Reckoning with Canada’s colonial past and taking steps toward truth, healing, and equity
Publish date: Tuesday, June 01, 2021 presidentsMessage
(Photo credit National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation)
Like so many, I was heartbroken and horrified to learn about the bodies of 215 Indigenous children found in an unmarked grave at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
I spoke to my friend, Tim Sim, the leader of the AMAPCEO Indigenous Circle, earlier this week about this horrible discovery. “Finding these children’s bodies is a tragedy, but for many Indigenous families, it is not a surprise,” he said. “They have had to live for decades with the knowledge that their children did not come home, without ever being given an official reason.”
Canadians must be willing to reckon with this ugly, shameful part of our history, and name it for what it is. We must also be willing to reckon with how recent it is. From about 1863 to 1996, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families by the government of Canada and placed into religious ‘schools’ with the intention of eradicating Indigenous culture. They were called residential schools then, but now we know to call it what it was: cultural genocide. The last residential school closed in 1996, and there are many survivors of the system, as well as their families, who are alive today and still living with the trauma of those experiences.
Finally, we must be willing to reckon with and work toward eliminating the ways colonial violence is still perpetuated today: racism and inequity, anti-Indigenous violence, the disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous people in Canada, and the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the Canadian welfare system.
For those that have been impacted by the tragic news this weekend, there are several resources I encourage you to take advantage of:
- The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line, for former students and those affected;
- The Employee and Family Assistance Program, which is available to you and your family 24 hours a day, seven days a week;
- The OPS Wellness Portal, which provides wellness and mental resources to OPS members; and
- Hope for Wellness, which offers culturally relevant mental health support services for members of the Indigenous community.
I encourage AMAPCEO members to commit themselves to learning more about truth and reconciliation, Indigenous history, and the issues facing Indigenous people today, so that we can all become better allies to Indigenous people and communities across the country.
I thought I knew a lot about the history of residential schools in Canada, but I was incredibly affected by the presentation Dr. Cindy Blackstock gave at our own 2019 Annual Delegates’ Conference and discovered there was still so much for me to learn.
“Colonial violence is woven into the fabric of Canadian history,” said Sim. “It is Canada’s past and present, but it cannot be the future. It is only through education, hard conversations, and commitment that we can take steps toward a future of truth, healing, and equity.”
I know I will be engaging in that work and taking those steps. I hope you will join me.
President & CEO
More about AMAPCEO and our Members: Established in 1992, AMAPCEO is a bargaining agent that represents 14,000 professional and supervisory public servants, most of whom work directly for the Government of Ontario in every ministry and in a number of agencies, boards and commissions; in 130 communities throughout Ontario and in 12 cities outside Canada. We also represent employees outside the Ontario Public Service in: the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario; the Ontario Arts Council; Ontario Health (Quality Unit); Public Health Ontario; the Waypoint Mental Health Centre in Penetanguishene; and in the former Offices of the Ontario Child Advocate and the French Language Services Commissioner (now part of the Ontario Ombudsman).