National Indigenous History Month: Memory must orient us towards Indigenized futures


In June, OPSEU/SEFPO joins the national community in honouring National Indigenous History Month. While this annual observation is aimed at reflecting on the vibrant and rich cultural heritage and ongoing history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit People across Turtle Island, it is also a time to reckon with the ways Indigenous history underpins the present all of us as treaty people.

There is much to celebrate this month – the Indigenous Circle is pleased to celebrate the election of Tina Stevens as Equity Executive Board Member of OPSEU/SEFPO. Tina is an Algonquin member of Kitigan Zibi First Nation and also connected as an Ojibwe woman from Kettle and Stoney Point. Tina belongs to the Loon clan which is strongly connected to the positions she has held in relation to her employment, labour union and outside Indigenous groups. Greater Indigenous leadership at the table, especially at OPSEU/SEFPO, is an initative we only see grow across the labour movement as a crucial part of efforts to address and dismantle institutional colonialism and bring Indigenous knowledge to the table.

On May 28th, 2024,  Sol Mamakwa – MPP Kiiwetinoong became the first MPP to speak an Indigenous language, Anishininiimowin, in Ontario Legislature, with the official recording and transcription in the Hansard also recorded in Anishininiimowin. After centuries of state-sanctioned erasure of Indigenous languages, cultures and ceremonies – rendered “illegal” and punishable – this marked a historic moment in the house of language and cultural reclamation in the house, which you can watch here.

The weight of our many histories on the present tense

History is always in the making – impressing our historical debts and traumas on the present. It has been a short stretch since the discovery of over 200 unmarked graves at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in 2021. Since then, the number of suspected graves uncovered across former residential school sites has risen to over 2500 and counting. To the west, the movement to #SearchTheLandfill has garnered union support for searching the Brady Road Resource Management Facility as part of an ongoing search for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S) loved ones. Survivors of historical traumas and families impacted by loss walk among us – as union members, as colleagues, and as neighbours. Resistance to Canada’s genocidal policies of assimilation cannot be shouldered by Indigenous communities alone. We must carry into the future the lessons of Idle No More, 1492 Landback Lane at Six Nations, Wet’suwet’en land defenders to the northwest, and the Kanehsatà:ke Resistance to the east. How do we understand this era of “reconciliation” when Indigenous land is still being taken at gunpoint from Wet’suwet’en people; when Indigenous children make up 7.7% of the child population in Canada yet over half of children in foster care; when mass graves continue to be uncovered?

While popularly embraced by mainstream politics and government officials, decolonization is not a buzzword or abstract metaphor. Decolonization involves the material implementation of truths such as Land Back, alongside the embrace and deference to Indigenous knowledge around land stewardship. Acknowledgement of colonial history is not enough – mere lip service ignores how present-day policies continue to structure colonial power. Prioritizing aesthetic and performative gestures over material change for our Indigenous kin divests us from our responsibility to build a shared future and dismantle structures of oppression.

With wildfire season starting earlier every year, the climate crisis only grows more critical in Ontario – and Indigenous peoples remain on the frontlines of land and water preservation. All the while, treaties continue to be broken by federal and provincial governments alongside industry; resource extraction continues to dole out irreversible damage in Northern communities; and the children of the industrially-polluted river near Grassy Narrows First Nation grow up exhibiting symptoms of mercury poisoning. Reports released earlier this month indicate that mercury levels – methylmercury, the most toxic form of mercury – are only rising in the Wabigoon River by Grassy Narrows due to industrial discharge and waste dumping from the paper mill upstream in the 1960s-70s. How can we relegate colonialism to the “past,” when over 90% of the Grassy Narrows community reportedly suffers from some degree of mercury poisoning that can be passed from mother to child generationally?

The role of industry, and work, in driving environmental racism and creating conditions of generational harm cannot be overlooked as we grapple with our historical duty as treaty people in redressing the harms of yesterday, today, and tomorrow – in the pursuit of material reconciliation.

The 2024 Grassy Narrows River Run will take place in Tkaronto/Toronto on September 18th – we invite all OPSEU/SEFPO member to register and walk with Grassy Narrows youth and community members to show that we are with them on their path to achieve mercury justice and freedom. Register here:

No jobs on a dead planet: the struggle against colonialism is a worker issue

The same logics which trade unionists have battled for decades – driving the expendability of workers, unsafe working conditions, poverty wages, business monopolies, corporate greed – have been resisted by First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples peoples for centuries.

We can see the centuries of dispossession and displacement of Indigenous peoples culminating in modern pipeline projects and ongoing land theft, driven by the extractive logics of capitalism which erode our relationship to land. How does our understanding of ownership and what can be bought, sold, or traded away shaped under capitalism?

To quote Blackfoot professor from the Kainai First Nation in Albert, “[Indigenous peoples] are not the sole owners under the original grant from the Creator; the land belongs to past generations, to the yet-to-be-born, and to the plants and animals. Has the Crown ever received a surrender of title from these others?”

During National Indigenous History Month, we invite OPSEU/SEFPO members to reflect on how the struggle against colonialism underscores the major fights of our time – against privatization, environmental destruction, ecological collapse, the erosion of collective rights and freedoms. There are no jobs on a dead planet, and memory must orient us towards Indigenized futures to safeguard all life projects on Earth.

Join us at the Water Conference this September

In pursuit of the work towards shared futures, we invite OPSEU/SEFPO members to join us this September at the Water Conference, taking place from September 27-29 in London, ON (Region 1) on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, the Lenape, the Attawandaron, and the Wendat peoples. Further details to come – please check back on the OPSEU/SEFPO website and calendar.

In solidarity,

JP Hornick, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Laurie Nancekivell, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
Krista Maracle, OPSEU/SEFPO Chair, Indigenous Circle