LeMay and Cafeley: We all have a role to play in reconciliation

Canada has made progress, but we still let racism happen daily against Indigenous people in this country.

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We met on a sunny Saturday afternoon to discuss reconciliation progress ahead of the second National Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30. A First Nations leader and champion for Indigenous peoples, and a non-Indigenous leader who strives to be a genuine ally, we wanted to write about hope and action.

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We first met ten years ago at the 2012 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference. Our team of conference delegates have traveled across Saskatchewan to experience the warmth of a beautiful province often neglected. We witnessed the moving gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation event in La Ronge, and our team experienced the pain and trauma of First Nations survivors. At that time, so few non-Indigenous people witnessed Indigenous peoples’ daily battles to share the truth, so this was a stark lesson for our team about the strengths of Indigenous cultures.

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As we gathered recently to write our thoughts on reconciliation, one of the worst massacres in Canadian history occurred in a First Nations community in Saskatchewan. We all reacted with disbelief and grief.

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Many of us went online to find out more and instead found nauseating racism, bigotry and ignorance in the comment sections. It is heartbreaking to know that Indigenous peoples expected this, but others are surprised at the vitriol against Indigenous peoples.

Canadians claim to be among the most educated and compassionate people in the world. We are admired for our diversity, openness and warmth. We have our first aboriginal Governor General, our first aboriginal Supreme Court Justice, more and more elected aboriginal members from coast to coast. We have made progress and we still have a long way to go.

We also allow racism to occur daily against Indigenous peoples in this country.

As we acknowledge the past, we must also act on the present.

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We are all witnesses to the pain and suffering that occurs today and every day in communities across the country, from public places to professional settings. We know from anecdotes and data that in addition to paying an emotional tax – the combination of being on guard to protect against prejudice due to race, ethnicity and gender and feeling the effects associates on well-being and the ability to thrive at work – only 39% of Aboriginal employees feel psychologically safe at work. We all have a role to play in changing that.

As September 30 approaches, every Canadian must play an active role in reconciliation.

What can you do?

• If you witness racism and remain silent, you are part of the problem. Say something. Do something. Hold people accountable when they express racism or racist feelings towards Indigenous peoples. Interrupt biased behaviors and encourage others to do the same.

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• Reflect on your own behavior and keep learning. We all have unconscious biases. Recognize it, acknowledge it, and constantly grow.

• Reach out to a First Nations, Inuit or Métis person in your life to express your support and educate yourself. She suffers. If you don’t have Indigenous peoples in your network, ask yourself why.

• Ask what your workplace is doing to address reconciliation and hold leaders accountable for their actions. To be involved. Lawyer. Respect the history and culture of First Nations, Inuit and Métis colleagues. Honor the burdens they carry.

• We cannot change our history, but we are responsible for today and tomorrow. We all have a role to play – in maintaining oppressive systems or working to change them.

Rose Le May is Tlingit from British Columbia and CEO of the Indigenous Reconciliation Group (the-irg.ca) which provides anti-racism and reconciliation education and coaching. Julie Caley is an ally and the Executive Director of Catalyst Canada (catalyst.org), an organization that creates more inclusive and diverse workplaces for women and all people through research, learning and events.

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