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I hope those who had one enjoyed their long weekend. Remember, you that you had that day off because of Indian Residential School Survivors. It is estimated that at least 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Metis children attended residential schools. People you know, your L’nu friends who live in Unama’ki might have spent years at the one in Shubenacadie.

You had the day off because the Canadian Government knows that the history of Canada and its treatment of Indigenous people is shameful and continues to be. It has always known this history. It orchestrated, maintained, and facilitated generations of trauma that continues to be felt by the generations of children of students who attended those schools.

What now

It wasn’t until the first “215” were discovered that most Canadians started to let their brains process that residential schools existed in Canada. And that their sole purpose was to remove Indigenous culture from small children who were stolen from their parents and placed in the hands of priests and nuns who regularly mistreated them.

Canadians were shocked. I know that because we Indigenous people saw your indignation surface, everywhere for months.

Then you went quiet. Did you become numb to the atrocities like the survivors did? I think you became quiet in part because of guilt. How could you not know this was taking place or maybe you knew about it but didn’t say anything? The last residential school in Canada didn’t close until 1996.

Maybe you became quiet because it rocked your faith. How could it be that your clergy, priests, and nuns be identified as the main perpetrators of sexual and physical abuse when they held you so accountable each Sunday, required your confession in anonymous boxes for absolution? I think you likely looked at your own babies and held them a little bit closer, wondering if you would be attending the next Sunday service.

I know that for myself I couldn’t take communion from another priest after I started working with survivors. It was a gradual process for me, I can’t remember if I told you or not, but I used to be a devout servant of the Catholic church. I went to mass every damned day for years when I wasn’t on the road for work. That’s what colonization looks like, folks. After lots of decolonizing therapy, which included elders and people of the west, I happily returned to the traditional ways of my ancestors.

Let that sink in.

Every single one of your First Nations’ friends are either a residential school Survivor, a Survivor’s child, a Survivor’s grandchild, or all three. Every. Single. One.

What’s Next

Now, let’s get to the what’s next portion of the column. I’d like to suggest some ways Canadians can honour the day you just had off by extending reconciliation to the Survivors and Indigenous people in Canada, your neighbours here in Unama’ki, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.

If you attend mass every week and fill that envelope with money to support the church because you believe in the cause, could you put inside an extra little note? Ask your priest to lobby the real decision makers (the bishops and cardinals abroad – in Rome specifically) to hand over the 25 million records they have regarding the Indian Residential Schools so we can identify the children who are laying in graveyards adjacent to the schools they attended. The church has yet to provide these records to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC). It’s one of the 94 TRC Calls to Action.

Contact your local MLA and MP to have all the provinces in Canada to declare September 30th as a true National Day of Truth & Reconciliation. Not all provinces acknowledge the day!

If you own a business, honour our damn status cards! As a customer, tell the businesses you visit that you would like them to honour Indigenous status cards and encourage other local businesses to do the same.

It’s not like you pay for the tax that gets removed. Seriously, this is not a hard thing to do, if Costco, Sephora, and Best Buy can accommodate us, then why the hell can’t you? In the province of Ontario, it’s a common practice to use your status card (aka federal ward of Canadian identification card) and you don’t even need a delivery slip! I (and others in Unama’ki) will travel more than four hours to purchase goods from stores in Halifax because they take our status card for goodness sakes! I shop local for the most part, but when you make me feel like an ass for asking to use my status card and suggest you know nothing about them, my warm and fuzzy buy local sentiment starts to run dead cold. How do live here and know so little about us? And, why don’t you want to know about us, the First Peoples to live here?

Please ask your accountant about how simple this is. If you want our business, then honour our tax exemption. Here’s a helpful business tip from Tanya: If you put a sign in your window that says something like “we honour your Tax Exemption Status”, we L’nu will tell others in record time and soon we will be in your stores. Even if we don’t want or need something in your store, we will buy something just to show our gratitude!

Remember, there is a business park going up in Membertou, and we will have the opportunity to use our status cards there! I’ll buy everything from toilet paper to Caribbean trips at the Seventh Exchange Business Park because of the tax exemption. Speaking of the Caribbean, shout out to Ashley at Maritime Travel Mayflower location, you are amazing and have made my Cuba trip so easy. Maybe you guys could move your office to Membertou, tax exemption and Mi’kmaq translation would be a dream come true, taliaq Bart!

Sorry I digressed again. Attend the community gatherings that we invite you to. If we are having a pow wow or feast and we say, “everyone is welcome”, then come, ask questions. Membertou has some sweet feasts, I’m not gonna lie. But remember elders eat first and they never stand. How can you learn anything about us if you don’t spend some time with us? And don’t just visit once a year, make friends; have tea with elders; break bread and have conversations. Believe me, we are more scared of being judged than you are.

Ask your public sector organizations about the specific Calls to Action they are implementing in the workplace. Ask your own boss if any of the TRC 94 Calls to Action can be implemented in your workplace.

Does your organization have a two-eyed seeing approach? Do you? If you don’t, ask why not. If you aren’t familiar with the two-eyed seeing approach, why not learn?

Learn about our treaties and the Supreme Court of Canada decisions that uphold them regularly! Familiarize yourself with the Peace and Friendship Treaties. Read about the Marshall decision, the case that affirmed our rights to hunt, fish, and gather to pursue a moderate livelihood. Twice!

Perhaps if you have a more complete understanding of these rights, the fear you carry about our hunting and fishing rights may ease and that will result in less violence on the waters as we approach the upcoming Moderate Livelihood season. My brothers and sisters are fishing for a moderate livelihood, they shouldn’t be hurt because they want to provide for their family and their community while exercising a long-existing right.

Lastly, and with all respect, take your colonized brain – I got in trouble the last time I said this to someone – and try to decolonize it. What does that mean exactly? Well, it means trying to put yourself in our moccasins, shoes, mukluks.

Where to go from here

If you experienced everything that we have experienced during the past 500 plus years, would you be frustrated and want a little more understanding? Just try to see where we are coming from, try to understand how it feels to be an Indigenous person living in Canada. Maybe start by looking at your child and asking yourself if they could survive what my ancestors survived. We go from there.

Two-eyed seeing

Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action

Fact sheet on Peace and Friendship Treaties in the Maritimes and Gaspé

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