Yesterday, I was able to watch part of the live press conference that launched the search for missing Indigenous children at the Mohawk Institute in Ontario.
The Mohawk Institute is the longest running Residential School in Canada. It was open for 136 years. Children from 20 Indigenous Nations across the country were taken and brought there over that time. They are now searching 500 acres, and it will take years to complete.
Today, I’m sharing a few things from the press release that stood out for me.
The press conference started with a powerful poem written by a Mohawk Institute Survivor Jimmy Edgar (and read by Survivor Roberta Hill).
If nothing else, please take a moment to watch the beginning of the Press Conference, to hear this poem.
It will break your heart, and provides much that we need to face and contemplate as Canadians.
I love how Indigenous People introduce themselves in their language first.
It is a powerful reminder of the many nations, culture and languages this land held before colonization (interesting that we call Canada multicultural, but refer to immigration as the reason – another convenient misremembering and reframing that erases Indigenous cultures).
In speaking these languages for introductions first, (languages that most of us as settlers don’t understand or even know of) feels like a suitable reminder of who was here first.
Rebecca Jameson, President of Six Nations Polytechic spoke about importance of “building respectful relationships across cultures, because we all share this land.” (Imagine if that had been the outlook of the Europeans who arrived on Turtle Island?) Rebecca also spoke of education being a powerful vehicle for good.
The power of words
When Mark Hill, elected Chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River spoke, he started with the words “so called schools”.
This landed for me, and reminded me of the power of words. What do you think of when you hear the word school? These were not places of learning and growth for Indigenous children. They were places of pain, suffering and death. “So-called schools” holds this truth.
Kimberly Murray, Executive Lead of the Survivor Secretariat said, “This is sacred work.”
She and Rebecca mentioned that there were ceremonial and cultural pieces that needed to occur to arrive at yesterday’s start, and that will continue throughout the process.
For those of us who are not Indigenous we may wonder about this. Our ignorance about these ceremonies and the need for them speaks to the impact of residential schools on Canadian culture in general.
The observance of these practices speaks to Indigenous ways of being and doing things in order to frame the work and do it well; to honour the many nations and the people involved. That is love, honouring, and acknowledgment – it is inclusion in action.
Kimberly spoke of the importance of honouring Survivors, listening to them, and hearing their words. She stressed that they are the witnesses to what occurred and have first-hand knowledge. Kimberly reminded us of the importance of centering this knowledge, over the information provided by the fancy machines.
It reminded me of how we can push aside our knowing in the face of technology – and with that, erase people and their experiences and needs from the process. Again.
Kimberly also spoke about the need for Indigenous communities to take ownership of the records. She said, “No one can analyze and assess records more accurately that the community.”
In the Inclusive Leadership Program session I was leading during this time (that we put on hold to watch) we talked about why the government is not releasing these records: Deciding if, when and how to share information that is about Indigenous Peoples is yet another example/a continuation of colonization and the energy of white supremacy. This belief and energy dictates that whiteness (and white ways of being and seeing the world) is better/superior. It’s about power and control.
This is how oppressive systems work and are perpetuated.
Dawn Hill, a Survivors, spoke about the Spirits of these many children wanting to move on, about honouring these spirits and that “issues need to be addressed in order for this to happen”. Think about this additional impact and weight on Indigenous communities (who lost children in the first place, then never had them return) of the Spirits of these children not being able to move on, to rest. Dawn did note, when she spoke, that not everyone thinks this way.
Consider that Indigenous People do believe and think in this way, and that these are their children – imagine the additional pain.
When we hear the truth, when the truth is shared and believed, there is some rest, there is a peace. The pain doesn’t go away, but the additional layer of having to prove, of not being heard or believed, of pain and truth not being acknowledged, is lifted. That layer is exhausting – for Survivors, and for Indigenous communities as a whole.
A Death Investigation
In the news clip that you can find here, Six Nations Police Chief Darren Montour spoke about the Survivors, this work being for them, and how important it is for us to listen.
There is a stitched sign hanging at the Mohawk Institute that reads: And a voice whispered, they found us.
Our hearts were heavy after watching. And they should be.
What has happened to Indigenous Communities in this country, and to their children, is a crime.
The search at the Mohawk Institute is being treated as a death investigation and the Six Nations Police and OPP are involved and will conduct the search of the grounds with the ground-penetrating radar – along with Survivors and Community members.
The complete undertaking is Survivor-led and community-involved.
Another example of the importance of how we do something being just as important as that we are doing it.