Reconciliation Starts Here
Updated: Jan 8
The most harrowing story I have ever written
I am reading a book that has affected me to the depths of my soul. After more than 20 years of working to help First Nations make the world a better place, I had no idea of the depths our government took to do their best to eradicate the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. I count myself as “somewhat knowledgeable,” and if I am just getting exposed to the depth of the atrocities, then there is a huge “gap in the knowledge regarding the history of Indigenous Peoples that spans from Confederation in 1867”1 to the present time.
Why Do I suggest “Reconciliation Starts Here?" Because it starts individually, with each of us coming to grips with the past. Without the knowledge of history, we will only continue to wander into the future, our fears, our perceptions and our beliefs all affecting how we think and do.
Reconciliation with First Nations Peoples is not only their right; our obligation is to make it right. As a primer and a sobering place to start to understand and appreciate what has brought us to where we are with First Nations today, I encourage everyone to go to Amazon Canada and buy Bob Joseph’s book “21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act - Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality.”
The book is for people “who want to walk with informed minds and hearts along the path to reconciliation,”2 which I hope is every one of us.
A Short History
Now onto a very sobering lesson about part of the history of Canada. This is not my version of history. What follows are examples from Bob’s book. Bob is First Nation and has spent most of his working life teaching about respecting cultural differences to improve personal relationships and business interactions with Indigenous Peoples.
Our history with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada began much before the introduction of the misaligned Indian Act of 1867. First Nation People have lived in Canada since time immemorial, and with one First Nation I work with, their traced history goes back more than 10,000 years. But I will start with the Indian Act, even though much happened before that, all of which formed the basis and thoughts for the millstone of the Indian Act that still hangs on Indigenous People’s necks.
The Indian Act
“The roots of the “Indian Act” began in 1844 when the Bagot Report recommended, “control over Indian matters be centralized, that children be sent to boarding schools away from the influence of their communities and culture, that the Indians be encouraged to assume the European concept of free enterprise, (and) … exclusive jurisdiction over Indians and land reserved for Indians (be given) to the federal government.”3
That was the start, and we are still dealing with the legacy today.
The Policy Initiative
The Indian Act had one goal: to get rid of the “Red Man” to free up unfettered access to their lands and resources. It was nothing more than a government-sponsored initiative to wipe out proud Nations that had sustained life on some of the most fertile land and abundant waters that the government now wanted. Duncan Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, wrote, “I want to get rid of the Indian Problem… Our objective is to continue until there is not an Indian that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question and no Indian Department.”4
The Reserve System
What did the First Nations get? They got the reserve system, residential schools, and a host of other atrocities that have shaped their lives, relationships with Non-Natives, and ours with them. I am not going to dive into many things; suffice, they are horrendous, the impacts are shattering, and we all have a responsibility to share the path to reconciliation.
The Reserve System forced assimilation onto tiny plots of land that, even though they have no control over, was and is supposed to provide them with a foundation for their lives. No land ownership, no home ownership, no right where they live, and in many cases, far away from their ancestral lands, plunked down on plots that the First Nations were supposed to farm to grow their food, which is another story in itself.
In reality, Reserves were created to contain and control Indians while providing European settlers full access to the fish, game, water, timber and mineral resources that had formally sustained Indian life and culture.
The Reserve System also changed their historical way of governing to a European model, away from the model that had been sustained for thousands of years. Foreign to them, the European model pits families against families, members against members, in a constant turnover for the hearts and minds of the voters (residents of the Reserve).
The Indian Act dictated elections each year, subsequently changed to two years, hardly time enough to kick the dust off the tires.
Back to Farming
I jump back to farming, as it is a shocking example of the depths government took to do its best to get rid of the Indian question. They could not buy farming equipment, left to use a shovel, rake and hoe; they could not barter or trade their produce and could not even leave the Reserve without special permission. They were supposed to live on subsistence farming, on some of the worst farmland that anyone could think of, all while the non-Native down the road got unfettered access to what was once the First Nation’s prime land.
And hunting for traditional foods, their possession of bullets for a gun was out of the question. Little chance for farming, no chance for hunting? What happened? Many of the social, economic, health and mental health problems the Indigenous People face today - and add to that, very few services to support them.
To End Today
There is so much more to this story. But it is my start to understanding the past that helps form a path for reconciliation. What amazes me is the resiliency; all the Indigenous People have gone through and continue to face; they can smile and continue to work on what they want to be.
I am humbled and Sustainable Circular Economy, a boutique firm in Vancouver, works every day to help First Nations do the world a world of good by helping with evaluation and decision-making through a circular economy lens considering impacts on people, the planet and which are sustainable.
Wayne Drury is CEO of Sustainable Circular Economy, a boutique firm in Vancouver, Canada, that helps businesses and First Nation communities to arrive at environmental solutions that are good for the people, the planet and are sustainable based upon a circular economy lens of reuse, repurpose, and recycle.
1 Bob Joseph (2018). 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act. Indigenous
Relations Press, Coquitlam, BC
2 Ibid. Page 4.
3 Ibid. Page 7
4 Ibid. Page 8