Indigenous Awareness Committee at Rotary Club of Guelph
TOWARDS TRUTH EVENTS - SEPTEMBER 2021
 
LEARNING THE TRUTH
 
During 2021, Canadians were shocked by the discovery of several thousand unmarked graves of children buried on the grounds of former Residential Schools in Canada. The grief felt by Indigenous Peoples was beyond measure. 
 
This tragic news triggered a national reckoning over Canada's legacy of the Indian Residential School system that operated for over 100 years, from the 1870s to the 1990s. Government-funded, they were part of a policy attempting to assimilate Indigenous children into European culture by separating them (often forcefully) from their Indigenous languages and cultures, which also meant separating them from their families and communities, from age 4 to 16. Over time, approximately 150,000 Indigenous children attended the Indian Residential Schools and around 6,000 of these children disappeared, often without any explanation to their families.
 
Around the same time as this tragic news was unfolding came the Canadian government's long-awaited proclamation of September 30th (also marked as Orange Shirt Day) becoming an annual National Day of Truth and Reconciliation starting in 2021.
 
Canadians are now reconsidering their personal understanding of Canada’s history and its relationship with Turtle Island’s (North America’s) original inhabitants. Many more Canadians are now wanting to learn how they can help with Truth and Reconciliation.
 
It begins with step one - learning more about the Truth. 
 
Our Rotary club's Indigenous Awareness Committee, led by chair Dianne Dance, sought ways to facilitate deeper learning and understanding in the community. With the financial support of the City of Guelph, and the support of our club, a series of educational events was arranged under the umbrella title of "TOWARDS TRUTH".  Here is an outline of those events.
 
Special thanks to Eleni Bakopoulos for the beautiful poster designs for all the events. All events were fully booked and offered in a way that was Covid-safe.  Quite an accomplishment.
 
TOWARDS TRUTH 
Guelph events commemorating Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation:  
September 30, 2021
 
Between September 27 and October 3, 2021 a number of free events were offered in Guelph, aimed to increase community awareness about Canada’s history of Indian Residential Schools and their harmful, multi-generational impact that is still felt today. 
 
Speaker Event at River Run – Mon. Sept. 27, 2021
Watch recording here (starts at 15min.) 
 
Matt Webster took the lead in organizing the Speaker event at the River Run Centre.  Tracey Curtis was the caring and professional  Master of Ceremony and former MPP Liz Sandals invited and introduced the speakers of the evening.  
 
The first speaker was former chief of Six Nations, Ava Hill. Chief Hill spoke compellingly about the importance of the 94 Calls to Action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She applauded the Commission for their work, but highlighted the work that still needs to be done - not only by our governments but also by all of us. Chief Hill has long been a strong advocate and continues to be a strong voice for change. 
 
 An impactful part of the presentation was the sharing of personal memories by two residential school survivors. Sisters Roberta Hill and Dawn Hill, at the ages of 6 and 8, found themselves attending the Mohawk Residential school near Brantford and they spoke movingly about their experiences and the long term effects on them and others. Today, the sisters are playing a leading role in the establishment of a memorial / reflection garden outside the former residential school.  https://mohawkvillagepark.com
 
Finally, Phil Monture, a Six Nations representative, spoke of his lifetime of research on the land claims and treaties in Canada between Indigenous Peoples and the government authorities. It is a long story of broken promises, and unfulfilled contracts that continue to impact the welfare of Indigenous peoples all over Canada.  This discussion is critical to understanding the ongoing news of blockades and protests by Indigenous people.
 
Film Festival – Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, 2021
Eleni Bakopoulos was instrumental in working with Peter Henderson from Guelph's Bookshelf Cinema to provide two showings each of 3 films, all important to understanding the Truth of Canada’s history with Turtle Island's Indigenous people.
 
The Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts –  Click here to watch
This is a must-watch film to understand how the nation-to-nation issues began. The intent of the Doctrine of Discovery, issued in 1493, and used by European monarchies, was to provide a framework for explorers like Christopher Columbus to lay claim to lands that were vacant or occupied by non-Christians.  The Doctrine claimed that Indigenous Peoples in the Americas could be seen as non-human, allowing the land they lived on to be seen as “terra nullius” or uninhabited.  The Doctrine of Discovery is still relevant in today’s legal arena and continues to impact Indigenous Peoples in North America and around the world. 
 
This documentary was funded by the Anglican Church of Canada to shed light on the origins of the campaign that went on to destroy Indigenous ways of life.  
 
Beans – Viewers of this film experience the 1990 Oka crisis through the eyes of a young Mohawk girl Tekehentahkwa, nicknamed “Beans”. Beans is a Canadian drama directed by Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer in 2020.  It explores the time when two Mohawk communities entered a 78 day armed stand-off with government forces to protect a burial ground from developers.  
 
The World Remembers When the World Broke Open – This film is about a chance encounter on the street between two Indigenous women. One is pregnant and the victim of domestic abuse and the other can “pass as white” and is trying to help her. This film confronts the problem of domestic abuse and how it is impacted by social class, ethnicity and trauma. It also explores the precarious difficulties faced by those who dare to intervene in cycles of abuse.  
 
Book Distribution 
“Towards Braiding” by Elwood Jimmy and Vanessa Andreotti with Sharon Stein
    
Through the support of the City of Guelph, the Rotary Club of Guelph undertook to make available the book “Towards Braiding” to organizations and individuals who are looking to explore different ways of ‘knowing and being’ in order to deepen their understanding of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion from an Indigenous, lived experience perspective.
 
Jane Armstrong, Peter McSherry and Barb Holmes (Chair and Distribution Lead), reached out to the community and some 500 books were distributed to Guelphites who want to understand more and do better.
 
Media Outreach
Dianne Dance and Lynne McCurdy were instrumental in designing a media campaign that was educational about the truth of Canada’s history, and exploring the vast information provided by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
 
By challenging our community to learn about and then monitor the government’s progress in implementing the 94 items for Truth and Reconciliation, residents were offered the opportunity to be better informed.