Category Archives: Indigenous–Reconciliation

2023 Reconciliation Day

Today was Reconciliation Day.  Many of us still don’t know what that means. We want to  support reconciliation but don’t know how to do it. I am not saying I do. I remember though what Niigaan Sinclair  a well-known indigenous spokesman in Manitoba told me af few years ago when I asked what an old white guy could to to participate in a small way towards reconciliation.  He said it was not up to him to tell  an old white guy from Steinbach what he should do to. He said it was not his business to tell me that. It was up to me to offer something. It was not up to the offended to tell me what to do.

Sinclair though did give a hint. He said I could talk to white friends.  Many of those, he said, would not listen to him, or read his articles in the paper, but the white guys might listen to me. I assured him not many would, but I thought then, and do now, that this made sense.  I should reach out to white guys and women and just offer my point of view.  For what its worth (I know not much as I am certainly not an influencer) but I might reach a couple of people. Maybe not convince them but to engage them. That is one of the reasons I have continued to blog about some of these issues.

Today I accepted an invitation to the Seniors club in town to attend a dinner in recognition of truth and reconciliation. We were entertained first by 2 young indigenous hoop dancing girls Kimberley and Charisma Mason. The girls were 14 and 15-years-old.  They were descendants of residential school survivors. Trauma from such schools, one of them said, had changed the lives of the student. For example, it disconnected them from the love of their parents, kin, and communities. That was not surprising. Until fairly recently, indigenous people were not even allowed to practice or share their ceremonies, including dancing or potlucks. Who ever though such a prohibition was a good idea?

They explained how pleased they were to present to us Steinbachers as for many years indigenous people were not allowed to perform their own dances or ceremonies. They also explained that the dancing “told a story.”  For example, with the hoops they made images of an eagle fledging from a nest. Or a hunter firing a bow.

Later Lorne, an indigenous  male dancer also performed in full regalia. He said he was a professional dancer who was paid a lot of money to dance.  As well he had spoken to music students at Yale University to explain his form of dancing and how it was related to music. He said he had used the example of a baby at a powwow falling asleep to the beat of loud drums, because the baby felt it like the mother’s heart beat in the womb.

The most interesting thing for me was seeing how thrilled the performers were to share their culture.  They were very proud to do it and were very happy to have us old white people from a seniors club in Steinbach see them perform.

Reconciliation, no doubt, will take generations. Probably as long as the abuse took, which is about 150 years. But it was nice to participate, even in a very small way.


It’s all about the Land



North Shore of Lake Superior

My drive along the north shore of Lake Superior was stunning. It was a cloudy day. Not good for scenic vistas, but great for the fantastic colours of  autumn foliage. I was in heaven. At least so it felt. I made many stops to photograph what I saw. And it was never enough. The land was beautiful. As John Denver said, “It’s almost heaven.”


In the film Colonization Road, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a writer and academic says we are not having the right conversations in Canada because even when we talk about reconciliation we don’t talk about land. According to indigenous people and the European settlers and their political representatives, the treaties were about land. Land was the foundation of it all. How would the land be shared? That was the nub and too many people have forgotten this. As she said,

“We are talking about reconciliation, but we are not talking about land. We are talking about murdered and missing indigenous women and girls but we are not talking about the land. Where the root cause of every issue that indigenous people are facing right now in Canada right now comes from dispossession and erasure and it comes from the system of settler colonialism that keeps us in an occupied state.”


As Hayden King said in the film,

” Y’know the land is the basis of the Canadian economy. Indigenous peoples have been kicked off the land, dispossessed of it, to make way for the Canadian economy…The objective is to get rid of the Indian. And traditionally the method has been very overt. ‘We’re going to eradicate your culture, we’re going to eradicate your language, we’re going to get you off the land. We’re going to separate you from your family and your communities. We have today a different form of trying to kill the Indian. Canada has been very sneaky with the institutional and legal tools it’s used to kind of push the native people out of the way.”




Teika Newton made a very another important point. She said,

“The creation of Canada is something that has been very violent. It’s been violent consistently towards indigenous women and it’s been very violent consistently towards the land. They didn’t see the poetry in our language. They didn’t see our children and our old people as being valuable. They saw resources. They saw money.”


As the Eagles said in that magnificent song, aptly titled ‘The Last Resort,”


Some rich men came and raped the land
Nobody caught ’em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes
And Jesus people bought ’em
They called it paradise
The place to be.
They watched the hazy sun
Sinking in the sea.


Many indigenous people, like Chief Al Hunter, believe the Canadian extractive economy has mined the natural resources with few long-term benefits, particularly to indigenous people. It is a boom and  bust economy. As he said, reversing an old cliché, “It’s short-term gain for long term pain.


Our Home on Native Land


The Idle no more movement raised some instances of racism in Canada. For example, in Fort Frances, which I drove through on this trip, a white person drove a truck into a protester. Thunder Bay another city I visited on this jaunt, an Anishinaabe woman was raped. What generates such hate? What generates such hate in a country like Canada which prides itself on being reasonable, polite, and hate free? In the incident in Thunder Bay one of the white rapists said to the woman, “you people don’t deserve your rights.”


Some people don’t like it when indigenous people start to rock the boat. It seems like Canadians expect them to know their place and behave. But is some obnoxious behavior not justified when people have suffered more than a century of abuse? How long are they expected to just “take it”? Yet as soon as they starting talking or complaining about colonization, or treaty violations they are not as welcome in Canadian society any more.


As Jeff Denis, professor of Sociology said, “What is distinctive about settler colonialism as opposed to other forms of colonialism, is that the settler come to stay. They make this their home on native land.”

 The fact that the national anthem of Canada refers to Canada as “our home and native land,” seem deeply ironic in this context. Don’t you think?




Why Can’t You be Just be Like US?


Still thinking of Manitoba


The Thunder Bay area where I stayed my first night on short autumn jaunt has a deep history of racism and residential schools. It is beautiful country with a very dark past. After I arrived after my first day’s drive I checked into a hotel and immediately proceeded to a local restaurant. There were many indigenous looking people in the restaurant, but of course that is not always easy to discern who is first nations and who is not. It didn’t matter. At a table next to mine I watched two indigenous men with 2 young girls. Everyone was having a fine time. Life was good.


I recently watched a documentary called Colonization Road. I highly recommend it to one and all for some interesting points of view.

As one indigenous Canadian Chief of the Rainy River First Nation and writer, Al Hunter,  asked on the documentary, “We hear it a lot over and over—why can’t you just be like us? What does that mean?” The question of course is rhetorical. The answer is obvious. That means why don’t you assimilate with us? Become like us, because we are better than you. Those really are the suggestions of such a question. But  Hunter had an answer however in the film


“We want to be who we are. We want our culture to be strong. We want them to know that the past and the future and the present are actually alive. And we want respect, for wanting that for ourselves.


Is that too much to ask? Is it really so obvious that we whites are better than our indigenous neighbours?


We have no history of colonialism

As I drove on my trip along the Trans-Canada highway I was thinking about colonization. That was partly because the country I drove through was particularly affected by it and also because I had recently been alerted to some new issues.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an astonishing statement on colonization:

“We are one of the most stable regimes in history. There are very few countries that can say, for nearly 150 years they’ve had the same political system without any social breakdown, political upheaval, or invasion. We are unique in that regard. We also have no history of colonialism.”


This is one of the most profoundly ignorant statements I have ever heard. It only made sense because he really believed—as do so many other Canadians—the colonization was benign or benevolent. Compared to other countries such as the USA there was much less violence.  But it was still deeply oppressive to the original inhabitants of this continent and their offspring.

As Haydong King said about Harper, he believed we had

“…peaceful colonization where very nice European settlers came and met with very nice but savage native people. And we helped them through Christianity and religion and we taught them how to farm, and we paid for their school. So that has been colonization and it has been a very benevolent one.”

It was certainly benevolent if you are the right side of the issue.

The Premier of Manitoba Brian Pallister made a very similar remark about settler coming to Manitoba. They did not come to bring violence. They were builders not destroyers, he said. Pallister rightfully got in a lot of trouble for that wooden-headed remark.

When Canada’s political leaders make such comments, it is obvious that they don’t understand the relationship of indigenous people and the governments of Canada and the provinces. They are looking at that relationship through the lens of a descendants of those colonizers, or their successors.

This summer Christiane and I with our granddaughter Nasya spent a few days in Gimli.  I remember driving by Colonization Road.  It is always a bit shocking to see a road called that. Would Germany or Poland have a Holocaust Road?  I saw another such road later on my trip in Fort Frances. There are roads like that in many other towns in Canada including Kenora, Dryden, And Emo.  It shows how successful colonization has been. People see it as natural. Certainly not anything to be ashamed of or concerned about.

Patrick Wolfe one of the theorists who has studied settler colonialism, said, “settler colonialism is a structure not an event. It is something we reproduce every day through our actions.”

If we want to achieve reconciliation with indigenous people we must learn to understand colonization. Ignorance like that from our Prime Minister and Premier just won’t cut it.



A shield or a pathway to Action


As usual, in a wonderful Winnipeg Free Press article, Niigaan Sinclair said it much better than I could. Like me he has been saying how enthusiastic he has been about what he has seen in Manitoba in the last couple of years. In fact, he has been eloquent  in his praise. That is saying a lot because he is an astute and relentless critic of colonial subterfuge and chicanery. Recently, he said how impressed he was to see an elementary school playground filled with young students of all ethnicities and races, wearing orange shirts, playing together while expressing their solidarity with indigenous people and their complicated relationship with non-indigenous peoples.

As Sinclair said,

“Dressed by parents who want children to know that relationships with Indigenous Peoples are important, these children are receiving some of the best and most inclusive and complete education in history.”


He also pointed out how most Canadian students are now learning about residential schools, treaties, and the complicated relationship shared by Canadian indigenous peoples from dedicated teachers. When I was growing up, we received no such education.  This will give Canada a chance for a better relationship to come. Thankfully too, we have not had much of a backlash from conservatives who don’t want their children to learn things that might make them feel uncomfortable as Americans are now experiencing.  This change has occurred without a lot of opposition, other than perhaps, some naysaying old men at coffee shops around the country in places like Steinbach. But those are just nattering nabobs of negativity as American Vice-president Spiro Agnew once said.

This might just open up a significant door. After all, as Chief Commissioner Murray Sinclair has repeatedly said, “Education got us into this mess and it is the only thing that can get us out of this mess.” As always, wise words from the Honourable Murray Sinclair.  His son, Niigaan Sinclair added this in his column:

“This is an opportunity few had in school. Most, including me, still carry the residue of the racism we were taught or the deafening silence that guided us to ignorance or entitlement.”


 Me too! I too carry the residue of that racism that I am trying hard and probably not hard enough, to erase. It is not easy. But it must be done.

Niigaan Sinclair said he has seen a change in the air in Manitoba. A change that has been a very long in coming.  As he said,  “This province and city, however, are different. This place is different.” He went even farther. As I said, he was lavish in his praise:”


Anyone who has read this column knows I’ve never said our community is perfect or even close to it, but readers do know I am frank and often uncomfortably blunt. So, with all bluntness I can muster, I say something special is happening in this place.

 Once again,I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna but I want to echo his words.

Yet—and this is important—Sinclair warns us that we must not be satisfied with baubles.  We need action.  This is how he eloquently put it: “Still, most in this community continue to wear an orange shirt. Let’s just hope it’s not used as a blanket or shield, but as a pathway to action.”

Boy I wish I had said that.


Baby Steps Better than No Steps


Ever since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its  report in 2015 Canadians had no excuse for not learning the truth. I know few people read it. That is unfortunate. The ugly truth was there.

I was fortunate in that I heard the Honourable Murray Sinclair, the Chair person of the Commission deliver to us a peak at the impending report of the Truth and Reconciliation report or at least some of the things that were in it, during a speech many years ago to Manitoba lawyers at the Manitoba Bar Association. It was shocking. Until then I had erroneously believed that the problems in residential schools were mainly “a few bad apples” in the churches. Until then I erroneously believed that the government of Canada was not responsible since it had contracted with churches to administer an educational program for indigenous children in Canada. It was all the fault of the churches I thought.I was pitifully ignorant and naïve. The start of my education began that day I heard Judge Sinclair speak.

Recently, there have been many indications that a major result of that report, trying to move Canada forward towards reconciliation is gaining strength.  So far the steps are modest. But baby steps are better than no steps.

 On the National Day of Reconciliation for Canada this year I was confined to my home trying to recover from a cold and avoid spreading it to others. As a result I watched a lot of television shows on indigenous issues and reconciliation.  As well, I watched the Winnipeg Blue Bomber football team give a firm rebuke to their arch rivals the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the 3rd time this year. It was sweet.

But some things were even sweeter. First, the Bombers wore orange practice shirts, in honour of Orange Shirt Day (the alternative name for this memorable day). Then a referee announced penalties in both English and Ojibway. The half time show featured indigenous entertainment such as dancing. There was also a specific section in which indigenous people from around Manitoba were given a specific section. But the sweetest moment was when Blue Bomber receiver Nic Demski caught a football in the Saskatchewan endzone for a touchdown and then threw the football into the endzone section filled with indigenous people who were wildly enthusiastic by the throw.

It really felt great. It was great. These things would not have happened to this extent only few years ago.  These were indications of progress. You could see it on the faces of the people. One of the chiefs who was interviewed at half time said, “We are seeing reconciliation in action.”

All of that is good, but we must remember gestures, even good gestures, are not enough. As Niigaan Sinclair a professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Manitoba echoed the words of  his father Murray Sinclair when he said, “Canada has to spend as much of an effort at reconciliation as it did in destroying Indigenous communities.” That is the nub. Gestures are not enough. We must take the next step.  And that can’t be less than the baby steps we have taken. It took generations to inflict the pain on indigenous people. We must take generations to repair the damage and restore those communities to the positions they would have been in had those harms not occurred.

I hope these steps we have seen so far are not merely ornamental, but real. Baby steps must lead to real steps.




An upbeat ending



 As Barbara Nepinak had promised the afternoon of reconciliation at the Pat Porter Active learning centre in Steinbach ended on a very positive note. Dancing. In Steinbach at that. It is not famous for dancing.


First Nepinak told us about how she had attended a function at a town near to Steinbach when she was young. They came to demonstrate their culture to the students of a school in this area.  Much to her surprise the students mocked the indigenous children, used derogatory terms about them, and hurled items at them. “This seemed shocking to us,” she said because they thought they were in a civilzed place. I guess they were wrong. How did we treat indigenous people when we were young? I can’t remember much.


Today we were presented with 3 young dancers of exceptional ability. In fact, a couple of weeks ago we attended a pow wow where our 3-year-old indigenous granddaughter was strutting her stuff with the regalia her mother had made. One of the winning dancers at that pow wow was performing for us in Steinbach. His name was Tyson Prince and he was outstanding. I particularly liked his dance called the Prairie Chicken Dance. I have seen a lek and it was a pretty good rendition.

Tyson’s sisters Rose and Teagan also performed. The dances were sensational. This was in fact a high note all right.

There were no racial insults hurled this time.  Steinbach has come a long way toward reconciliation, but still has a long way to go.

What does Reconciliation Look Like?



In the film A National Journey for Reconciliation, Joe Clarke, the former Prime Minister of Canada had some moving words to say about reconciliation:


“The Commission Chair, the eloquent Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, borrows a phrase that was used by the leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement. That phrase is, “Keep your eye on the prize.” That sets a challenge for all of us. Indigenous and non-indigenous. Commissioners and Citizens. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will help to define the prize. We as Canadians, as citizens, have to mobilize the eyes and help the larger Canadian population both see and act. Reconciliation means coming together as a whole with one purpose being to hear and to heal  and then a critical common purpose which is to move forward together. And if we fail to do that, if we fail to go beyond apology and regret, if we admit the truth and ignore the reconciliation that would be to repeat the profound offences of the Residential Schools themselves. I believe that Canada as a broad and generous country can find the will to repair the damage of that past and build new partnerships if enough of our citizens know and if their eyes are turned to the prize.”


I think that is what reconciliation looks like. I too think Canada can do this. We should do this.



Tired people


I know some of my friends, good people, are getting tired of hearing about residential schools and reconciliation. Who can blame them? We would all like to move on.

But as Chairperson Judge Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said, Canada should spend as much effort repairing the damage it caused to the indigenous people as it did in inflicting the harm in the first place.

I am not saying each of us should wear only sack cloth and mourning clothes until this is resolved, or that each of us should purchase an AR-15 assault rifle and a pith helmet so we can lead the revolution into Premier Heather Stephenson’s back yard.  Each of us have only limited talents. But the talent we have should be used to remedy an historical harm.  At least a little bit.

What can we do? It depends on our talents. We can speak up when we hear someone utter an ignorant racial smear or unnecessary demeaning remark about indigenous people. We should speak up as kindly as we can but firmly enough to make it clear that we dissent from such remarks. Or if we hear someone else speaking up against injustice we can make it clear that we concur. That might be difficult. We can reach out to our political representatives that we expect them to do better. If we see someone in trouble we can offer a helping hand. We can read one article about reconciliation. We can make an effort to learn. We can make an effort to learn the truth somewhere about one indigenous issue. We can call up someone who has knowledge for guidance or information. We can watch a film about indigenous issues. Someone told me that is all you cans see these days. We can make a gesture of support to indigenous people somewhere or somehow.

We should recognize that to say we are simply tired and don’t want to do anything is understandable, but that is not the best me I am putting forward. What have we  done to renounce the privilege we enjoy solely by virtue of the colour of our skin, that indigenous people do not enjoy? To say ‘absolutely nothing’ is not the finest answer. If we can say we have done a small thing or even 2 small things that is much better.

If  we have resolved to pay a little more attention and will do something in the future and to pass that thought on to others or have resolved to do better, that is an improvement.

Then we will be ready to return to our life of watching Yahoos opining on our favourite sport or watching the Mad Housewives of Blumenort and carry on your life again.

None of us are saints or heroes, but we are not incapacitated either. We can do a little bit while returning to the life we enjoy. I think that is at least a small step towards reconciliation.