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I Am Affected campaign strives for 'reconciliAction'

Students from Fort Albany Residential School reading in class overseen by a nun. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Halton Region took a bold first step to addressing its history of colonization with the launch of the I Am Affected campaign. Thursday, October 19, more than 200 people gathered at the Queen Elizabeth Park and Cultural Centre in Oakville to learn about the intergenerational effects of Indian Residential Schools and the 60s Scoop.

Sherry Saevil, Indigenous Education Advisor for School Services with the Halton Catholic District School Board, guided participants on a journey of sharing, learning and healing that included live singing and drumming, acknowledgement of the land, and first-hand accounts of the impact the 150-year legacy of the residential school system had on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples.

Colleen Sym, executive director of Halton Community Legal Services (HCLS), reflected on her role as, "A descendant of European settlers who grew up on Treaty 1 territory across the river from the Red River Settlement, who attended a law school dealing with only colonial law as an uninvited guest in the unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation, who then worked for the federal and two provincial justice departments and the Anglican Church at the diocesan and national level."

Sym said her staff, "Had to explore our what our role as a colonial settler led legal clinic was in the journey towards reconciliation." She then turned the evening over to two friends with whom she is travelling on this journey, Lyndon George and Fallon Melander.

George, also known as Long Feather, is Aboriginal Justice Coordinator at Hamilton Community Legal Services. He shared his first-hand account of the impact his mother's residential school experience had on him, his siblings, and the generations that have followed. 

Fallon Melander, policy counsel on Aboriginal Justice Strategy with Legal Aid Ontario and Oakville resident, shared her, "Deep sense of shame because I didn't know who I was and shame because others around me made me feel that way when I disclosed I was Ojibway. I know a lot more now and no longer feel the shame. My goal is to raise my daughter and soon to be twin sons with the pride, strength and sense of self that I didn't have until adulthood. I want them to feel safe living in Halton. I want their voices heard and spaces made where they feel welcome and loved."

Lisa Spencer, Fallon's mother, was taken from her birth mother as a child. According to Spencer, "It was when I was taken that I became a runner. I didn't know if I was running from or running to something. I am not running anymore. I am a survivor."

The emotional testimonials were followed by the recorded voice of Dennis Saddleman reciting his poem, "Monster." Saddleman's gut wrenching account of the 11 years he spent at the Kamloops Indian Residential School was originally shared at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013.

Hollee George, or Red Sky Woman, performed a healing jingle dance in honour of residential school survivors and survivors of the intergenerational trauma that continues today.

There are plans to continue the community based conversation of intergenerational trauma and expand it to include murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and trans as well as racism and discrimination.

As the evening wound down, First Nations and settlers came together in a show of solidarity and healing to join in a Round Dance. The Red Spirit Singers provided the heart beat with traditional drumming and singing while dancers moved as one laughing and sharing the leading role.

The I Am Affected campaign started in Hamilton a year and a half ago under George's guidance. George was instrumental in helping Halton craft its own campaign which includes seven posters featuring the faces of Indigenous Halton residents who are survivors of intergenerational trauma originating with the Indian Residential School System, 60s scoop, violence against Indigenous women, girls, and trans women, and racism.

The campaign brings Halton's Indigenous and settler communities together to share the truth about the maltreatment of Indigenous peoples by Canada's governments, institutions, and their settler neighbours. The hope is that Halton can then move forward to undertake reconciliation or the process of healing settler and Indigenous relationships through public sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms. That should naturally flow to constructive action addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism. In reality, it's about successfully transitioning from education to "reconciliAction" because saying sorry is not enough.

The Halton campaign is in partnership with YÉN:TENE originating from the Mohawk phrase meaning, "You and I will go there together." YÉN:TENE works to improve access to justice for Indigenous people in Hamilton and Halton. 

More information on the I Am Affected Campaign: Halton Community Legal Services, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, I Am Committed

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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