September 30, The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, was first observed as a federal holiday in 2021. Springing from Orange Shirt Day this is one day a year set aside to remember injustices visited upon Indigenous communities through the notorious and cruel residential school system. Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their homes and many never made it back alive.
As part of the so-called settler population in Canada, I grieve along with the Indigenous peoples who have lost so many young people through misguided and cruel projects of “civilization”, “acculturation” “protection” and “education” which collectively result in mass genocide. And although we might wish for all of this to be firmly in the past, it is beyond naive to think that it is. Poisonous attitudes persist and continue to cause suffering and death to this very day. Many Indigenous children continue to be apprehended and placed in non-indigenous foster care. Psychological, social and cultural scars will take generations to heal.
As people committed to Living with Dignity, we are well aware of the devastating cultural and personal consequences of histories of social expulsion, forced institutionalization and state-sanctioned cruelty. Our solidarity with Canada’s Indigenous peoples is rooted in shared grief and outrage. Lives spent in institutionalized social isolation, confinement, and cruelty, away from family support and community engagement, deaths unmourned. and burial sites unmarked — these are grievous facts that cut across disability and Indigenous history in Canada.
The culture of the white settler who felt himself and his able-bodied white-skinned offspring to be superior in every way to the original peoples of this huge land, while nominally based in Christian values of love and compassion, in fact is coldly transactional and commercial in nature. White culture was and still is capitalist and materialist at its core. Love, compassion and respect have no place in it. Trade agreements are the basis of our treaty obligations, but dominant powers abrogate and disrespect even those treaties at will, because they can.
As one of those white-skinned children, descended from a white-skinned immigrant, on one side, and white-skinned immigrants going back many many generations to the late 1600’s on the other side, my life and the lives of my siblings are deeply implicated in these sorry histories. When we learned about “native” Canadians in school, back in the 50’s and 60’s, it was only in history class. Were there Indigenous students in our classrooms or hallways? Maybe, but none to our knowledge. Same with disabled students. My siblings and I were outsiders for other reasons, but our non-disabled white-skin privilege is undeniable.
It is not surprising that, when the white-skinned colonizers introduced a new law that permits doctors and nurses to legally end lives with impunity — lives that are disabled but not naturally ending — as long as they follow their safeguards and their guidelines specified in the law that they wrote — justice-seeking disabled people and Indigenous people shake their heads. You want to help us die, instead of helping us to live? Seriously? We have much to learn from Indigenous leaders, working to repair and restore their cultural fabric and strengthen their young people, their disabled people and their elders, reminding them that they are valuable, that they matter.
Living with Dignity seeks ways to form alliances and to express our solidarity in meaningful ways. We would appreciate any thoughts or ideas you have to help us work towards that goal. Meanwhile, mark this day soberly, respectfully and hopefully. Surely, together, we will strive to do better in the future.
Please consider donating to:
British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS) directly by mail at http://www.bcands.bc.ca/donate/
or online at https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/bc-aboriginal-network-on-disability-society/
Wabanaki Council on Disability (East Coast)
Or to any Indigenous Friendship Centre near you