Huntsville Town Council has commissioned a bronze sculpture of a smudge bowl and shoes to show the town’s acknowledgement of Truth and Reconciliation and the children who died from abuse and neglect at residential schools in Canada. They have worked in community with Joyce Jonathan Crone, a Mohawk and Tuscarora woman. Joyce began the much-vandalized and very important orange ribbon campaign in Huntsville, a memorial to the children who were unceremoniously buried on residential school properties.
By some accounts, there may be more than 6,500 children. We must not look away.
During a recent council session, there was discussion of the budget for the sculpture, which will be located at the new park between Town Hall and Trinity United Church.
When Deputy Mayor Nancy Alcock asked, “Will it be enough?”, I forgot for a moment that they were talking about money. Immediately I thought, how could it possibly be enough? How can one small statue under the daunting shadows of the likes of John A. MacDonald, Ryerson, Dundas, represent the truth of the oppression of First Nations people in Canada? What amends could we even begin to make, as white people, when confronted with what our race has done and what we benefit from to this day that has caused so much harm?
But then I realized that they’ve increased the budget from $3,000 to $4,000 and Deputy Mayor Alcock, who stood in support of the statue, only wanted to know if the amended amount of money taken from the 2021 council discretionary fund would be sufficient. Mayor Karen Terziano, much-lauded for conceiving of the statue, stated that it should be, or that amount could be revisited at a later date.
It’s good to have permanent fixtures that honour Indigenous people in our towns, in our streets, on Native land. We know it isn’t enough, but it’s a start and it’s important.
But we have an irreconcilable problem here in Canada.
On November 18, the RCMP undertook what they called a rescue mission to Wet’suwet’en in Northwestern British Columbia, stating that hundreds of TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink workers were stranded and in need of food and water. This was due to a blockade attempting to halt the pipeline from slicing through Indigenous land, which the Wet’suwet’en say infringes on their treaty rights.
Let’s rest a moment on the irony that there are still 33 First Nations under boil water advisories that never received such rescue before we move onto another pertinent fact.
The RCMP was established to clear the prairies of Indigneous people in order to colonize the land. This was their role, which they accomplished with fervour, resulting in a corralling of human beings onto reservations and creating a legacy of oppression that continues to this day.
There can be no reconciliation as long as the RCMP is used by the government to provide support and protection to companies specializing in resource extraction while Indigenous people are arrested and given racist conditions of bail (like Canadian courts deciding that Wet’suwet’en people can only return to their home for approved cultural reasons, reasons that the Wet’suwet’en themselves cannot dictate).
Again and again, Canada grants itself authority over First Nations people, paying lip service to the 94 Calls to Action (of which 14 have been implemented) and paternalistically, even abusively, giving itself power over unceded lands.
Government is famous for talking out of both sides of its mouth, but this is ridiculous. Let’s examine the layers of doublespeak at work here.
Oil and gas companies are famous for establishing “man camps”—temporary housing where many of a remote project’s workers, mostly male, live. These camps have been linked to increased sexual harassment of Indigenous women and human sex trafficking, a relentless contributor to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Apparently, you cannot have one without the other, and yet the former remain.
Resource extraction from Indigenous lands defies sovereignty, which is necessary for true reconciliation. You cannot have both, and the former has been chosen.
The government and oil and gas corporations are incapable of thinking more than four years into the future, let alone seven generations. You cannot have record profits and long-term sustainability. The latter has been forsaken.
Do pipelines get built, or does every child matter? Because this is the future of our one and only planet containing every single breath we will ever breathe and every single droplet of water we will drink. The future we are offering to our children is a frightening one even if we immediately divest from every single climate-destructive company. And yet pipelines continue to snake across the country.
It can’t all just be for show. We have to commit to making amends to the original people of this land, and we have to follow through. Words are so pretty—they might even get you re-elected—but action matters most.
Many people get very uncomfortable with the idea of giving the land back, returning so-called Crown land to the First Nations. But look what we do with it when given half the chance. Canadians as a collective have proven ourselves incapable of being good stewards of this land, home to us all now, for better and worse.
If we are going to use the smudge bowl to represent our commitment to reconciliation, we need to remember the teachings. We have to believe in right action and then do it. To understand mní wičóni, that water is life, just as the 500 Coastal GasLink workers discovered when they found themselves on the wrong side of a blockade.
In a time of monumental change, can monuments ever be enough?
No more empty talk, no more doublespeak.
Give the land back.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!
Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her column, She Speaks, has appeared in the Huntsville Doppler since 2018. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, volunteering with Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, and her role as a front-line counsellor at the women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development. She was longlisted for the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize, short-listed for the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize, and received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. When she isn’t writing, she’s designing a tiny house which she intends to be the impetus for a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.