June marks National Indigenous History Month where we recognize the vibrant and rich heritage, culture and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples across Canada.
During this month we not only spend time acknowledging the immeasurable contributions that Indigenous Peoples have and continue to make to society but it is also a time to listen and learn. It is imperative that we come together to recognize the history of discrimination and disadvantage that Indigenous Peoples have endured.
Most recently, the wider Canadian society has started to come to grips with the pain and intergenerational trauma that Indigenous communities have long discussed for years in relation to residential schools. This tremendous impact is felt by survivors, their families, and the future generations who live and work among us. Therefore, we must never forget.
In recent days we marked the one year anniversary since the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children that were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Tk’emlúpste te Secwépemc territory. Since then we have witnessed the discovery of additional locations of unmarked graves at residential schools across the country. As might be expected, this has sparked a national conversation that no one can ignore.
In spite of this, we continue to see the growing representation of Indigenous Peoples in distinguished roles within fields, such as, the arts, music, television, film, academia, and science and technology. Most notably, we witnessed the appointment of Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, who is the first Indigenous and the 30th Governor General in Canada since July 2021. However, these milestones do not mean that our work is over as we have a duty to continue to fight for equality and acceptance as we continue to decolonize Canada.
The road towards seeking justice and reconciliation will not be easy but the demands are clear. We cannot look away at what makes us uncomfortable nor should we be wilfully blind as that only leads to complacency. As a union we have the collective voice and strength in numbers to mandate the change that must be implemented. We need to continue to hold government and political leaders at all levels to account for the continuous broken promises as we can no longer accept the status quo.
This includes supporting tangible actions to address the systemic discrimination that leads to the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples within the criminal justice and child welfare systems. During the pandemic we have witnessed the exacerbation of inequities that already disproportionately affect Indigenous communities, such as, a lack of clean drinking water, climate change, affordable and adequate housing and access to health care services. These realities are unacceptable and we must take immediate action and steps to correct course.
These important issues have brought to the forefront of what is needed to build the relationship with Indigenous Peoples and how the path towards reconciliation is everyday work that requires us all to change how we think and what we do.
In a year where we will elect new provincial and municipal political leaders we must be unrelenting and unwavering in ensuring that not only are treaty agreements respected but that steps are taken to achieve the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. However, this can only occur by truly embracing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in everything we do.
National Indigenous History Month is a time to reinforce the strength of Indigenous Peoples and their communities, show our support, and commit to fighting against all forms of anti-Indigenous racism so that Canada’s shameful and disgraceful past and present can be acknowledged and addressed. It is only by understanding our past that we can change and create a better future.
This conversation should not start or end in the month of June as it is an ongoing one that will continue until full accountability and reconciliation is achieved for all of our Indigenous colleagues, friends and family members.
JP Hornick, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Laurie Nancekivell, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
Krista Maracle, OPSEU/SEFPO Chair, Indigenous Circle