It can be hard to understand what exactly reconciliation is and why it is essential for us as young Canadians to play our part in creating such change. The truth is that whether the issue directly impacts you or not, it is incredibly important to be aware of the events surrounding Canada’s establishment as a country. Without a basic understanding of the social inequity, discrimination, and mistreatment First Peoples have endured in both the past and present day, there is quite simply no room for progression.
Before colonization, the traditional lands of the Tsleil-Waututh people were abundant in wildlife and lush greenery. This heavy emphasis on maintaining a sustainable environment continues to be valued by indigenous communities today and is clearly exemplified through various Tsleil-Waututh endeavours, such as their public opposition of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion Project. Earlier in the year, my class wrote letters to the premier to express our stance on why the expansion project would not only be a bad environmental decision, but also a poor choice in general, as the pipeline would trespass into Tsleil-Waututh lands. Many students from my school also attended pipeline protests around the city to voice our concerns, which is a great way for youth and adults alike to call attention to the issues they wish to address.
The introduction of the Indian Act played a major role in further damaging ties between First Peoples and the Canadian government; its lasting effects are evident in the repercussions we continue to see in society today. For one, residential schools separated indigenous children from their families and culture, which in turn paved the route for years of cultural suppression. These heavily underfunded schools were the so-called “homes” to thousands of neglected and abused indigenous children. The institutions themselves did little to nothing in helping indigenous children develop the skills needed to find a stable job in their future. Stereotypes of First Peoples being uneducated, as well as a plethora of other prejudice misconceptions, can be attributed to the effects of residential schools; its consequences span greatly from the indigenous suicide epidemic to substance abuse, a displacement in cultural identity, homelessness, and trauma. These notions have done nothing but perpetuate the severity of racism against First Peoples.
You may be wondering what you can do to help tackle such a large matter; a great way to start supporting the indigenous community is by dedicating your time and willingness to connect through volunteer work. I have been involved with Reconciliation Canada and Vancouver Native Housing Society (VNHS) for a little over two years now and it has truly been an eye-opening and inspirational experience. I have met some truly incredible people like Eric Schweig, who have helped me grow a stronger respect, understanding, and appreciation for First Peoples and their cultural diversity. In addition to this, there are opportunities to learn more about indigenous traditions and culture all throughout our city. From the Vancouver Art Gallery’s indigenous art exhibition to local events such as the Kanata Festival, much can be found if you’re passionate enough to start looking for it.
All in all, we cannot change what has already happened in the past. Reconciliation is only truly achievable if we as a nation begin recognizing the contributions of our indigenous people and acknowledging their history. This issue will require the collective efforts of not only the Canadian government but also all those who call Canada home- including you! As non-indigenous people, it is vital that we educate ourselves about the hardships and resilience of First Peoples in our communities. By doing all of this, we can begin a strong movement of social change, that will help create a better tomorrow for everyone.
Written by Michelle Xie
*All views expressed in this blog post belong to the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.