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National Day for Truth & Reconciliation: A Time to Learn & Reflect

I am sitting here at my home in the lands of the Blackfoot people thinking about the importance of the next couple of weeks. In a couple of days, it will be the 2nd annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, formerly known as Orange Shirt Day. I have completed five presentations already this week, and have five more to go - needless to say, it is a very busy week. In each presentation, I pay homage to Phyllis Webstad who bravely shared her story about having her orange shirt taken away when she was forced to attend a residential school in British Columbia. Her story led to a national movement of education, awareness, and an emphasis on the importance of lived experience that reminds us of the “Truth” necessary to advance reconciliation.

A gentleman in one of my sessions stated that he did not like the term reconciliation as it pertains to repairing relationships to the times when they were good, but he added that there were never really times when the relationship was good. Perhaps there is another term rooted in Indigenous languages that would better explain the action around repairing relationships, redressing history, unlearning elements of our history and being open to re-learning the truthful history of Canada. I thought this was a very critically engaging thought. It is one that I have heard before, and it makes me think of my own family’s history: no matter how challenging or difficult it was for them, they kept fighting to find their place in Canadian society.

As I continue to write, my mind often drifts to my late Grandmother, Dora Morin. She is a Métis/Cree woman who was born in Green Lake, Saskatchewan in the 1930s. My grandmother spoke Cree and Michif, and spent much of her childhood trapping, gathering and picking berries on the land. She was a strong and resilient Indigenous woman who taught me so much about my culture, my identity, and about our family. My grandfather, Freddy Morin, born in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan passed away when I was eleven years old, and with him a library of knowledge about our culture and family. I am so fortunate, I got to spend time with my grandmother into her late eighties as she always told me the greatest stories and had the best sense of humour. When I was feeling sad, she would always lighten my day with a joke or a funny story, and she took great pride in her family.

My grandmother, as our matriarch, was a tough woman. She never talked about the negative aspects of the church schools in Green Lake, Saskatchewan. She was too focused on keeping the family united and ensuring that her grandchildren were taken care of. I remember one afternoon, we had sat down at Smitty’s for our regular meal (Grandma loved eating at Smitty’s). During this visit, she started talking about her experience in the church school, which caught me by surprise. I was silent, I did not know what to say. To see a single tear start to run down the cheek of my hero caught me off guard, but I listened with great intensity to her bravely sharing her experiences with me. I had known my Mother Audrey Morin’s (born Meadow Lake 1956) experience with education as a young Indigenous woman, and this too was a very difficult story to internalize, but I had never heard my grandma talk about her experience.

I am grateful for every moment I got to spend with my grandma, her resilience, courage, perseverance, humour, and lifestyle guided me on my journey. She lived by her Indigenous values and teachings and is a role model to so many people. At her funeral, I had the distinct pleasure of giving the eulogy in front of our family members, one of the greatest honours I have ever received. Naturally, I was flooded with emotions. How do you provide a eulogy for one of the greatest people you have ever known? I wanted it to be perfect, but I have always been taught in life that there is no such thing as perfect, but rather to lead with my heart, speak from a place of passion with intention, meaning and purpose and the right words will come. My heart shattered with every word said, but I knew that my grandma was proud of me.

My mom moved to Blackfoot territory about three months ago to live with me and we keep the conversations about grandma ongoing. I am learning a lot about grandma from my mother and see many of the same values and teachings instilled in my mom. I look at my mom with admiration for always moving forward, for keeping such a positive attitude and for bringing kindness, empathy, and open-mindedness to everything she does. Recently, she has gone back to Saskatchewan to be with her twin sister as she battles the late stages of cancer, and I am happy they can be together during this time. As I was writing this story, she messaged me to say hello, it must be kismet, perhaps she could feel me writing about grandma.

On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I hope that Canadians take this opportunity to learn about not only the lived experiences of Indigenous people in Canada but as an ally, be a scholar to personalize knowledge and continue the journey to learning our authentic history. As well, it is my hope that many Canadians across the country will observe the sisters in Spirit Vigils held annually on October 4th to honour and remember those Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals that have gone missing or have been murdered. It is an opportunity to raise awareness, become better educated and speak up about the injustice and the Human Rights Crisis that has impacted the women in our Indigenous communities. It is a time to call out the justice system for the lack of specific data, for the inactive investigations and for the lack of will in the justice system to value Indigenous lives.

The time for change is now and it is important that we continue to heal within our families and our communities. I want to thank all the active allies out there for all the unlearning and re-learning you do, and the support and advocacy you provide to a growing Indigenous rights movement in Canada.

[Note to the readers: This article was written during the last week of September, before the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which takes place annually on September 30th. It is the reflections of one of our associates and Indigenous Inclusion leaders at CCDI Consulting, Roy Pogorzelski.