For the better health of all of us, how do we get from colonialism to reconciliation, and what will that future look like?
Jared Knoll: Welcome to Upstream Radio, where we dive deep into all the social and economic determinants of health, the source factors of how we live and when we die. I’m Jared Knoll. It’s almost time to close the gap toward decolonization, reconciliation and the better health of all our families, communities and the whole country. Stick around until the end of the show to find out exactly how we can do that.
In this 14th episode, we’re looking at what reconciliation really means and what it means for our health. Earlier this month, we explored housing and homelessness as health issues, and spoke with indigenous homelessness scholar Jesse Thistle, who told us his very moving story of trauma, addiction, homelessness, prison, and the repetition of this vicious cycle, until he found himself with a decent roof over his head. But you only heard half the story because, while basic needs like shelter are critical to human health, they aren’t enough. Give people housing, but that’s only one half of the equation.
Jesse Thistle: Housing, but that’s only one half of the equation. The second half is restoration of healthy relationships.
JK: Your life has been so representative of colonialism and of inter-generational trauma, and of the long term impacts of what’s been done in history. Knowing now what we’re talking about now in Canada with things like a national housing system, with things like actually meaningfully talking about decolonization, do you ever think back and think, “oh, if there was just this back then, if I just had housing and sufficient income provided at this particular point in my life, things would have been very different?”
JT: Certainly at different points I’m sure it would have made a little bit of a difference. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been homeless as long term as I was, or I would have had better food so that my relationship to food isn’t all messed up the way it is now. But ultimately, if… Like, I wrote a document called “The Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada” and it’s from that perspective based on my own experience and from what other indigenous people have told me, indigenous homelessness is about a disconnection from healthy relationships to self and identity, to land and family, to each other as indigenous people, to the government. The state was supposed to act as a relative to us indigenous people and it signed treaties, didn’t honor those.
So really, my homelessness as an indigenous person is both historical, the dispossession of land of my people, as well as the relationships that were cut off from me through things like my parents breaking up and my family falling apart, me being disconnected from my kin networks. From me not knowing my mom growing up and not knowing who I was as an indigenous person. Those are cultural, spiritual, emotional kinds of homelessness that stretch far beyond simply housing, simply having a job and having just money in my pocket. That’s about a really deep-seated destruction of cultural and social matrices of our people, of our culture, of our way of life, and of our world view. So through that lens, it might help to have housing, but I don’t think it would… It’s the final and be-all answer.
JT: And I do talk about this in this kind of document. The document that I made was a part of making… This kind of opened the discussion of what indigenous homelessness really is, because I can’t say if I’d had a house that maybe I would have… I’m not falling off that building. My brother Jerry worked full-time, ran restaurants, and still he was impacted by this trauma and became homeless in his later 30s and 40s. So he… On the surface, he was a working professional and had everything going for him. That shouldn’t have happened to him, but it did, because he was cut off from all these relationships that I’m talking about. And that’s a very holistic way to look at the issue. Am I making sense?
JK: You can’t have national or social healing without culture and identity to repair the cycle, emotional trauma and that deficit of homelessness.
JT: Yes, it’s almost like if know where you fit, that’s… You know when your home is. And when you know your history of your people, you feel good about knowing your family and you know where your land is, all those things are… Impact how someone perceives their home.
JK: Yeah. I’m a Saskatchewan guy too. I’m sitting in Saskatchewan right now. When you were growing up in Brampton and through all the trauma, through all of the very challenging experiences, you were under these forces of, again, generational trauma and colonialism and all of the things that came out of your… From your past. But at the time, I imagine, you didn’t really know that. You became a scholar and you have spent the last decade understanding that and helping other people to understand that. How did you process that as a young man without a clear understanding of what it was that was causing all of that?
JT: I remember growing up internalizing racism. I look a little different than like… In the ’80s, Brampton was mainly a white suburban place, so I kind of looked different, I looked like Italian. And I remember looking in the mirror and actually seeing an Italian person. That’s how powerful the broad colonialism is for the mindset. It literally changes how people perceive themselves. And I believed what people were saying about me like, “Oh, that guy, he’s like a dirty Indian.”
Other people would make war whoops to me at school, and over time that developed into a really messed up way of looking at myself. And when I started experimenting with drugs in my teens, I started to use that as fuel. So people would say, “Oh, he’s a crazy native guy. He can drink like crazy.” So I lived up to negative expectations. I became that negative stereotype. And there are a lot of ways my life is like a stereotype. It has these roots in me just trying to figure myself out and not knowing who I was or where I fit, or where my parents were. My dad went missing in 1982. He’s now presumed to be murdered. That’s from his generational trauma, that goes back to Spanish residential school on his side.
JT: But as someone who was waiting for their dad to come home to play catch, and has to teach themselves how to ride a bike without training wheels by themselves, or has to learn how to fight on their own, those things are very damaging for indigenous men. I had no idea what my roles and responsibilities were. My grandfather, who’s about the only person that acted as my father, and he couldn’t love me the same way that he loved his own son. So there’s a real interruption of that inter-generational knowledge too, right? And so that left me listless and like kind of un-anchored as an indigenous person growing up.
And so when I’m trying to process this, who I am, I remember with my brothers like pretending that we’re black sheep, we’re not black sheep. We’d put red ochre on our faces and try to pretend to be native because we didn’t know. My mom wasn’t around. She couldn’t teach us what it meant to be a Metis Cree person from Northern Saskatchewan or that our family was related to Louis Riel and that we should be very proud to be people that stood up for what we believed in. I had none of that.
JK: The sociocultural effects of colonization were devastating to Jesse’s health, but he is not alone. Dislocation from traditional lands and lifestyles, forced assimilation through residential schools and other methods, the destruction of environments and the systemic institutionalized racisms of more than a century have created grotesque inequities in health and well-being in our country. People with aboriginal status in Canada have much higher rates of infectious and chronic diseases, an 18% higher rate of diagnosed depression, a 27% higher rate of alcoholism, and experience childhood sexual abuse at a rate 34% higher. Their suicide rates vary between six and 11 times the national average, depending on region.
In 2007, the United Nations officially resolved that the ongoing effects and processes of colonization are critical social determinants of health, and came up with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to reverse colonization and improve health outcomes. Ten years later, the wheels of progress have only just recently begun to rumble. Recent developments in funding equity have been a step toward justice along with plans to provide safe drinking water to remote communities, projects to address housing deficits, and promises to improve inclusive indigenous-led reforms. But we can’t just put roofs over heads and food onto tables. People need more than that to be healthy. Jesse needed more.
JT: When I started asking these questions… When I was coming out, I was in rehab and my grandmother, the woman who raised me, passed away. And before she passed away I’d seen her and I asked her… I tried to make amends and I asked her what I should do and she just said, “Well, if you’re gonna go to university, you kick it all the way. And you go and really try to figure this out and try to help people instead of hurt them.” And so I made her a promise. And that promise brought me through rehab. That promise guided me to university, and at university I started taking all these courses and trying to figure out my history, and I started… I was lucky enough to meet a woman named Dr. Carolyn Podruchny who heard about my story and who knew people in my family, and she flew me out to Saskatchewan to meet my… To reconnect with all my mom’s relatives.
And through that process, I started learning about myself. I started learning about what inter-generational trauma was. I started learning about where my family history was impacting me as a… Led to my dad’s choices to rob the store and my mom leaving my dad and me eventually becoming homeless and an addict myself. And it all just clicked, it all just made sense. I’m like, “Yes, that’s what it is.” And so now I know, and I go around and I try to tell people, other people, that these are the impacts of what happened and I use my life as a foil to show them the different historical dispossessions, the loss of culture, the loss of identity, loss of kin, all these things that happen through colonial processes are evident in my life story.
JK: Jesse’s story is important because it gives a face to the facts, more than some amorphous impersonal group.
JT: Here’s this guy right in front of me giving me concrete examples of how things like the Indian Act, the 1885 Resistance, residential schools, how it affects people today. And so that’s my purpose. That’s what I’m here to tell people and to try and educate them. And I don’t have all the answers and some things I get wrong, but I’m trying. I’m trying to honor that promise to my grandmother.
JK: After that personal reconciliation, coming back to Saskatchewan and understanding the sources of so many things that happened in your life, did that feel like a curtain being pulled up? Did you see the world differently after that?
JT: Oh, for sure, yeah. First came deep, deep anger. Because I really understood what I was up against and what has happened in my family. And a really deep sorrow for myself and for my people. And then after, pride, really, really strong pride. Because we survived, you know, I’m living proof. Even my life was a harrowing struggle, and I’m just one of many of my ancestors like that. So it shifted my perspective. It shifted the way that I look at indigenous people who are homeless. It shifted the way I look at the government and the way that policies had been structured to dispossess indigenous people and to impact their health directly.
I know we like to discount and say, “Oh that happened in the past.” But those decisions and laws are still in place today and they still work and impact the health and lives of indigenous people today, so they’re not in the past. They’re very much active.
JK: Yeah, we talk about the history and the legacy of colonialism, but it’s not history is it?
JT: No, it’s not a legacy at all, it’s ongoing. The Indian Act’s still in place. The farmer that took grandfather’s plot, is still on that plot with his family. These things have direct health, social, emotional, psycho impact today on indigenous people, that live with the trauma, that live with the dispossession, that don’t know their history or identities.
JK: How did it feel growing up, or how does it feel now, to think about how Canadians tend to think of justice as a core Canadian value? How we… We think of ourselves as maybe different from Americans, or different from other countries and we have this identity that we care about social justice. How does… If you experience that, how does that reconcile with the reality of what you learned when you came back home and what you’ve studied since then?
JT: I think it’s a case of mis-education. So we’re not… People in Canada aren’t educated from small children all the way up, of what really happened here. It’s been kind of just erased, and over-taught late Anglo foundation narrative, that it lionizes the justice and the efforts of the settlers and from there, through their will, they created this great nation that is so altruistic, aware of social justice and committed to it.
But really, they’re not seeing the mechanics of how people came to live on this land. How that process of dispossession is ongoing. How things like the Indian Act work to erode matriarchal structures and dispossess indigenous women and lead to things like murdered and missing indigenous women all across our country. And so I think it’s a problem with the way that museums operate, I think it’s a problem with the way that public history operates, and I think it’s the way that our whole education system across the country operates. It kind of indoctrinates people to believe that they’re just, that they’re on the right path. But they really don’t know the injustice of the history of the nation.
JK: I’m six or seven years younger than you, and I still didn’t hear the term “residential school” until I was in university. That’s… In Saskatchewan especially, that’s outrageous. Are you optimistic that it’s getting better? Are you optimistic with closing the gap? We’ve used the tag line “The Next 150,” talking about how we can… We can, if we choose to, collectively decide that this… Make an imaginary line in history if you will, the first 150. We can say, “We’re going to do better. We can mobilize as if going to war, that we will decolonize, and we will do better.” Are you optimistic that that’s possible?
JT: I am actually, ’cause I remember Harper. I remember the way it was under Harper and that’s not that long ago, that’s three or four years ago where there was a real concerted effort to further erase, to further marginalize, to not listen to indigenous people. I know that a lot of indigenous scholars and thinkers, they were skeptical, and rightly so. But the things that have happened, like Trudeau’s announcement the other day. We have a Justice Minister that’s Indigenous. We have people in place that are trying to change, and I’m optimistic. This could be the turning point. And I don’t know, some people might see it that I’m naïve, but I don’t know. I don’t have any… I can’t be so pessimistic. I just don’t see that positive action can come from that.
JK: What do you see as the most important things we need to change for education? If you had… If the Provincial Ministers of Education came to you and said, “What are the most important things we need to change at the elementary level, the high school levels?” What would, just off the top of your head, be some recommendations that you would offer them?
JT: Treaty history. I would have people understand where they’re rooted, in the territory or cities or wherever they are. So know the people who signed the treaties, what the treaties… What were in those treaties, and how that, where both… On both sides of that equation, treaty people, there’s rights and obligations for both sides, and we need to honor those and we need to train people from very young all the way up what those obligations and rights are.
And then beyond that, I would say that our schools and our education systems and the museums, they have an obligation to work with the indigenous people from that area about proper representation. And they have to build a relationship with those people so that we honor that relationship. And really, I would try to focus education efforts on a restoration of that relationship.
JK: So how do we do that? How do we undo 150 years of colonial influence or even begin to start down a new path with today’s young people?
Voice (JR): One thing I do with them is, I get them to connect back to their history.
JK: That’s Jordan Raymond, a Métis teacher and artist in Saskatchewan and a speaker at Closing the Gap: the Next 150.
JR: Before you can change anything, you need to know who you are as a person and know your truth.
JK: When it comes to education, and when it comes to instilling values and instilling a sense of identity, since residential schools, we have seriously lacked any semblance of genuine Indigeneity in school systems. What do we need to do for education to give kids the opportunity to learn what they need to learn to have a healthy life?
JR: It’s been touched by colonization. It’s a colonial system that has been used for thousands of years and has never actually given the chance for indigenous voice or indigenous perspectives within their system. I think we’re coming to an age where we’re seeing that this colonial system does not work and we need to fix it. And through these reconciliation processes, that calls for action that had been recently put out. The education system is now saying, “We need to start using these within our establishments.” So that’s really great and I think with these calls for action, we will see a change within our education system and within the lives of our students.
Even with me working in the education system, the kids have changed a bit of their perspective on what they will do with their lives. To give an example or a story, I had one boy who was in gangs who didn’t care about education. He’s like, “Oh, I’ll just have my grade 10, I’m gonna leave.” We built a connection with one another and built that relationship, and a positive relationship, with one another and actually, he is now going to Miguel and wants to work for the UN. And so, I think giving the opportunity for our students to use their voice within our systems to tell us what they want. Sometimes as adults we like to overshadow our youth and I think the youth do have the answers and they know what they want. And I think we just need to make that platform so that they can show us what they need at their present time.
JK: In the social determinants of health, colonization being a major one, we look at how these factors that we can change through politics and through our social mechanisms can change how we live and when we die. How many years of life, how many years of disability-free life we get to live. How have you seen colonization playing out in your work as an educator in those ways?
JR: I’ve seen it everywhere. A lot of the students I work with come from a low social economic status, so they have that pegged against them. They’re indigenous, that another thing that’s pegged against them, their race, and various other factors. And sometimes it’s really hard when you are dealt a hand where you don’t have a chance. I’ve actually had a lot of students who have passed away based on either drug use, or based on suicides because of not knowing who they are and not knowing their identity. Making programs and bringing in to the classroom all these different things so that we can actually shape our identity and shape it in a good way, can help our students live a profitable life. But also, give them the education that they need so that they can get those jobs, help their communities out for the people who are struggling and bring back knowledge to the communities as well.
JK: We know that in Canada indigenous peoples have suicide rates that are about six times higher than national average. With a lot of barriers coming down right now on mental health stigmas and a lot more willingness in government to treat mental health through public health measures and through social mechanisms, how do you see education as a way to strengthen our mental health?
JR: I use art to talk about those type of issues. For instance, with art it’s a great medium to teach about mental health but also to use it as a medium to bring about a voice that you might not be able to say with your words. And so, one great thing about art is you can use your creativity and imagination. And so, with kids, we can create a world that could be and not what is. And so, with that, the kids can understand like, “Oh, this could be the world that I want. This could be the way that I want to be.” And so, giving them that chance to be who they want to be, kids learn to have that empathetic understanding. I find that a lot of kids of today don’t have that and don’t understand why this person is different than me. And so, getting them to really jar their thinking and really think about why this person is the way they are, art could be that medium to help them learn that
JK: So when kids are able to decide who they’re going to be and use their imaginations and have that sort of autonomy, can that be an avenue for reconciliation in fostering healthy indigeniety and opening up channels for reconciliation between settler and indigenous peoples?
JR: I would say yes. The reason why is because our indigenous people are born into a colonial world. And so, getting them to see a world that is indigenous and has their value systems and their traditional cultures, they can see that this stuff can actually happen.
JK: We need to explore every avenue of reconciliation that we can find. Our health is at stake and so is the health of our democracy and our very culture. Things are not okay.
Voice (TT): We still don’t have schools and all the communities’ high schools or even proper elementary schools and all the communities that need them across Canada. First nations communities still don’t have clean water in communities all across Canada, First Nation’s communities. You need these things as part of the social determinants of health for raising a healthy child.
JK: That’s Tanya Talaga, the keynote speaker for the 3rd Annual Closing the Gap Conference in Ottawa next month on April 6th and 7th.
Tanya Talaga: Fulfilling Jordan’s principle wouldn’t be enough. I mean, you have to do everything really in order to give all children an equal bridge.
JK: Tanya, you’ve been an investigative journalist for many years and just last month won the Taylor Prize for your book, “Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City”. Maybe you can start by taking us down the path a little bit to what led you to cover these tragedies.
TT: Well, it was the 2011 federal election actually. I went to Thunder Bay to write an article on why it is that indigenous people in Northern Ontario don’t vote. I was a provential reporter at the time. I worked at the Ontario legislature, covered politics for the Toronto Star. I pitched this story because I wanted to start writing federal election stories. My editor decided it was a great idea, so I went to Thunder Bay to write a story about the election. But when I got to Thunder Bay, I sat down with grand Chief Stan Beardy, he was Grand Chief at the time of Nishnawbe Aski Nation. And when I started to ask him questions about indigenous voting patterns, he looked at me and he asked me, “Why aren’t you doing a story about the disappearance of Jordan Wabasse?” And I didn’t know who Jordan was.
And I thought maybe the Grand Chief wasn’t hearing me correctly, [chuckle] so I repeated my question on the election and he asked me again, “Why aren’t you writing about Jordan?” We went on like that for about 10 minutes until I sort of put my manic Toronto journalist self aside and sat and listened to what he had to say. And that’s when he told me that Jordan was the seventh student to go missing or to die in Thunder Bay since 2000. And so, that’s how I started writing about Seven Fallen Feathers.
JK: And in your book, you investigate the circumstances of how systemic discrimination back seven years ago was very much a matter of life and death. In past years with Closing the Gap and in Upstream’s work, and in our perspective, we’ve examined colonialism as a social determinant of health to try to mobilize public action by seeing it through the health lens. How did you find when you were doing this investigation the linkages in that between a colonial past of systemic discrimination into very much matters of life and death?
TT: Well, it still exists. We’re still seeing children, students, indigenous students, they’re still being found, sadly, dead in the waters surrounding Thunder Bay. Since Jordan died in 2011, there have been three students, or youth I should say, who have passed away. And you see the systemic racism every day in Thunder Bay. I mean, you could ask any student, indigenous student that goes to Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School if they’ve ever been called a racist name, if they’ve ever had garbage thrown at them from a moving car, and I will bet you anything that every single student you ask will tell you that’s happened to them.
This is something that everybody lives with, and through the course of writing “Seven Fallen Feathers” I also saw the discrimination that indigenous people face daily when it comes to the health system. And in some severe cases, I’m thinking about the case of Paul Panacheese who is a 21-year-old youth from Mishkeegogamang First Nation, and he actually died on his mother’s kitchen floor. And she called 911, said, “something’s wrong with my son.” Paramedics came, they took him away. At that point, he was not responsive. And noone called Marianne to tell her how her son had died. No doctor, no coroner, noone phoned her to let her know.
In fact, she waited nine years until the start of the inquest into the death of the seven students to find out what happened to her son. And when the inquest started in 2016… Well, actually it was 2015, it was October 2015 when that started, they had no answer for her still. There was no answers for her on how her son died. It was ruled undetermined. That’s just one example. I could tell you of other examples where health professionals failed to return calls or to inform even parents of the deaths of their children.
JK: Do you think we’re still looking at colonialism as a culture, as a society, as something that is a legacy, as something that is history, or in your view, are people starting to understand in the more general public, that these processes are still continuing? Do you see any paradigm shift happening right now?
TT: I would not call it a paradigm shift, I would say that people are becoming far more aware of it, especially certain jurisdictions are doing more than others. I’m more familiar with what’s happening in Ontario. Ontario seems to be taking this very seriously. I know that the Ontario Ministry of Education is doing what it can in Thunder Bay to start working with Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, the indigenous high school I was telling you about earlier. And with the school boards and trying to get everyone working together as a community and to stop seeing everybody as silos. That’s a federal responsibility or a provincial responsibility.
I think that change is going to take time, but I think that there are people that are very aware, in Ontario anyway, and are trying to make changes. Because everyone is fully aware that colonialism, its long reach, has had a grip on relations between indigenous and non-indigenous people in this country. And that has to be severed and equity needs to come, especially when you’re dealing with services like health services, education services, social services. That all needs to be equitable, we can’t have two different systems.
JK: And you spoke about how our law enforcement system, our justice system, has built in discrimination, or developed discrimination. Do you think education is the main key, or do you see that as the keystone that if we can get education fixed that everything will come from that, or do we need more of a multifaceted approach to change all the systems that have racism built into them?
TT: I think a multifaceted approach is the best. But in the long term, education is key. Education is the great equalizer of any society. So I think that for a long term gain what we need to do is have curriculums that are reflective of indigenous reality and also too of indigenous culture and the true history of Canada. I also think we need to have schools, provincial and federal, that are reflective too, that have indigenous teachers, that have indigenous trustees, that have indigenous people working as counsellors or in the school system.
I mean, there has to just be a greater acceptance and understanding of culture. But saying that, and that’s the long gain. There’s also other things to be done for the long gain, and things like getting rid of the Indian Act, a piece of legislation that’s been in place since 1876. That needs to change. There are massive structural changes that need to be overhauled and scrapped. And then everything else hopefully will fall into place.
JK: Do you see the actions the government is taking now as the beginning of addressing everything that needs to be addressed? Do you see the cogs beginning to turn in a way that makes you optimistic?
TT: It’s the best it’s ever been, I can say that. The promises to clean up the water and the sewage systems in all First Nations communities that need them, that’s pretty huge. I don’t think anyone has come out and said that and actually tried to do that before. I hope that that actually does happen and I hope that what Minister Philpott and Minister Bennett are doing, I hope that they also are guided and they come to fruition with the things that they’re trying to do, tearing down departments such as INAC.
Those are big, big jobs. It’s gonna take a long time, but I would also say that they need to do that though in conjunction with indigenous people. And I know they’re consulting with indigenous people all the time, but if you’re gonna tear down those things too, I think it would be helpful to have elected chiefs sitting beside them, helping them going through that process. So it’s not again, just the government of Canada’s representatives doing it themselves, it’s the government of Canada sitting alongside an elected… Take the head of the AFN, for example. It’s a nationally elected chief sitting beside Perry Bellegarde and then doing it that way, or somebody from the council. The AFN executive council doing it all. So everyone’s moving together. That’s the point, everything has to be done together.
JK: You said when you went to Thunder Bay when you were initially trying to find out why indigenous peoples don’t vote in federal elections, that you set out with an idea of a story that you wanted to tell of a point that you wanted to get out and make, and then when you finally started to listen, that’s when your eyes opened to what was really going on that really mattered, that deserved your attention, that deserved action. Do you think that we’re sort of getting to that point at a societal level where when it comes to reconciliation we’re finally starting to figure out we need to listen, or do you think we still need… The Canadian public still needs a bit of time or maybe the right amount of momentum to get there?
TT: I think it’s a learning curve. I think that everyone is starting to find out a lot more that they didn’t know before. Sometimes when I go and I talk to people regarding “Seven Fallen Feathers”, they often come up to me and say, “I had no idea. I had no idea about the Indian residential school system in this country.” And these are older Canadians often that come up and tell me this and I’m always amazed by the fact that people just had no clue whatsoever that 150,000 indigenous kids were in church-run federally funded schools from the mid-1880s to 1996. Sole purpose was assimilation.
It’s remarkable to me, but I do think that things are… People are opening their ears, more Canadians are. And I think we shouldn’t expect this to happen overnight because it’s a level of misunderstanding that’s out there. We have to be patient and let education do its thing, because everyone is finally starting to get that message now. It’s also the younger people that are coming up. Our generation has basically failed on this whole thing here. So it’s the younger kids, they’re the ones that are gonna make more of a difference and they’re gonna carry this change forward that needs to happen in this country. That’s what I think anyway.
JK: What was your personal journey of understanding when you were doing this? Did you… How much did this teach you about the culture, the capacity for healing and just how bad it really is in the consciousness of Canadians, how bad it really was systemically. From where you were in 2010 to now, maybe can you tell me a little bit about what your personal journey has been, in terms of realizations, enlightenments?
TT: Well, you always sort of know these things about how… What the situation is like, but then when you start actually looking at the black and white evidence, when I look at the inquest papers, the testimonies that were given, the reports that were filed as evidence for the inquest. 200 witnesses were called. The inquest lasted eight months into the death of the seven students. When I look at that, when I see on paper black and white how deep the systemic racism was and is, that’s pretty shocking. And then when you talk to the families and hear their stories, when you hear that Dora Anderson’s nephew Jethro was missing for six days in 2000, October of 2000, before the Thunder Bay police force went to look for him, when you hear those stories, I mean, we’re not talking about 1936, we’re not talking about 1976, we’re talking about 2000.
And even now just recently with the OIPRD report on the investigation of the Thunder Bay police regarding the death a 41-year-old Rainy River man, Stacy DeBungee, and the OIPRD is an offshoot of the ministry of the attorney general’s office in Ontario, they were looking into systemic racism claims on how the Thunder Bay police handled Stacy’s death, ’cause his body was also found in the water.
Subsequently, his body was found two weeks after the inquest into the deaths of seven students had started. So, you have an inquest going on, the second biggest inquest ever in Ontario’s history happening in the Thunder Bay courthouse, down the road by the riverbank, the Thunder Bay police were responding to the call of the death of an indigenous man, Stacy DeBungee, and the exact same issues that was being discussed in the courthouse were actually unfolding at the riverbank according to the OIPRD report anyway.
They concluded that two police officers are allegedly guilty of neglect of duty. And they have quite an exhaustive report on what happened in the investigation of Mr DeBungee. So, are things gonna get better? I hope so. I really hope so. I think that now, more than ever more, people are calling out others. Like the OIPRD are doing a report and they’re doing an even broader report into the Thunder Bay police, so I think that change is coming.
JK: I think you’re right that there’s a generational transition that some things that are just so normalized, discrimination and racism are just so normalized, it’s going to be the next generation that truly can… True reconciliation when it’s actually past decolonization to a point where that is just nonexistent anymore. I think you’re right when you say it’s a generational transition. We’re coming together with this Closing the Gap Conference, our third one in April. And you’re very happily there a keynote speaker. I’m very excited to see you speak. Do you see gatherings like this where you get key, high-profile decision makers like Jane Philpott, newly the Administrator of Indigenous Services, and others, MPs and others, in one room having these conversations? What kind of impact do you think that can have on the conversation and on the societal consciousness?
TT: I think it’s fate. And it’s what’s needed. And I think that Mr Philpott and Mr Bennett, they know what’s happening, they’ve sort of say they’ve got it going on when it comes to that. They’re aware what’s going on. And they know what needs to be done. And they know that they have to work with indigenous leaders to get it there. And that the whole system needs an absolute overhaul. And also too to be fair. They have what? Another two years left in their mandates? And then it’s election time. So this is like we’re talking about change that’s gonna take a very long time to come about. And they can get it started and get it on the right path with the help of indigenous leaders. And it’s cool that an effort is being made to do that. And I just really, really hope that it starts working.
JK: What message would you have for… As Justin Trudeau likes to say, “The everyday Canadian.” The typical general public that maybe isn’t as educated as they’d like to be or isn’t as aware as they’d like to be of the systemic issues that we’re all really dealing with, that we’re all challenged by. What would you say to them to get more involved, to tune into the Live stream and to get more engaged in their communities in a participatory way, to get the wheels of change turning a little faster?
TT: Read the calls to action that the Senator Murray Sinclair and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission put out. There’s actually a little booklet you can get from the National Truth and Reconciliation Center in Winnipeg. Businesses can get them. Governments can get them. They’re these little tiny flip books, you can even carry around in your purse or your pocket they’re so small. The size of basically an iPhone. And in it is reprinted the 90 Calls to Action that all Canadians should hopefully read and then take one if… Senator Sinclair said this before, “If everyone was to take one of those recommendations and apply it to their lives, maybe we’d be getting somewhere a little bit faster.” And so, I would echo that.
JK: And we’ll be sure to make a link to that available in the show notes below for listeners to check out.
TT: Well, that’s great.
JK: Thank you so much, Tanya, for joining me and speaking for us today. And thank you so much for joining us at Closing the Gap in Ottawa to speak. What you found in your your investigation and how it’s changed your perspective and what we can all do to get there a little faster.
TT: Thank you very much for having me. I’m looking forward to meeting you.
JK: And thank you dear listener, for joining us to dive into these critical issues for the health of all of us. As always, it’ll mean a lot to us if you subscribe to Upstream Radio, connect with us on social media, help us share stories to mobilize this movement and leave us a review wherever you can. Everything we’re able to achieve is because of this incredible community. Let’s define what we want for the health of all Canadians right now and begin the next 150 together. I’ve been Jared Knoll. Until next time, keep thinking Upstream.