This blog article was written on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Kwikwetlem First Nation.
What were we like as five-year old children? It’s been so long, I can hardly remember. Shayla Stonechild, a Metis and Plains Cree activist, had us imagine a younger version of ourselves as part of our most recent JEDI Explorations session. (JEDI Explorations is a speaker series at Traction on Demand that explores topics of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.)
We were probably playful, curious, maybe even a little bit naughty. We most certainly had a vulnerability about us, a need to be loved, an innocence.
Why five, specifically? I thought, until Shayla wrapped up the guided meditation by telling us this was the age at which 150,000 First Nations children were first sent to 140 residential schools across Canada.
Waking up to Canada's colonial history
The discovery of over 1,000 children found in unmarked graves at former residential schools across Canada has shook our collective psyche to the core. It’s a huge wake up call for a society that has been in denial for hundreds of years. It’s time to wake up to the reality that Indigenous Peoples have always known.
Look around you. What do you see? Or more telling, what don’t you see? A major part of Shayla’s activism is in the form of working toward decolonization and Indigenizing colonial spaces—taking space as an Indigenous person where they historically haven't seen themselves represented. “Representation is important,” says Shayla.
“When you don’t see yourself in society around you, it tells your subconscious mind that you’re not valued, not important and we’re ok without you here.”Shayla Stonechild
As the founder of the Matriarch Movement, Shayla is working to dismantle the stereotypes of Indigenous women who she says are often seen as vulnerable, missing or murdered. “But when I look at my community that’s not what I see. I want to shift that narrative, and a lot of times that narrative is told from a colonial perspective, a colonial lens.” By speaking with us, as an activist, model, podcast host and first Indigenous woman to cover Yoga Journal magazine (among many other accomplishments), she’s directing her narrative and sharing her stories the way she wants to tell them, which Shayla says is an act of reclamation and decolonization.
4 ways we can support reconciliation in Canada
What does reconciliation mean to you? What does it look like?
Some more tough questions from Shayla required us to dig deep within ourselves and confront the systemically racist ways Indigenous Peoples in Canada have been, and continue to be, mistreated. It’s difficult but very necessary. “We need to reimagine a new future in order to build it,” she says while acknowledging that reconciliation means different things to different people and this also includes Indigenous Peoples whose diversity spans 600 distinct Nations in Canada. These are her recommendations.
1. Research and educate ourselves on the history of Canada
Be proactive in doing the research yourself and don’t expect Indigenous Peoples to teach you.
Follow and amplify Indigenous voices, artists, musicians, brands and businesses.
Read relevant books:
- 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph
- Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality by Bob Joseph with Cynthia F. Joseph
- Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change by Sherri Mitchell
Take a free course presenting Canadian history from an Indigenous perspective.
2. Engage in dialogue
With our community: this includes calling people out/in when they say untrue things about Indigenous Peoples.
With Indigenous Peoples: this requires actively engaging and being in relationships with identifying individuals and organizations.
3. Donate to organizations
Shayla encourages donations to Indigenous-led or grassroots organizations:
- Indian Residential School Survivors Society
- Reconciliation Canada
- Native Women’s Association of Canada
4. Reclaim an Indigenous worldview
According to Shayla, there are three steps to fulfill this:
Shayla explained that before the Indian Act of 1867 formally ignored and undermined the role of Indigenous women, they were very well respected in their traditional societies. By founding the Matriarch Movement, she is reclaiming her voice as an Indigenous woman and dismantling the historic and ongoing biases and stereotypes perpetuated by the colonial point of view. The balance of masculine and feminine energies is integral for a healthy society, according to Shayla.
b) Reciprocal relationships
As in Indigenous teachings, Shayla pointed us to a more holistic society in which there are no hierarchies and we are in a direct relationship with the world around us. “Humans are not above or below one another,” and these relationships can grow anywhere where we find community.
c) Reclaim a relationship approach to nature and one another
Shayla referenced the Seventh Generation Prophecy, which outlines all the factors that contribute to a sustainable world. In referencing this Indigenous philosophy, Shayla is saying the time is now for us to come together and work toward a better future.
The time to act is now
My son will be turning five next year. To think at that age I would have been forced to let him go… I can hardly imagine it.
A lot of damage has been done. Generations of it. But it’s not hopeless—as long as we act now.
We are so grateful to Shayla Stonechild for sharing her story and providing us with actionable information on how we can support reconciliation in Canada. It’s only by committing to educate ourselves, and applying what we’ve learned in the worlds we live in, that we can change the narrative of society in Canada.