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Deputy Mayor Brian O’Leary’s tone-deaf commentary on Indigenous-settler relations cannot go unchecked.

His ill-informed idea of blaring sirens was bad enough, and thankfully has been walked back. Yet O’Leary is quoted as saying, “I think that we can all agree that what happened to these Indigenous children is something that our ancestors did to their ancestors.

And for all of us to both heal and move forward, it has to be done through education.”

No. We very much cannot all agree on this nonsensical minimization of the real danger and persecution our Indigenous neighbours still experience today. This is not ancient history. Given that Mr. O’Leary is a generation older than I am, there’s simply no excuse at this point for his ironically lecturing us on education while displaying such ignorance.

The last residential school in Canada was still operational — removing Indigenous children from their homes, assigning them numbers like animals, cutting off their hair, denying them the right to use their own language or practice their culture, keeping them captive and abusing them in horrific ways, and murdering many — while I enjoyed the freedom of high school as a white Canadian.

And what is this, we “both” need to heal?

This smacks of “There are good people on both sides” and has no place in the current conversation of how we might begin to make reparations and reconcile what we have collectively imposed on Indigenous people.

Canadians have not been harmed by Indigenous people. However, the experience for Indigeous, Métis, and Inuit people in Canada right now includes these alarming facts:

  • In 2018/2019, Indigenous adults accounted for 31% of admissions to provincial/territorial custody and 29% of admissions to federal custody, while representing approximately 4.5% of the Canadian adult population. (StatsCan)
  • As of 2001, the life expectancy of Indigenous women in Canada was 5 years shorter than their settler counterparts. And as of 2005, Indigenous women made, on average, $5,000 less per year. (StatsCan)
  • Indigenous people in Canada are 5X more likely to die in a fire than settler counterparts — 10X if they live on reserve. (National Indigenous Fire Safety Council Project)
  • An Indigenous person in Canada is more than 10 times more likely to have been shot and killed by a police officer in Canada since 2017 than a white person in Canada. (CTV News analysis)
  • Aboriginal women 15 years and older are 3.5 times more likely to experience violence than non-Aboriginal women. (Native Women’s Association of Canada)
  • More than six in 10 Indigenous women report having been physically or sexually assaulted at some point during their lifetime, compared to more than four in 10 in non-Indigenous women. (Stats Can)
  • Between the years 1980 and 2012, Indigenous women and girls represented 16% of all female homicides in Canada, while constituting only 4% of the female population. (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)

We hear all too regularly of another Indigenous person being discriminated against, assaulted, or murdered simply for existing. This is happening now.

Taking the kids out to blow up some fireworks is incredibly disrespectful when hundreds of dead Indigenous children are turning up regularly in unmarked graves across Canada now that we’re actually looking for them. We didn’t create the problem. But our continued inaction and turning a blind eye perpetuates it and continues to cause fresh pain today.

So don’t do that. We can choose not to. Owen Sound City Council can choose to show respect and empathy in real ways rather than literally dancing on the graves of murdered Indigenous people with an ill-timed celebration.

Right now, we’re not only on the wrong side of history but rubbing salt in fresh wounds for the sake of protecting our own traditions. The fireworks can be called off and any funds donated to the Chippewas of Saugeen, our closest neighbouring Ojibway First Nation band. That would be a good start.

Here are some ways you can do that tomorrow and in the days ahead, if you choose to be part of the solution:

  • Support Indigenous authors and artists while learning of their experiences in their own words. This list of Indigenous publishers is a good place to start.
  • Take the time to educate yourself on Indigenous-settler relations and the issues Indigenous people face not only by way of generational trauma, but due to ongoing inequality and systemic racism. This University of Alberta course is free for everyone and costs you nothing but time.
  • Avoid asking Indigeous, Métis, or Inuit people to educate you, organize cultural events for the purpose of settler learning, etc. This can be traumatic for many and puts the onus on Indigenous people to do the work of moving reconciliation forward.
    Read the Final Report from the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — all of it.
  • Research the land you live on and the people who have traditionally and still occupy it. Understand the treaties, what was promised in return and what was never actually given.
  • Call on your employer and local governments to act. If they don’t already, starting with a land acknowledgement is a good start. But also asking questions of how they negotiate and work with Indigenous communities today, what are policies related to resource extraction, etc.
  • Follow and listen to Indigenous voices on social media. Keep the commenting to yourself for now and just listen. This requires such minimal effort but is what so many of us haven’t done. If something resonates, share so your friends can also learn.

(Thank you to Jen Christie for the last three suggestions.)

Indigenous people have been trying to be heard and educate us for generations. We are the ones who need to do the work now.

I will be submitting this letter to all of council, as well, in the hopes this can still be made right. Thank you to those councilors who  attempted to lead your peers on this important issue. Let’s hope they choose empathy and reconciliation. It’s not too late.

Miranda Miller



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