused the harm? "You start with spirit."   Continue reading

In the Shadow of Nanabozhoo

In the Anishnaabe creation story, the figure of Nanabozhoo plays a major role. As I understand it he is the first being in human form to walk the Earth. Since w are last species to be created, he walks the land and learns from other species. They teach him -and us - the way humans should live. The mountain the towers over Thunder Bay is a likeness of him. He is the Sleeping Giant as you can see across the water from this town did find itself at the centre of the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians today. A place where the task of learning remains active today. Continue reading

The Antidote To Erasure

The memorial of the 27 children who died while attending residential school in Chapleau moved me deeply. The country that I love tried to erase these children. We tried to erase the languages they spoke and the cultures they belonged to. How do we even start trying to make things right? As I learned this summer, step one is to just show up. The community showed me what to do from there. Continue reading

Communities from coast to coast are searching for their missing children

What can a non-indigenous Canadians do to address the depths of damages our society inflicted on generations of children in residential schools?  To find out I attended the National Gathering on Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites.  The fifth such National Gathering since the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves of children in Kamloops in 2021, these are hosted by the Special Interlocutor appointed to help communities now running searches at dozens of residential school sites across the country. You can read the report I prepared for the community at Chapleau whose children are buried in that beautiful copse of trees I found this summer here.  Continue reading

What the Land Holds

There is a special piece of land a few kilometres south of Chapleau Ontario. A copse of trees huddles on a slope between the road above and a rail line on the valley floor. The trees are birch,  pine and spruce, spaced close enough together to block out most of teh sun. Somehow flowers more commonly associated with the prairie have crept in around the edges, like smooth rose with their little pink bell-shaped buds. From the Height of Land here, the waters either flow south and west into the Great Lakes and on to the Atlantic. Or they flow north into James Bay and the Arctic. That’s why this land has been an area of encounter between cultures for centuries. The Anishnaabe paddled up from the south, and the Cree down from the north. The French arrive when this province was known as le Pays d’en Haut. Indeed, the author of the most famous French Canadian novel ever, Maria Chapdelaine, is buried here. The British came in the form of the Hudsons Bay Company. This land only became Canada in 1905, when the government of Sir Wilfred Laurier signed Treaty No 9 with the Cree. But what makes this land more special now is what lies within it. Continue reading

L'endroit le plus canadien du monde

Je suis au volant encore une fois, de retour dans le nord de l’Ontario. Je suis en train de retracer chemin jusqu'à Chapleau pour assister à une cérémonie pour honorer les enfants morts dans l'école résidentielle de la ville. Continue reading

Coping with Complicity for Residential Schools

I have struggled in writing this next blogpost. I do believe that the work of reconciliation can be inspiring and full of hope, as our last article conveyed.  But I don’t come at this as a neutral outsider. I believe all of us who have benefitted from what Canada has become owns the good as well as the bad. But I also had a direct ancestor who  played a role in expanding and deepening the residential school system. Continue reading

An Individual Act of Reconciliation

As I pursue my explorations through Northern Ontario, I'm trying to come to terms with the harm we have done to our indigenous fellow citizens. There is a sense of remorse in this, but it's mixed with hope that we can do better.  Without hope, there can be no progress. The work of Elizabeth Kingston gives me hope.  She and I share a similar background as Settlers.  We are both grandchildren of Anglican bishops, we've both lived much of our adult lives in Ottawa and both had careers in international  affairs. But unlike me, Elizabeth has already started down the path to reconciliation. This trip allowed me to learn about the path she has embarked upon. From what I can understand, it started with the land.  Continue reading

The Perversion of Chief Shingwaukonse’s Vision

As I drive through the northern stretches of the Great Lakes, I’m discovering chapters of Canadian history that are new to me.  Many of these chapters feature more positive relations between First Nations and Europeans – chapters in which the two appeared to interact with some degree of mutual acceptance and some degree of mutual respect. That clearly ended at some point, to give way to the attempt by one culture to eradicate the other.  But when? Continue reading

Honouring 100 Years of Advocacy of Indigenous Rights in International Affairs

  One hundred years ago today, Chief Deskaheh arrived in Geneva to present the case for international recognition of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.  The League of Nations, founded only two years prior, was based on the principle of the sovereign equality of nations.  The world had embraced the vision of national self-determination celebrated by U.S. President Wilson in his Fourteen Points.   Taking the international community at its word, the Haudenosaunee claimed the right now proclaimed for all nations.  They had existed as a nation for hundreds of years, after all, and had never ceded their sovereignty to the Crown. Continue reading