Tuesday 14 June 2016

Màmawi Together, Hon. Senator Murray Sinclair, & The Critical Role of Education in Reconciliation

Senator Murray Sinclair speaking at 4th Annual Aboriginal Lecture Series

One of the most important messages from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the report to redress the catastrophic legacy of residential schools and the degradation of our Canadian indigenous populations, is this can no longer be just seen as an indigenous issue. It is a Canadian issue.

We cannot move forward until the country as a whole understands and addresses this systemic inter-generational trauma as indigenous and non-indigenous. It is time for the Canadian government along with all its citizens, to move from ignorance and discrimination to empathy and understanding. As the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, First Nations lawyer,  chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Senator, had explained: “Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts”.

'Project of Heart 'witness pieces' created by students 
And that is just what husband and wife Tim O’Loan and Margaret Embleton of Ottawa have been empowered to do as models, like their marriage of indigenous and non-indigenous cooperation. The couple realized that a word was needed for Canadians of all backgrounds to better understand the concept of reconciliation is. As Margaret explained, Màmawi in Algonquin, the language and territory of the Ottawa region, means “Together”.  Together is exactly how we achieve reconciliation. Màmawi Together is a grassroots initiative of parents, students, community and cooperative supporters working together to bring indigenous awareness, education, and reconciliation projects to life. Tim and Margaret initiated this organization in order to grow more caring and inclusive communities based on greater knowledge, respect, and action of indigenous persons.

Ottawa River Singers

Màmawi-Together began by contacting parent-teacher associations, and their hard work and determination has lead them to host their 4th Annual Lecture Series on May 25, 2016 at Rideau High School in Ottawa.

Featured at the Lecture Series was Honourable Senator Murray Sinclair. Sinclair discussed the critical role of education in reconciliation. The event opened with the Ottawa River Singers presenting to an auditorium packed with people of all ages and backgrounds. One of the drummer's baby sits on his lap as he drums. Barbara Hill, Algonquin Elder and Meeka Kakudluk, an Inuit Elder began with blessings and prayers. Gabrielle Fayant represented Metis youth affected by the seven generations of abuse and separation from the Canadian government. Senator Sinclair opened the floor with a powerful art interpretation of Aaron Peter's “The Perfect Crime” as a reminder that through art comes a critical point of healing.

 “From unmarked graves, their bones cry out” -Aaron Peters

Residential schools were instituted by the Canadian government and was justified by non-indigenous families due to inherent prejudice and discrimination. The separation of indigenous children into church-run school was ordered, followed by years of beatings, sterilizations, and sexual abuse in the name of unlearning their indigenous identities. The Residential School Era has left inter-generational trauma during their 116 years of existence. The last residential school was closed in 1996, and the effects on indigenous youth in contemporary society is apparent today. 

Ottawa River Singers
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Sinclair explained,  came from such legal breakthroughs as Blackwater v. Plint (2005) which concluded the ability to sue a church. The United Church of Canada was held as a responsible factor for physical, sexual, spiritual, and mental abuse of these generations. The government was held as the primary responsibility as Indian Affairs was deemed superintendent for the children once they were taken away from their families. The Catholic Church has yet to make a formal apology. 

But Senator Sinclair reminded the audience that it was not just the residential schools that are responsible for this mistreatment of our indigenous populations, including Metis, and Inuit, but also private and public schools. Since colonization, schools have continued to teach the inferiority of indigenous persons while failing to incorporate education that include non-colonial narratives of indigenous peoples' history and existing social structure. Government policy makers and businessmen who also have also gone through this education system have consequently, felt apathetic and justified to breaking land treaties throughout the years. From pagan, to savage, to degenerate, we have taught Canadians to be apathetic to this inhuman and degrading treatment throughout these many generations, leaving indigenous populations a the very lowest socio-economic level.

Sinclair himself admits, he himself was victim to these single-sided narratives, taught to believe the Western way of life as superior or progressive, even though "we have never been told what the other, the alternative even was”.  It wasn’t even until 1970 that Sinclair could hear the first indigenous drumming, as it had been illegal up until then. Once out of university, Sinclair began connecting the dots and challenging the narrative of the treatment of indigenous Canadians.

Every nation believes in the importance of educating young people. The following video best describes the current situations and the positive role this reconciliatory education currently plays.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action asks all Canadians to participate in the education of our citizens regarding the indigenous peoples' plight(s). it is the job of Canadians to start educating our youth, alongside our workforce. If all Canadians young and old have old heard or care to listen to such such single-sided narratives, how do you ever create empathy, respect, and understanding? Many Canadians remain blinded by their prejudice, but thankfully these initiatives are finally starting to receive more recognition, even if it is just the arts. We must look beyond and challenge these toxic and degrading stereotypes. Reconciliation begins by initiative, of listening to the accounts and impacts of the legacy of the residential schools. Initiatives like Màmawi-Together and Project of Heart open up community dialogue for issues such as to why and how their are so many missing and murdered indigenous women, why and how this demographic has the highest prison and suicide rates, why and how they still have the lowest access to education, and why and how there remains unsanitary water. It is time to hold the TRC's Call To Action and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples seriously.

Members of Mamawi Together


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Mamawi Together sounds awesome! What a privilege to be a part of that space and discussion.

  3. HEY! Sorry just noticed this! Thank you! Truth and reconciliation is where I believe I want to lay my career focus ! We should definitely keep in touch on this!