Reconciliation gathering lacks Algonquin heart

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The Time for Reconciliation KAIROS Gathering scheduled to take place in the City of Ottawa May 29th through June 3rd, 2015 lacks the much needed Algonquin Anishinaabeg heart, yet the Algonquin are the host in that the event is on our traditional territory.

The City of Ottawa, the National Capital Region, Canada’s Parliament buildings, both the Prime Minister’s and the Governor General’s residences, the latter known as Rideau Hall, all reside on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabeg territory. Many people know this and therefore when visitors come into the territory they acknowledge the Algonquin. In respecting who the original inhabitants are, before people speak they honour the Algonquin by saying something to the effect of: “I would like to acknowledge and say thank you to the Algonquin Anishinaabeg for taking care of this land and for allowing us to be here today”.

KAIROS, a collection of ten Christian churches and organizations allying with Indigenous people, works toward truth and reconciliation regarding what has happened to Indigenous people whose land Canada occupies. One of the goals of KAIROS is building right relations with Indigenous peoples.

It is said that this KAIROS reconciliation event will feature a critical discussion about reconciliation, yet the line-up of events and speakers does not feature anyone that can speak free from colonial constraints and explicitly about what the Algonquin Anishinaabeg in Ontario are dealing with. What I mean by this is that the Algonquin Anishinaabeg in Ontario, severed as we are through colonial policy from the Algonquin Anishinaabeg in Quebec, are presently being forced to terminate our land and resource rights through unilaterally constructed federal policy rooted in the ongoing colonial agenda. These are the very land and resources required for the Algonquin to begin the process of re-building our own structures of governance such as health care and education that speak to us and that will guide us toward a better life that all Indigenous people deserve.

During this event participants will plant a heart garden on the Governor General’s residence to honour all the children who died in the residential school system. While I genuinely think this is a special and meaningful ritual, on another level KAIROS is in denial of the very Indigenous Nation that resides at the heart of Canada the nation state and what they are going through. In this way this ritual holds the potential to disenfranchise the very grief that many Algonquin Anishinaabeg in Ontario have embodied and live with inter-generationally.

The process of avoiding or ignoring the Algonquin Anishinaabeg in Ontario, and their grief brought on by the historic and never-ending colonization of our land and waterscapes through Canada’s termination policies, in this reconciliation event is absolutely horrific. This process of avoidance has the potential to push the Algonquin Anishinaabeg deeper into their pain, deeper into their identity struggles, deeper into their spiritual struggles, and as such deeper into their despair. This process of ignoring what is in plain sight is analogous to the situation where a little girl or little boy is being sexually molested by a family member in their own home, where everyone in the family knows about it, yet no one wants the responsibility of addressing the matter as it is too hard. This is not okay. A reconciliation event must be better than this.

Some people wonder why the Algonquin Nation was denied a treaty during the historic treaty process. After all, Canada’s earliest beginnings were in the heart of what was once called Upper Canada and Lower Canada, now the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and the Algonquin Nation was one of the first recorded in Champlain’s journals. Through my work I have learned that British officials were compelled to deny the Algonquin because, as an emerging and fledgling nation state, British Canada was vulnerable. It is known that when nation states crumble it is the long-time territorial boundaries of Indigenous Nations that become the fault lines. It was not at all an oversight or administrative error that Canada denied the Algonquin. Rather, it was and remains a strategic and important element of the creation of Canada because at its heart Canada’s parliament buildings squat on traditional Algonquin Anishinaabeg territory.

One of the contributions of Indigenous knowledge is that knowledge must be broadly understood as more than only what is located in human consciousness, reason, and intent. Knowledge is foremost located in the practices people do and, for that matter, also includes what people feel in their hearts. Indigenous people are tired of the excuse, “it was not my (or our) intent”. This excuse is hurtful, not helpful. Indigenous people want and need concrete practices and actions of reconciliation and change.

It is heartbreaking that Canada’s prime ministers and parliamentarians continue to engage in poor practice; both well intended or rooted in trickery. Regardless, Indigenous people are deserving of more from ally organizations and the people they employ. An Ottawa-based celebratory reconciliation event that avoids or ignores the host nation and the original inhabitants and the very issues they face, moves beyond what some may argue as not intended, an oversight, poor practice, or a contradiction. It is a perpetuation of colonization.

As the host Indigenous nation of the reconciliation event, it was and remains KAIROS’s responsibility to learn about the Algonquin Anishinaabeg issue in Ontario and then incorporate what they learned in a legitimate and meaningful way. 

One such option could have been the inclusion of an Algonquin person who could competently address, free from colonial constraints, the issues we face. Ceremonial inclusion such as Algonquin Elders from Quebec while important, is not enough.


Lynn Gehl, PhD is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process, and has three books titled Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin on the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada’s Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. She blogs here.


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