2021 has been a year of confirmation of the devastating and lasting impacts of Residential Schools in Canada with the remains of thousands of children being found in unmarked graves across the country. These grave sites are a reminder to Indigenous people, communities, and nations of the many years of racism, abuse, and cultural genocide that have happened and continued to happen.
Since 2013, we have recognized September 30, Orange Shirt Day, as a day to commemorate and acknowledge the atrocities of residential schools in Canada. Although, it is a good visual reminder, I challenge you to think about if just wearing an orange shirt is enough.
I recently heard a fellow social worker, who is an Indigenous woman, use the term Reconcili-ACTION and this struck me as the exact way to look at reconciliation efforts. There must be action. Action can happen in the way we speak, act, and think. It is important that we are constantly checking our privilege and the bias’s we carry, recognize that our words have power regardless of who we are talking to, and that the way we move about the world says a lot about what we truly believe about other people.
I hear the word ally and allyship be thrown around, often without a real understanding of what that truly means. When we think about what it means to be an ally, I hope everyone sees that it is a verb and means that we must do something to support the movement we are supporting as it is not enough to sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to take the lead. Allyship is an opportunity for us to use our voice, to stand up and speak out, to let the government and others know that what is happening is unacceptable, and to stand on social justice. Dr. Lynn Gehl uses the Ally Bill of Responsibilities (n.d) to highlight ways in which we can all by allies to Indigenous people, communities, and nations. Included is taking a genuine interest in challenging large oppressive power structures, being aware of your privilege and able to openly talk about it, reflect on and embrace your own ignorance of Indigenous oppression and hold this ignorance at the forefront of your mind, and constantly listen and reflect.
Heather Johnson BSW, BHSc., RSW
References : Gehl, Lynn. (n.d). Ally bill of responsibilities. Retrieved on September 15, 2021 from http://www.lynngehl.com/uploads/5/0/0/4/5004954/ally_bill_of_responsibilities_poster.pdf
As such, while it is wonderful to show solidarity and support by wearing an orange shirt, I challenge everyone to think of at least one other action you can take right now to take a stand in support of Indigenous people, communities, and Nations across Canada. Some tangible things that you can do right now are to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions 94 Calls to Action, stand up against racism, and educate yourself about residential schools and their impacts on Indigenous people.