Finding Our Way to Truth and Reconciliation
By Rachel Gray, Executive Director
This year marks our 35th year of work at The Stop Community Food Centre — building community, supporting and being supported by people across the city, and 35 years of speaking up against inequality, bad policy, and systemic oppression.
It’s hard to celebrate 35 years of working on poverty, and marking an anniversary like this requires an appreciation for ambiguity — which, as a social justice organization running a food bank, we have considerable experience with, since every day we hold the tension between short-term responses and long-term solutions.
It is a similar ambiguity we face regarding the Canada 150 celebrations.
It’s been nine years since Canada’s Prime Minister apologized to residential school survivors. Since then, the activism of Idle No More, efforts regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) have all added to a necessary insistence on accountability, and the need for non-Indigenous people to acknowledge the implications of our colonial legacy. To move beyond gestures to meaningful reconciliation.
Around the same time as the Prime Minister’s apology, The Stop began working with a local partner agency, the Native Men’s Residence (NaMeRes). As our national understanding has changed because of the inspired activism and insistence of Indigenous people, so, too, has our approach. The program we offer with NaMeRes is located in a community garden that is now the site of a traditional medicine wheel garden, following the suggestion of a program participant. We have hired Indigenous people to run that program, and have recently had all staff involved in Indigenous Cultural Competency Training. The TRC’s first calls to action focus on education; at The Stop, we are frankly just beginning to understand how much we don’t know and need to learn about working on the land, in this territory. Learn and re-learn. Our two sites and community gardens are all located along Davenport Road. Close to 15,000 years ago, a trail along what is now Davenport Road was part of the Carrying Place, a network of portage and canoe routes that connected settlements between Lake Ontario to Lake Huron and the Don and Humber Rivers. A critical artery used by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years, but it was not until the medicine wheel garden was established that we discovered the significance of this particular stretch of land.
What does all of this have to do with Canada 150?
Simply, once you know something, you can’t unknow it. One hundred and fifty years is a tiny fragment of time relative to the thousands of years of Indigenous nations who inhabited and stewarded this land, who greeted settlers and showed them the portage and canoe routes that allowed them to travel the land. Celebrating those 150 years without frankly acknowledging the destruction and oppression Indigenous people experienced and continue to experience as a consequence of our settlement is an unacceptable denial of our legacy.
Our nation’s success has come at the cost of Indigenous nations — as a result of treaties unobserved, history erased, and racist doctrines that encouraged the decimation of generation after generation of Indigeneity.
The Stop’s reconciliation work will be about continued learning, talking, and listening. The listening will be in our work with Indigenous partners, and the talking will be with non-Indigenous people as we find our way to active reconciliation. As an organization doing land work, it is especially important that we and our supporters understand our relationship to the land differently. As a country, we believe Canada must fulfill the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report and live up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We think a July 1st when all communities in this country have clean, drinkable water would be worth celebrating. When kids living on reserve have access to the same level of care and support as kids off of reserve (and Cindy Blackstock can take a rest). When we can separate the words ‘murdered’ and ‘missing’ from ‘Indigenous’ and ‘women’. Forever.
As a social justice organization working in emergency food, we are uncomfortably at ease with ambiguity. But we are also decidedly hopeful. We have learned from our Indigenous colleagues the notion of “all of my relations” — a powerful worldview that speaks to the connection between all creatures and the earth. We will be making best efforts to hold that notion close as we move forward. We hope you will join us in finding your way to truth and reconciliation, and to doing the very hard work required getting there.
The photo above is of the Mashkikii;aki’ing (Medicine Earth) Medicine Wheel Garden at Hillcrest Park, where The Stop works with the Sagatay program from NaMeRes.