OKN Logo

All Children and Youth Thrive!

Two Voices on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Introduction by Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager

On September 30th people across Canada will observe the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the fulfilment of Call to Action #80 in the Final Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, completed back in 2015. In Halton, plans are underway for Truth and Reconciliation walks, ceremonies, and other events for residents. Some of you will be continuing your journey of Reconciliation, while others will certainly be called to begin their journey through participation in these events. Many Canadians are hopeful that marking this important day each year to focus on the Truth will bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people closer to Reconciliation.

decrative banner

In the following dual blogs, Our Kids Network member, Joanna Matthews and OKN Indigenous Lead, Angela Bellegarde, write about their own unique journeys to discover, learn, and share the Truth; and about their hopes and aspirations for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Halton and Canada.


A Personal and Professional Reflection from a Non-Indigenous Perspective

By Joanna Matthews, Vice President, Services, Reach Out Centre for Kids ROCK
Co-chair, Our Kids Network Community Planning Table

I am a white European woman and use the pronouns she/her. As a small child, I immigrated to Canada from the colonizing country of England, which maintained a class system. My family on both sides were from the working-class. In the mid-60s, when my parents were given the opportunity to be sponsored by the British government to move to a commonwealth country, they chose Canada. I recognize this sponsorship as a privilege, but even so we were still poor working-class newcomers immersed in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto. I experienced the exclusion, discrimination, prejudice, and struggles that most newcomers endure, and I worked to overcome these hardships.

Sharing Experiences as Part of a Reconciliation Journey

It was not a stretch for me as part of my career to take on the position of executive director at the Halton Multicultural Council (HMC) in 2002. I was aware of my white privilege, had a good understanding about systemic discrimination, and knew how I could use my platform to make changes. Reflecting on my years at HMC, I recognize that I learned through experiences that demonstrated my lack of understanding regarding the Truth about Indigenous people in Canada and their struggles. These learnings have stayed with me to this day and I am sharing some of them in this blog as part of my own Reconciliation journey.

Read more


An Indigenous Person’s Truth; and Thoughts on the Meaning of This Significant Day

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

On September 30th, the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we are all called to commemorate and honour Indian Residential School Survivors and those children who did not make it home. Establishing this day directly relates to Call to Action #80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. As a First Nations person, who descends from three generations of Indian Residential School Survivors, I have been contemplating what this means to me, and to my children who are the next generation of Indian Residential School Survivors.

Residential Schools Took Away Language, Culture, History, and Pride

My Mooshum (grandfather), Maglory Bellegarde, was the twelfth Indian enrolled at Lebret Indian Industrial School, later called Lebret Indian Residential School. All of his children and grandchildren attended this institution as well. My Aunts and Uncles would say that “it wasn’t so bad”, and I am sure it was better than many of the other Indian Residential Schools that we have come to learn about over this past summer. However, the very fact that they were forced to attend demonstrates the unjust and genocidal practices of the Canadian government of the time.

Read more

A Personal and Professional Reflection from a Non-Indigenous Perspective

By Joanna Matthews, Vice President, Services, Reach Out Centre for Kids ROCK
Co-chair, Our Kids Network Community Planning Table

I am a white European woman and use the pronouns she/her. As a small child, I immigrated to Canada from the colonizing country of England, which maintained a class system. My family on both sides were from the working-class. In the mid-60s, when my parents were given the opportunity to be sponsored by the British government to move to a commonwealth country, they chose Canada. I recognize this sponsorship as a privilege, but even so we were still poor working-class newcomers immersed in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto. I experienced the exclusion, discrimination, prejudice, and struggles that most newcomers endure, and I worked to overcome these hardships.

Sharing Experiences as Part of a Reconciliation Journey

It was not a stretch for me as part of my career to take on the position of executive director at the Halton Multicultural Council (HMC) in 2002. I was aware of my white privilege, had a good understanding about systemic discrimination, and knew how I could use my platform to make changes. Reflecting on my years at HMC, I recognize that I learned through experiences that demonstrated my lack of understanding regarding the Truth about Indigenous people in Canada and their struggles. These learnings have stayed with me to this day and I am sharing some of them in this blog as part of my own Reconciliation journey.

A number of years ago, HMC was hosting the first nationally recognized Multiculturism Day event. This was part of three significant days observed in June (St. John Baptiste Day in Quebec, National Indigenous Peoples Day, and National Multiculturalism Day). We were busy signing up groups to participate in our event, and one day were visited by members of a local Business Improvement Association (BIA). One visitor asked how I was supporting the recognition of Indigenous people in Oakville. I thought I was being very inclusive when I invited this distinguished individual to join us at our event. His response has stayed with me to this day. He asked, “How can I support you to celebrate newcomers to Canada, when my people are not recognized?” I was aware of the tragic history of Indigenous people in Canada, but I was not yet open to the Truth which would enable me to react, feel and walk with Indigenous people as I was trying to do for newcomers.

Part of the work for all staff at HMC was providing training to other organizations and professionals in order to achieve our vision that every individual, regardless of race or ethnic origin is accepted, by fostering mutual respect and understanding.

I often used this ice breaker exercise to begin meetings. Everyone in the room was asked to stand. I would ask attendees to sit down as a question applied to them. …Please take a seat if you were born outside Canada…if your parents were born outside Canada…grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents… An attendee would only remain standing if they were an indigenous person or of Indigenous heritage. While this exercise was meant to recognize Indigenous people as the only true “first people of Canada”, it was dismissive and potentially traumatizing. I was trying to demonstrate that we are all newcomers at one time or another, but this negated the significance of Indigenous persons in the room. Additionally, I did not create a safe space for Indigenous people to remain standing as there was nowhere to go from this exercise as a position of value. I could not truly see what I was perpetuating in attempting to be inclusive.

Moving Towards Reconciliation with My Family

From a family perspective, one of my brother-in laws is Métis from Calgary and another had a brother who was part of the Sixties Scoop child welfare project. Neither of my brother-in laws talked very much about their experiences and we did not try to explore this knowledge with them. This is another example of our family being close, having knowledge, but not quite in a place of supporting or seeing the Truth.

My son chose to go to university in Thunder Bay. We were excited because he would have the opportunity to be fully engaged in the outdoors, take Indigenous studies, and even a course to learn the Ojibway language. Sadly, he did not experience Thunder Bay as he had thought he would. He encountered many Indigenous people in difficult positions, suffering from discrimination and the effects of the generational trauma that resulted from Residential Schools. He did not know how to handle these circumstances or what to think.

These situations and learnings were opening our family to the reality of the Truth about Indigenous people Canada, but we still did not know what to do or how we could become allies.

Taking Concrete Steps to Learn and Understand

When my son was away at school, I began to read more about the true history of Indigenous people, I took courses and added Indigenous authors to my reading. I attended many Indigenous events and speaker-series in Halton to gain a deeper understanding of the experience of Indigenous people by hearing directly from Indigenous people. When the Truth and Reconciliation Report, and volumes of stories and facts became available, I purchased the volume that dealt directly with the prairies and read the stories of my brothers-in-law’s ancestors. Our family read, shared, and discussed this together. Now, we continue to share readings, websites, testimonials and more as part of our family’s journey.

Through my current position at ROCK, I have had the amazing opportunity to work closely with the Peel Indigenous Centre and Enaahtig Healing Lodge. Carefully and with great respect, I have learned so much and continue to work alongside them.

National Day for Truth and Recognition brings Us Together to Reflect and Continue Forward

As a non-Indigenous person, I think my experience is not unique. We can know but don’t necessarily understand; we can understand but may not have gained the deeper connection; and we need to challenge ourselves to move. Therefore, for me the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation means that we can collectively move forward. We need to be authentic in recognizing and commemorating the legacy of Residential Schools. As a non-Indigenous person, this day has significant meaning to me because it will create space to collectively hold our minds and hearts together to deepen our learning and understanding of the Truth.

I believe a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation provides an annual opportunity for all of us to reflect on the previous year and see what we have done to move towards Reconciliation. I recognize that some people feel that observing significant days, weeks or months only provides a focus once a year, but I don’t see it that way at all. I see observing significant days as the ability to shine a spotlight and provide a vehicle to take responsibility.  The senior team for ROCK has been busy preparing for our full staff meeting on September 30th to commemorate the traumatic legacy of Residential Schools. This will become part of our journey as an agency, to deepen our knowledge and work toward our responsibilities under the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action.

If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419.

An Indigenous Person’s Truth and Thoughts on the Meaning of This Significant Day

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

On September 30th, the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we are all called to commemorate and honour Indian Residential School Survivors and those children who did not make it home. Establishing this day directly relates to Call to Action #80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. As a First Nations person, who descends from three generations of Indian Residential School Survivors, I have been contemplating what this means to me, and to my children who are the next generation of Indian Residential School Survivors.

Residential Schools Took Away Language, Culture, History, and Pride

My Mooshum (grandfather), Maglory Bellegarde, was the twelfth Indian enrolled at Lebret Indian Industrial School, later called Lebret Indian Residential School. All of his children and grandchildren attended this institution as well. My Aunts and Uncles would say that “it wasn’t so bad”, and I am sure it was better than many of the other Indian Residential Schools that we have come to learn about over this past summer. However, the very fact that they were forced to attend demonstrates the unjust and genocidal practices of the Canadian government of the time.

Yes, I used the word genocidal and I meant it. Within three generations of my family, Indian Residential Schools had for the most part, the intended effect, which was to “remove the Indian from the child”. The trauma and cultural harm of not being allowed to speak our language or practice our traditional ceremonies continues to have a devastating impact to this day. My aunties, uncles, and cousins are now learning our language and speaking it at home. We are now seeking opportunities to learn about our unique worldview and are participating in ceremony to capture that essential part of our being.

I have come a long way to recover from the shame I once felt at being an Indian when I was growing up. I learned at a young age to be careful who I told about my identity. It was exhausting to explain the difference between First Nations and Métis. When I began to date, I always checked with a potential boyfriend’s views on First Nations people in Canada to avoid the inevitable discussions that would occur. “You don’t look like an Indian.” “Are you sure you’re not Métis?” “But you’re not those other Indians. Your dad has a job.”  “If you’re an Indian, why has your family done so well for themselves?” This was my reality and at time it was very painful.

My children are proud of their First Nation identity. They readily disclose this to their peers and as part of classroom discussions. They share what they know about their Mooshum attending Indian Residential School. They are fully present when their Aunts and Uncles share the stories. I am struck with how different this was from my experience with my peers at their age.

I recognize the privilege I have in knowing who my people are, and our family history. I can go back to Peepeekisis Cree First Nation and walk the land where my family lived. Most of them are buried in the cemetery on the reserve, even the two young great aunts who died while attending Residential School. It deeply pains me that over the past few months, I have met many Indigenous people in Halton that were part of the Sixties Scoop and are desperately seeking their birth families in an effort to come to terms with their Indigenous identity. I have met Indigenous people who were brought up with shame for being an Indian and told to hide this fact from the rest of the world. Stop and imagine if this was you or your family. What would the impact be for your family if you were missing an essential part of your personal story?

The Time is Now to Go Beyond Just Knowing the Truth

When Tk’kemlups te Scewepemc announced to Canada and the world that bodies were discovered in unmarked graves near the Kamloops Indian Residential School, it was shocking. However, to most Indigenous peoples, it was finally revealing what has been known to us and what survivors had been sharing all along. These children’s stories have been passed on to the next generation. We know that at least 3,213 children’s deaths at Indian Residential Schools were documented during the consultations with Indigenous Residential School Survivors held by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What is shocking to me is that it seems that most Canadians did not know about these children. It is documented in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. In fact, Calls to Action #71 to #80 speaks to the missing children, unmarked graves, and residential school cemeteries. It is there for everyone to read. Will you take time on September 30th to read about it?

In the first of our two-part blog, Joanna Mathews, challenges all of us to go beyond knowing the Truth about Indigenous people and to deeply connect with that information to move towards Reconciliation. I could not agree more. The inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is about commemorating and honouring real people, families, and communities who were treated reprehensibly by the Canadian government. Indian Residential School Survivors live among us. Take some time to seek out their stories and bear witness to our country’s history.

On September 30th wear your Orange Shirt and take a moment to really think about what it means to you, and to Indian Residential School Survivors. Learn more and do more so we can collectively make Canada a better place that truly includes Indigenous people and is based on mutual respect.

NCTR – National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

Lebret (Qu’Appelle) – NCTR

orangeshirtday.org

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – NCTR

If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Reclaiming My Indigeneity

By Wendy Einwechter, Our Kids Network Indigenous Reconciliation Initiative summer student

I didn’t learn about the real history of Indigenous Peoples until taking an Indigenous Studies course at university last year. The truth about Indigenous history, culture, and government oppression and control was certainly not taught when I was in elementary and high school. I first heard about Indian Residential Schools in 2008 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a cold and insincere apology to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and proudly claimed that there was no history of colonialism in Canada. Even so,11 years went by before I decided to be intentional about exploring my culture and learned exactly what has been happening to Indigenous People – my people – for centuries.

Growing Up “White” and Trying to Fit In

My mother is Anishnaabe, originally from Matachewan First Nation, Ontario. My father is British from Manchester, England, and immigrated to Canada at the age of 23. We lived in Toronto where my sisters and I grew up “white”; trying to fit into a predominantly white neighbourhood in the suburbs. My mother never talked to us about being Indian. We didn’t hear stories about our culture, traditional teachings, or all the contributions that Indigenous people make to society, the economy, the arts, business, and more. I saw that my mother felt embarrassed about her people and where she was born, so as a child, I became embarrassed to be Indian too. I denied my Indigenous heritage when asked because I had unintentionally learned that it was not something to be proud of. The only exposure I had to our culture was when we would visit my grandmother for the summer. We would eat bannock, have fish fries, and I would listen to my mother and grandmother laughing and speaking in their Ojibway language.

I have struggled with my Indigenous identity for as long as I can remember. I queried my mother throughout the years about her childhood and what life was like for her when she was growing up. She would talk about some things, but there was also much she wasn’t willing or able to share. As a result of my mother’s struggle with her own Indigenous identity, I did not have a close relationship with my uncles or aunties; but that is all changing now.

Beginning the Journey by Finding Roots

When I began Indigenous Studies courses at university in 2019, I decided that I was going to reclaim my Indigeneity. I decided to learn everything possible about our history, no matter how difficult or painful. I intend to learn about medicinal and traditional teachings; how to live the good life from the Indigenous perspective; and to learn my traditional language. I know now that these things are definitely worth being proud of and are intrinsic to who I am.

A tree with roots signifies finding family culture and heritage.

Photo credit: Angela Bellegarde

While working at Our Kids Network as the Indigenous Reconciliation Initiative summer student, I had the pleasure of participating in a virtual webinar, part of National Indigenous History month activities. The webinar touched on various topics such as the Canadian Indian Act, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Terra Nullius and Indian Residential Schools.

Participating in the webinar reinforced for me what I need to do to explore and understand my culture. I have already begun my journey by reconnecting with my mother’s family to learn more about our family history. It is a journey that I am starting later in my life, but I am determined to reclaim and embrace what has been taken from my family for generations: our pride, culture, traditions, language and more.

Read more…

The Canadian Indian Act

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

Terra Nullius

Indian Residential Schools

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Our Kids Network Indigenous Literacy Resources

If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Building Indigenous Literacy Through Credible Resources

By Wendy Einwechter, Our Kids Network Indigenous Reconciliation initiative summer student

 

Introduction by Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous lead

Our curated website section, Increase Your Indigenous Literacy, can be a first step on your journey to learn the Truth, making Reconciliation actions more meaningful. OKN staff are committed to ensuring that the information provided for Halton professionals is relevant and beneficial, from documentary videos on political relationships such as Dancing Around the Table Part 1 and Part 2 to suggestions on how you can write your own evocative Territorial Acknowledgement, and much more.

In her blog about researching content for the website, OKN Indigenous Reconciliation Initiative summer student, Wendy Einwechter, writes about the plethora of misinformation about Indigenous culture, history and traditions found on the internet and how the facts often must be uncovered and verified. She shares useful approaches and tips to ensure credibility and integrity when searching content online.

Buried Treasure-The Challenges of Online Research

As the OKN Indigenous Reconciliation initiative summer student, one of my responsibilities was to search online for credible, verifiable Indigenous resources for the OKN website Indigenous Literacy section. While doing my research, I was reminded of the “Telephone Game” that we all played as children, where as a phrase is whispered from person to person it becomes more and more distorted to the point of being completely different when it reaches the last person.  I wasn’t surprised at discovering biased and opinionated information and misinformation in my research, but what did surprise me was just how much there is on the topics of Indigenous culture, history and education. I could see that finding reliable sources would be challenging, so I approached this work with a critical and Indigenous viewpoint.

Mining for Integrity

I worked closely with Angela Bellegarde, OKN’s Indigenous lead to develop criteria and an approach to ensure that any new content would meet the standards of the OKN Indigenous literacy website section.  When I found information that I thought was relevant, I would spend time digging deeper into that resource. This sometimes  was very time-consuming depending on the media source or social channels such as You Tube or Instagram.  After viewing the resource, I would then research the person or organization for verification.

When researching a person or organization, I looked for credentials and proof of their expertise on the topic. I would also look for other published work or contributions that they may have made elsewhere. Often, I would mine their own resources to understand how and where they arrived at their conclusions. I also considered whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous and their specific ties to the Indigenous community.

Personal, Professional, Unconscious Biases can Throw Research off the Path

I was mindful of being overly critical and of my own personal and professional, or even unconscious, biases that could inhibit decisions on which content to accept or reject. Achieving a discerning balance considering source, verification, and credentials was the key to finding the “treasure” often buried in unlikely content.

This work spanned June to the end of August and the results are now being reviewed and edited. The content will be added to the OKN website in late fall. While the website is a resource for all Halton professionals who work with children, youth and families, these new resources may most greatly benefit non-Indigenous people who are looking for information that may help them on their journey to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

OKN Indigenous Literacy Resources

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

Have you ever thought about the name you were given? Is there a story behind how you came to have your name? What about the children, youth, and families you work with? Do you think about the significance of their names? For many Indigenous people, our naming story is one of the most important stories that form our identity. Indeed, how we receive our name is important to everyone. For many Indigenous people, the story of how we received our name and what our name means is very important to our individual identity and shapes our place in the world. Indeed, how we all receive our name is important to every person, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Naming traditions

Mother Holding NewbornSome of you may think I am referring to my traditional Indigenous name – the name I received as an adult in sacred ceremony. I choose to not share my traditional name widely, but some Indigenous people prefer to be known by their Indigenous name. This choice is significant to them, to their family, and to their community. Many Indigenous people also indicate the name of their people, such as Anishnaabeg or Cree, when introducing themselves. Pay attention when you hear them pronounce their Indigenous name, the name of their people, and their First Nation. They are sharing an important part of who they are with you. Learn how to pronounce these names properly. Ask them to repeat their name if you need to. Say it out loud. Be courageous and take the step to learn.

It’s important to note that not all Indigenous people have been honored with their Indigenous name. Colonialism has interfered with this traditional practice. Some of us were taken from our communities and families and we are still searching for who we are.

We often indicate the name of our First Nation in our introductions. You will hear me say that I am a band member of Peepeekisis Cree First Nation. There is a lot of Canadian Indigenous history wrapped up in those four words. I recently met with a community partner who used her historical knowledge of my reserve to set the tone of our meeting. It was wonderful. Have you thought this way about the name of your workplace, home, and community? Not the traditional Indigenous name but the current name being used? What does “Halton” mean to you?

Reclaiming our names

The government changed our names at the time of treaty signing, and religious and government-appointed administrators at residential schools Christianized our names. This is well documented. In fact, Call to Action number 17 addresses these facts by calling on the government to waive administrative costs for those who want to reclaim their names. Think about this for a moment. What would you do? This is the dilemma that my uncles and aunties are contemplating now. Their current names have come to mean just as much to them as the traditional names that were changed.

Nicknames and movie stars

The importance of nicknames for Indigenous people cannot be understated. For some Indigenous people, a nickname is the only name they are known by. When people ask who my father was, I must identify him by his nickname and his given name.

I love the moment of realization when I meet someone who knew my father by his nickname. It means they knew him when he was young, and as a player on the notorious Lebret Indians hockey team. In those days, nicknames meant you belonged to the team, even if it was “Team Residential School”. Having a nickname still means that you are accepted and acknowledged by your peers and, to us, are part of a family within an oppressive system.

Let me name drop a little and tell you about the time I met Hollywood actor, the late Gordon Tootoosis at a powwow my father and I attended. I was star struck as he greeted my dad with a thundering “Jojo!”, my father’s nickname. Gordon knew Brad Pitt, for heaven’s sake, but I was in awe of his many references to our people. “Skin is here. Did you see Skin? I heard Cannonball wasn’t well. Have you heard anything?” he queried. Skin? Cannonball? Who were these people and how did they get those names? Their nicknames were their stories and I cherished the times when my dad shared these moments of our history with me. These stories also provided insight into his time at residential school, something he didn’t speak much about.

More than just a name

The name on my birth certificate is the name I’m writing about today. There is a history to my name that tells you where I’m from, who my people are, and my place in this world. When meeting other Indigenous people for the first time, our names will be the starting point for conversation.

When I lived in Alberta, people knew that I was from Saskatchewan because of my last name. “Bellegarde. A cousin from next door over, eh?” In turn, I know an Indigenous person from Alberta by their usually, very descriptive last names given to them by government agents: Weaseltallow, Littlebear, Shotonbothsides…Alberta Indigenous people for sure.

My children know their name stories and we talk about them frequently. I have taught them that when they are asked their name, they are to say it loud and clear. This is meaningful and is a part of Canada’s history. All our names are.

I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your name. What is its origin story? What about the names of your clients? Have they anglicized their names because it’s easier to apply for employment or be accepted in the community? Were they given a different name at birth than the one they have now? What does that mean to them? Knowing a person’s name is an opportunity to learn about them and who they are. Use your clients’ names as often as possible when meeting together. This acknowledges their whole being.

Read more…

Giving my children Cree names is a powerful act of reclamation | CBC News

Chelsea Vowel (BEd, LLB) is a Métis writer and educator from Lac Ste. Anne, Alta., currently doing her graduate studies in Edmonton. Mother to six girls, she co-hosts the Indigenous feminist sci-fi podcast Métis in Space and is the author of Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada.

OKN resources to increase Indigenous literacy.