Truth and Reconciliation: Where to Put Your Orange Guilt

Date 29 Sep, 2022

Written by George Flett (Metis and Saulteaux), Shelter Manager, and Lauren Sanders (Prairie Band Potawatomi and Kickapoo), Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain.

It’s that time again. Today is Truth and Reconciliation Day. Indigenous folks, allies, and people who feel the need to seek reconciliation all don orange shirts and walking shoes. We tell ourselves it’s how we honour the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. Indigenous speakers are asked to talk about reconciliation efforts.

The truth is, we are trying to understand how to reconcile two worlds: one where Indigenous individuals and communities are fully respected as whole and sovereign rather than broken or conquered, and another where resources are hoarded for a select few.

There are so many elements that come into play around what “Truth and Reconciliation” looks like. But before we can even start to try to heal the trauma inflicted on all Indigenous Peoples of Canada, we must start to recognize the biases that we have all inherited from years of continuous oppression, stemming from the western point of view. The point of derogatory biases, prejudices, institutionalized oppression, and systematized colonization is NOT to civilize or save anyone, no! It is to dehumanize us Indigenous people.

The stories of our Elders and loved ones who have survived residential schools tell a hard Truth about life under Christian Canadian violence. These stories tell explicitly what that life was like.

This trend has led us into present day, where we are fed bad stereotypes that depict our people, and in turn us, as lesser beings. “They” are lazy, “they” are drunks, ‘they” don’t want to work, and “they” are all the same. These ideas, and so many more, are recycled by generations and are told to us so many times that some of us started to buy into them. We went to school and saw the financial inequity between people that look like us and people who do not. This reinforced the things that we were told. We see children taken by the government and given to non-Indigenous families with more support than they would give to our families.

Then residential schools became a trending colonization joint effort of the Canadian government and multiple Christian denominations. While our Elders tell us about learning from their mothers, origin stories from our communities, and who our creator is, your government and churches took action to kill our various unique cultural ways, force us to conform into society, and teach us about the Colonized Christian God.

Then the Canadian government, finally, admitted to their role in residential schools. Orange Shirt Day for kids at school, and Truth and Reconciliation Day have been designed to focus on the horrific reality and aftermath of residential schools. All of a sudden, everyone is on fire to hear the salacious story of what transpired, blaming anyone and everyone as a way of distancing all Canadians from cultural cleansing and genocide.

Very few actually listen to these hard Truths and the subsequent impact on the original people of this land. We shake our heads and point to the Calls to Action when you ask, “How do you feel about what has happened?” “What can we do to help?” We point to the 231 Calls for Justice for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls when you explain how sorry you are and look for guidance about how enact reconciliation.

You do not seem to understand that we are human beings, not experts. We are not being overdramatic, and we are not speakers for all Indigenous folks. We are neither sinners nor saints, but, rather, human beings trying to make sense of an atrocity. While you listen to our stories and fix what you broke, we are grappling with having to be resilient yet hardly ever soft. We have to be strong when being comforted is a privilege. We have to show resistance to injustice like warriors with feelings of anger and grieving the past. We have to do all of this at the same time.

So, when you bare your orange shirt this September 30th, we ask that you do not put your ignorance on your local Indigenous person. Do not look for them to absolve your intergenerational guilt. Do not ask us how we are feeling. Instead, show up to events, sit down, and listen. Then do the work of the Calls to Action. It is up to us all to educate ourselves on the social issues we face. Just know that this isn’t something that we have gone through, but something that we are going through. We can use all those of you who are willing to listen to hard Truths and then do the work that we have already asked for. That is the work of Reconciliation.

Io (“it is finished” in Potawatomi) & Aho (“thank you” in Lakota)

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