On Tuesday March 28, 2017 a public forum was held to look at the expectations and criticism of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. The event was sold out and featured Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and Murray Sinclair, Senator and former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as speakers. This was the fifth in a series of community forums held in response to the lack of communication from the commissioners leading the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls launched by the federal government. Although the inquiry’s interim report is due this November, the commission has yet to hold a single hearing.
During this forum Senator Sinclair responded to the all to often-heard refrain “why can’t Indigenous people just get over it?” He responded as follows:
“Many people have said over the years that I’ve been involved in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: why can’t we just get over it and move on? And my answer has always been why can’t you always remember this because this is about memorializing those people who have been victims of a great wrong? Why don’t you tell the United States to get over 9/11? Why don’t you tell this country to get over all of the veterans who died in the Second World War instead of honouring them once a year? Why don’t you tell your families to stop thinking about all of your ancestors who died? Why don’t you turn down and burn down all of those headstones that you put up for all of your friends and relatives over the years? It’s because it’s important for us to remember. We learn from it. And until people show that they have learned from this, we will never forget and we should never forget even once they have learned from it, because this is a part of who we are. It’s not just a part of who we are as survivors and children of survivors and relatives of survivors, but as part of who we are as a nation and this nation must never forget what it once did to its most vulnerable people.”
I would only add for those who fail to recognize that when Senator Sinclair says “until people show that they have learned from this…” that I don’t believe Canadians have learned because, although residential schools are closed and the sixties scoop has ceased, Indigenous children are still being taken from their homes and communities. And in many other ways, vulnerable people, Indigenous people are still being mistreated by policies and practices rooted in colonialism.
How is this relevant to those of us studying public policy? Throughout Canadian government today, you would be hard pressed to find an area of policy that is not touched in some way by Indigenous issues, from health and law to economics, education and beyond. As future public servants or policy experts for NGO’s and private organizations, it is imperative that we inform and educate ourselves of the needs, concerns and political climate surrounding Indigenous issues. This is of particular importance because the Government of Canada has made a commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship and a move toward reconciliation.
I raise this issue as we, as a nation, are celebrating Canada’s 150th year. As your peer and as an Anishinaabe-kwe First Nation woman I am not asking you not to be proud of all the great opportunities this country has given you or of the good things that we are doing right, but please educate yourself. Be aware of the privilege you have, because it came at the expense of a beautiful, strong and trusting Indigenous people. As Canadians I ask that you no longer deny but recognize this and honour it by doing what you can to make reparations so that my children and future generations of Indigenous people can know respect and safety, instead of shame and fear. So that they can stand proudly Indigenous alongside all Canadians as equals in a shared nation built on knowledge, respect love and gratitude for this land. Miigwetch, Thank you, Tansi, Merci.
About the author: Jennifer Ferrante is first year student at Carleton University in the Masters of Public Policy and Administration program. Jennifer previously worked as an elementary school teacher and at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada before joining the program. She is the proud mother of twin daughters.