An Open Letter to Settlers from Settlers on Our First Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Byline: Written by Jessica Regan, DEI Advisor and Vinciane de Pape, DEI Advisor
Thursday, September 30, 2021 marks the first Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada — but how did we get here? For many Canadians, the conversation about reconciliation started on May 27th when the remains of over 200 Indigenous children were found on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation Indian Residential School grounds. However, for Indigenous peoples, this reckoning with Canada’s dark history was long overdue.
Months later, after thousands of unmarked graves of children continue to be discovered, Canadians have started finally paying attention. But what are the roles and responsibilities we all have in this conversation?
As settlers (non-Indigenous folks who consented to settling in Canada thus excluding descendants of enslaved folks and refugees), the collective team at Bloom recognizes that reconciliation is a word that must be paired with accountability and action.
With the focus on the latter, we, Jessica Regan and Vinciane de Pape, two Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisors at Bloom, sat down to discuss reconciliation and what that means for us in our own lives.
If we’re going to talk about reconciliation, where should we start? Read the The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), was published in 2015 and proposed 94 Calls to Action for Canadians to understand the legacy of residential schools and outlines clear directions for settlers to work towards reconciliation.
The Calls to Action address ways in which institutions, individuals, and educators can honour the victims and survivors of the residential school system by acknowledging harm and implementing the 94 Calls to Action. This year, the federal government implemented the 80th call to action, which states:
We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal people, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.” (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).
So why is this addressed to settlers by settlers?
We, Jessica and Vinciane, are both settlers but with two very different lived experiences and responsibilities when it comes to reconciliation. Here’s how we’ve both approached accountability and meaningful action toward reconciliation.
Jessica, DEI Advisor at Bloom
My name is Jessica Regan (she/her). I am an adopted biracial Black woman (French settler and African American background). I live on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples.
I am a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisor at Bloom and my passion lies in education. As an educator, I feel especially called to decolonize the education spaces I create and operate in.
My job as someone who stands in solidarity with the Indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples in Canada is to acknowledge and continuously work towards dismantling the systems of coloniality that continue to oppress Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Black, brown, and queer folks in my communities.
As a person of colour, the role I play is complex and requires me to hold multiple truths at once.
As a settler, given my experience as a cisgender, biracial Black woman, this is how I am working towards Reconciliation:
- I will continue to challenge my own “right and wrong” or binary thinking. Decolonizing spaces requires non-Indigenous people of colour to acknowledge that “binary” worldview is inherently oppressive and rooted in colonialism — perfectionism is a tool of white supremacy. Before colonization, people, practices and education existed in a much more fluid space. Removing the binary and perfectionism in my work and educational content is crucial to decolonizing the spaces I occupy.
- I will actively search for Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit voices. This means consuming more media (news, stories, newspaper articles) that reflect Indigenous experiences and stories. The 84th call to action calls upon media outlets to include more Indigenous stories, but that doesn’t keep consumers accountable. It’s also up to us to read and actively search for Indigenous stories. It is crucial that while consuming Indigenous news, we ensure that the stories are not just based on suffering and pain but also joy and happiness.
- I will continue to challenge my understanding of my own “Canadian” history/geography. I will learn about Indigenous inventors, heroes, leaders, and visionaries that I wasn’t taught about in school. I will learn the names of the territories where I live, work, and play. To learn whose land you’re on, you can visit Native Land.
- Recognize that phenotypes don’t always encompass experiences with racism. Calling an Indigenous person “white” is harmful, inaccurate, and triggering. It’s important to remember that anti-Indigenous racism presents differently than anti-Black racism. We must not forget that Indigenous people can have light skin and might appear white-passing, but it doesn’t mean they’re white. As quoted in Adrian Downey’s Master’s thesis titled Speaking In Circles: Indigenous Identity and White Privilege, “If passing is indeed an act of presenting oneself as different than one is, I am in no way passing. Yet people see me as white until I gently correct them, reminding them that I am a proud Indigenous person” (Downey, 2017, pp. 77–78). In Bailey Macabre’s essay titled You Don’t Look Native: Exploring Indigeneity and White Privilege, they discuss Downeys use of the word white-seeming instead of passing. Given Canada’s genocidal tactics of assimilation and violence via the residential schools, Indian Act, White Paper, and Sixties Scoop, there are many reasons why Indigenous people do not want to be lumped in with the title “white or white-passing.” It’s imperative that while aiming to decolonize spaces and work towards reconciliation, people of colour shouldn’t gate-keep by erasing lighter-skinned Indigenous peoples experiences of racism and oppression.
Vinciane, DEI Advisor at Bloom
I’m Vinciane (she/her), currently situated on the land covered by Treaty 7, on the traditional territory of the Blackfoot confederacy, which includes the Siksika, Kainai, and Piikani, as well as the Tsuut’ina and Îyâxe Nakoda, which include the Bearspaw, Chiniki, and Wesley First Nations. This territory is also home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3 within the historical Northwest Métis homeland.
As someone who works at the intersection of HR and DEI, Call to Action 92(iii) of the TRC 94 Calls to Action feels especially pertinent. It states: “Provide education for management and staff on the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and Anti-racism.”
My role at Bloom is to educate folks in the corporate sector on creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. By virtue of working with Canadian companies, this means including conversations about colonialism and white supremacy and inviting others to examine how they have benefited or been oppressed by these systems. Reckoning with Canada’s dark history is an essential piece of this.
As a white settler, I need to examine my role in Reconciliation. It is my responsibility to educate myself about Canadian history beyond the revisionist version taught in school, without relying on the labour of Indigenous folks to teach me. It is also my responsibility to dismantle the systems of oppression that benefit me directly.
For me, part of this journey involves ongoing introspection and developing greater self-awareness. Although I am well-versed in anti-oppressive practices, I am not immune from perpetuating bias and discrimination and harming others. White exceptionalism is the assumption that I, a well-meaning white person who has done some anti-racist work, am incapable of being racist and that I am above reproach. I am cautious not to delude myself into thinking that. I am also careful to not play into white saviorism, the belief that Indigenous folks require me, a helpful white person, to support and uplift them because they lack the resources, will, or capabilities to boost themselves. This belief is not only patently false but incredibly paternalistic.
Indigenous communities have been telling us (white people) precisely what they need from us for decades, much of that clearly outlined in the TRC Calls to Action. Our job is to act on those.
Here are some of the ways I am personally committing to honouring truth and Reconciliation this year:
- I will encourage fellow white women who love true crime to direct their enthusiasm to the stories and cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folks (MMIWG2S). Connie Walker’s exceptional series, Missing & Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams? and Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo, is a great place to start.
- I will continue to read books by Indigenous authors, especially those that celebrate Indigenous excellence, not just ones that center on trauma (although those are essential, too). Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction edited by Joshua Whitehead is an excellent collection of stories I loved.
- I will support Indigenous language revitalization. Due to forced assimilation and cultural genocide, many Indigenous people in Canada have lost connection to First Nations languages. Supporting the Indigenous Languages Act, for example, is one way to honour the reclamation, preservation, revitalization, maintenance, and strengthening of First Nations languages, led by First Nations.
Nervous to get started? Here are two simple ways to start your reconciliation journey right now:
1. Calling in folks who use anti-Indigenous language
A lot of anti-indigenous language is heavily baked into Canadian culture. I remember teachers scolding students at lunch for being “Ind*an g*vers” when children would ask for their favourite snacks back they had given to a friend. So many folks may not even be aware of the problematic language embedded into Canadian language systems. To see a list of some terms people should remove from their vocabulary, we encourage reading the following article from Matador Network.
2. Protecting land from climate devastation
Indigenous people have been leading and, frankly, carrying forward climate change and land protecting rights well before climate change was identified as a problem. From the Water Walkers and Land Defenders to the Indigenous Climate Action, Indigenous folks have been leading the charge to keep lands, forests, and water clean. For settlers as well as folks of colour, we can and should contribute to conversations about, education on, and actions to protect these lands. It is our responsibility to heed the leadership of Indigenous land protectors and join the collective discussion and efforts to stop climate change.
You can also adopt any of the suggestions we shared in how we personally intend to approach accountability and meaningful action toward reconciliation.
To learn more about how Bloom intends to engage in ongoing reconciliation we encourage you to check out our last Blog post. If you want support with building a more inclusive workplace experience for your team through our DEI Learning Experiences and Workshops reach out here.