A Time to Listen
Indigenous Community Coordinator
Portage Urban Indigenous Peoples’ Coalition
“It can start with a knock on the door one morning. It is the local Indian agent, or the parish priest, or, perhaps, a Mounted Police officer. The bus for residential school leaves that morning. It is a day the parents have long been dreading. Even if the children have been warned in advance, the morning’s events are still a shock. The officials have arrived and the children must go.”
What We Have Learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation:
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Like many communities, Portage la Prairie has a long history of strained relationships between First Nations and non-Indigenous citizens. Back in 1911, our city fathers passed a resolution in council to rid themselves of the Indigenous population. The council of the day tried to pretend the Indigenous population simply did not exist.
Our experience in Portage la Prairie was shared across the nation. From coast to coast, community leaders tried to erase Indigenous citizens. Indigenous children were taken from their homes and sent to live in residential schools, where they would be stripped of their identities, isolated from their families, and in many cases, horribly abused.
Thankfully, we have come a very long way from those early times. Today, most of our citizens are aware we all live on Treaty 1 territory. They might even know that Portage la Prairie sits on the traditional territory of the Anishinabek, Cree, Ojibway, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples and the homeland of the Metis Nation.
Yet Indigenous residents in Portage la Prairie still face a multitude of barriers, including an element of mutual mistrust between themselves and non-Indigenous residents.
And even as we live in the shadow cast by the former Portage la Prairie Indian Residential School, many folks still do not understand how and why this dark legacy continues to affect Indigenous peoples today.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada identified 94 ‘Calls to Action’ to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation. This is a living document that was created from the stories shared by thousands of residential school survivors, including those from our own city.
Maybe you’ve heard about the 94 Calls to Action. But are you aware we all have a role to play in carrying them out? You might be asking yourself, what does this have to do with me?
The TRC’s final reports explains it like this:
“Reconciliation calls for personal action. People need to get to know each other. They need to learn how to speak to, and about, each other respectfully. They need to learn how to speak knowledgeably about the history of this country. And they need to ensure that their children learn how to do so as well.”
The Portage Urban Indigenous People’s Coalition (PUIPC) is working toward building a bridge to reconciliation here in our own community. We’ve identified several priority areas to focus on, many which closely align with the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action.
And as we do this work, we ask one thing of all of our citizens: please listen.
Over the coming weeks and months, we will be talking more about the 94 Calls to Action and how each of us can make a personal commitment to learn more about our history, its legacy, and its impact on Indigenous friends and neighbours today. Only through listening and learning can we find the most important ingredient for a healthy and inclusive community – understanding.
I look forward to moving forward in the spirit of reconciliation and collaboration. Together.