By Wendy Einwechter, Our Kids Network Indigenous Reconciliation Initiative summer student
I didn’t learn about the real history of Indigenous Peoples until taking an Indigenous Studies course at university – last year. The truth about Indigenous history, culture, and government oppression and control was certainly not taught when I was in elementary and high school. I first heard about Indian Residential Schools in 2008 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a cold and insincere apology to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and proudly claimed that there was no history of colonialism in Canada. Even so,11 years went by before I decided to be intentional about exploring my culture and learned exactly what has been happening to Indigenous People – my people – for centuries.
Growing Up “White” and Trying to Fit In
My mother is Anishnaabe, originally from Matachewan First Nation, Ontario. My father is British from Manchester, England, and immigrated to Canada at the age of 23. We lived in Toronto where my sisters and I grew up “white”; trying to fit into a predominantly white neighbourhood in the suburbs. My mother never talked to us about being Indian. We didn’t hear stories about our culture, traditional teachings, or all the contributions that Indigenous people make to society, the economy, the arts, business, and more. I saw that my mother felt embarrassed about her people and where she was born, so as a child, I became embarrassed to be Indian too. I denied my Indigenous heritage when asked because I had unintentionally learned that it was not something to be proud of. The only exposure I had to our culture was when we would visit my grandmother for the summer. We would eat bannock, have fish fries, and I would listen to my mother and grandmother laughing and speaking in their Ojibway language.
I have struggled with my Indigenous identity for as long as I can remember. I queried my mother throughout the years about her childhood and what life was like for her when she was growing up. She would talk about some things, but there was also much she wasn’t willing or able to share. As a result of my mother’s struggle with her own Indigenous identity, I did not have a close relationship with my uncles or aunties; but that is all changing now.
Beginning the Journey by Finding Roots
When I began Indigenous Studies courses at university in 2019, I decided that I was going to reclaim my Indigeneity. I decided to learn everything possible about our history, no matter how difficult or painful. I intend to learn about medicinal and traditional teachings; how to live the good life from the Indigenous perspective; and to learn my traditional language. I know now that these things are definitely worth being proud of and are intrinsic to who I am.
While working at Our Kids Network as the Indigenous Reconciliation Initiative summer student, I had the pleasure of participating in a virtual webinar, part of National Indigenous History month activities. The webinar touched on various topics such as the Canadian Indian Act, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Terra Nullius and Indian Residential Schools.
Participating in the webinar reinforced for me what I need to do to explore and understand my culture. I have already begun my journey by reconnecting with my mother’s family to learn more about our family history. It is a journey that I am starting later in my life, but I am determined to reclaim and embrace what has been taken from my family for generations: our pride, culture, traditions, language and more.
If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419.