My Ally Story

I wasn’t always a lover of history nor did I ever think I would be part of changing it. Back in high school I found Canadian History so boring. It became an exercise in memorizing dates and battle names for an exam, then completely erasing it from memory to go on to more important things – like my Friday night date or what my best friend was wearing to the dance.

It wasn’t until later in life, when I wrote my maternal grandmother’s story of immigrating to Canada in 1913 and researched her genealogy, that I saw history in a new light. This was my history. My grandmother came from England, so travelling to her homeland and then Scotland a few years ago was a wonderful way for me to view the many historical sites I had been reading about.

There was a moment standing in Edinburgh Castle, as a tour guide asked where we were from, that I thought about Canada’s brief history. We joked about it, saying how short our history was compared to thousands of years of European history. I was still so ignorant.

Then in 2018 my friend Linda and I went on a trip to Quebec City. While visiting the various historical sites, I began to realize that I had been wrong. Canada did have an interesting history. We visited the Plains of Abraham, museums, old churches and markets. But it was the Saint-Louis Forts and Chateaux National Historical Site – the archaeological remains of the official residence of governors from 1620 to 1834 – that something absolutely profound happened to me.

Hanging among the ruined buildings and various artifacts was a simple map. It displayed the territories of the various Native American tribes before the European’s came.

I stood staring at it for a long time.

This was our land’s history. It was a history that reached back thousands of years. How could I have been so blind to completely miss the significance of this? And what had our ancestors done to change this so radically in such a short period of time?!

I needed to know. When I lamented to my friend how ignorant I was about my own country and its history, she suggested that I watch the CBC documentary series, “Canada: A People’s History.” I ordered it from the library as soon as I got home, and my husband and I began watching.

The first episode covered 15,000 BC to 1800 AD of First Nations and Inuit history and the first contact with Europeans. I watched episode after episode, from how our ancestors initially traded and worked with First Nations, to how in the span of a few decades they dominated the land and took over governance. European diseases (small pox, measles and cholera) wiped out over 80% of the Indigenous population in the first 100 years of colonialism! The next century’s violence, displacement and war added even more to that death toll.

We forced our culture and religion on these proud and beautiful people. Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their parents to live in residential schools. These innocent children were given a Christian name, stripped of their language and culture, beaten and many sexually abused. Many, many died. I was shocked to hear that the last school closed only a few years ago in 1996!

As a mother, I can’t imagine the horror of losing a child, knowing there is nothing I can do to protect him or her. This horrible trauma has affected generations of people – not just the children taken away along with their parents and grandparents but also their descendants and their entire communities. The trauma is still going on.

I have read about so many other issues from missing and murdered indigenous women, which our laws did not protect, to the number of Indigenous Peoples who still don’t have clean drinking water. How can this be happening in Canada today?

We signed Treaties with Indigenous Peoples but have not upheld it in the way it was intended. As a European descendant, I am ashamed of our history and what was done to the Indigenous Peoples. I have ignored our shared history for far too long.

We can’t go back but we can change what comes next. We can hear the truth. We can stand up for those who are oppressed. We can walk together, towards a better future.

We can be an Ally.

Here’s how we can do that:

  1. Uncover our own racism tendencies (we all have them) and change them consciously.
  2. Educate ourselves. Learn about Indigenous Peoples, their history and current issues.
  3. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. Pick a few actions to work on personally.
  4. Share what we learn with others, dispelling misconceptions and myths.
  5. Speak up and stand up for those who are oppressed.
  6. Let all levels of government know that racism is not acceptable. We have the power to influence those in power, if enough people do it.
  7. Actively reach out in friendship to Indigenous Peoples as Treaties intended.

Any one of these can make a difference. You and I can make a difference.

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