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Putting Truth & Reconciliation into Action with Leah Gazan and Steve Henirichs

This episode two guests--Leah Gazan, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre and Steve Heinrichs, Director of Indigenous-Settler Relations of Mennonite Church Canada-- join host Chris Orme. Leah and Steve share the story of how they connected, where their work both overlaps and is unique to their respective identities as indigenous and white settler, and ways folks can participate in enacting the resolutions established in the passing of United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

The following is a transcript of Season 3 Episode 5 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

Chris: Alrighty, well hello friends and welcome to another episode of Do Justice. My name is Chris Orme. I'm your host, and I'm extremely privileged today to have two very special guests. First we have Leah Gazan, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg center, serving in the on the New Democratic Party, she's the critic for children, families and social development, as well as deputy critic for immigration refugees and citizenship. Leah is a member of Wood Mountain Lakota nation, located in Saskatchewan Treaty 4 Territory, Leah welcome thank you for joining us. 

Leah: Thank you for having me.

Chris: And we're doubly blessed today with two guests. We have steve Steve Heinrichs here. Steve is identifies as a Settler Christian from Winnipeg, Manitoba Treaty 1 Territory. He is the director of Indigenous Settler Relations for Mennonite Church Canada Steve is also the editor for the book Unsettling the Word Biblical Experiments in Decolonization. Thank you both for joining us. Thanks to you for being here.

Steve: It's great to be here.

Chris: Hey, and I have to be super upfront in these conversations I was, we were chatting before we started here started this episode and I'm a bit of a fanboy of both of you I'm, I've been following your work both of you have been, I would consider you teachers of mine, as I'm, I'm a fellow learner on this journey of reconciliation, that we are in at the moment in Canada and I want to I want to just point out before we get too deep into the conversation that there's potential here for conversations like these to be hypercharged. There are people who are waiting to be critical of how these kinds of conversations play out I think we're all aware of that but it's important. And so for those of you who are joining us and you are beginning your reconciliation journey or you're not quite sure where you are. Our hope is that with this conversation that you would begin to get some of the tools to begin to take some of those steps that you would begin to learn some of the avenues that you can take as a settler committed to reconciliation. And that maybe you'd be liberated from some of the fear that might bring some of that hesitancy like “what if I say the wrong thing? I'm not quite sure where to begin”, we want to, we want to make this not easy, but we want to make this accessible. And so I think we have two amazing guests to help us do that today. So let's get started. Um, how did you two meet, because you come from two very different backgrounds, but how did you two meet and become friends? Leah, we'll start with you.

Leah: Well I think you know Steve is Steve, Steve always has a funny story about how we first met, I believe it was at, at the beginning of Idle No More, we met through a good fellow friend of ours, Niigaan Sinclair, I knew that Steve wanted an opportunity to talk with me. And I believe that it was at a book launch, was it at a book launch yes it was Steve it was, it was at a book launch. But I think Steve, tells a really funny story so you know Steve approached me he said you know I'm Hi, I'm Steve Heinrichs I said hello Steve Heinrichs and how did it go Steve, I just love the way you tell it

Steve: Well I think I mentioned that I was from the Mennonite community and your eyes just grew large because at the time you were teaching at University of Winnipeg, and education faculty and you had a lot of Mennonites white Mennonites coming through your classes, white Mennonites that really didn't have much awareness of indigenous settler relations decolonization basic reconciliation conversations and so you saw me and grabbed me right away once I said man I said, you need to come with me. And you were introducing me to a bunch of your peers and colleagues and I think that it opened up a space right away because you're saying you know what, here's a. It seemed like here's a Mennonite who wants to do some work. I'm engaging, not only conversation around reconciliation but white supremacy is at the root of the fracture, and so that started a relationship where you were inviting me into classes and and we started getting to know each other, and doing work on on justice matters.

Leah: And I think it's important to point out with within that context like it didn't indigenous peoples didn't put ourselves here. And I don't believe that it's up to us to fix it. You know it's not up to us to fix our own colonial and ongoing colonial violence that we experienced every day, including what just came out from the Premier's new minister Indigenous Affairs Minister denying a residential school deny are talking about the benefits of residential school that happened today. In Manitoba in the provincial government, you know, and I think, you know, it's not up to us to fix it, but it certainly, we are now all in it together. And we need to work together to seek justice for all. And at the forefront of that I believe if we're ever going to reconcile in this country is certainly truth, recognizing truth and not responding with discussion, but responding with action as what was called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 

Chris: Yeah. So, Leah, I want to ask you to if you, if you could could you name this moment this cultural moment that we're in right now in the Canadian context, some of our listeners you know the that they're not Canadian that they might not even be tracking with what is going on I think everyone in Canada. So now, is sort of in this space of at least okay, what do we do, what is happening, what, what is this moment? And what is the significance of this moment.

Leah: Well, you know, Certainly we know the the recovery of children around residential schools, we are faced with hard truths. We knew these truths in Canada, we knew these truths they were actually part of the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, the fact that elected officials are talking about how they're shocked and surprised when this was already noted by the truth and reconciliation is very harmful. You know, it's it's time for truth. What happened in Canada was genocide in residential school, and according, and within the UN Convention on genocide and I'm going to read it. According to Article two on the of the UN Convention, it says in the present convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part, and national ethnic, racial or religious group as such A killing members of the group, B causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. C, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, D imposing measures intended to prevent burst within the group. And E, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. What happened in Canada was not cultural genocide. What happened in Canada was genocide, and the same sort of behavior that resulted in the deaths of thousands and thousands of children that never returned home to the families is all rooted in the same in the same genocide, which is to forcibly remove us off our lands and this is what we see in real time in the midst of a climate emergency we saw that it was in West so attend territory with LNG armed militarized RCMP taking, forcibly removing indigenous people off their lands at the end of a sniper gun. You know, they're still trying to take off our lands, they took our children to try and assimilate us so that we would just become part of the Canadian economic agenda of the time, and they are still perpetrating the same sort of behavior today. You know, in regards to residential schools one only has to look at the child welfare system. You know there's more kids in care now than at the height of residential schools. You know, if we are not willing to see truth in this country. If we are not willing to have those difficult discussions to finally acknowledge the truth. What happened in Canada was genocide what continues to happen in Canada is ongoing genocide as we see with murdered missing Indigenous women and girls, and child welfare it's going to be very hard for us to move forward towards reconciliation.

Chris: Yeah, and I think, you know, just for our listeners too like if you're unfamiliar with the 94 Calls to Action that Leah referenced, I think you know a lot of people are throwing those around like yeah the 94 Calls to Action that 94 Calls to Action and then expressing that same level of shock and horror. But when you can read the words from, I'll just read call to action number 75 if that's okay right here. “We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students and current land owners to develop and implement strategies to proceed and procedures for the ongoing identification documentation maintenance commemoration and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites that which residential school children were buried. This has to include the provision of appropriate Memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honor the deceased, children.” There's no surprise here. This is from six years ago, so almost seven years ago now. So there's no surprise. So, yeah, thank you for thanks for giving shape to the context in which these conversations are happening so appreciate so appreciate that. Steve, I want to ask you. You recently got back from the Unist'ot'en camp. Can you tell us a little bit? Tell us a little bit about what that is for folks who are unfamiliar. 

Steve: Yeah, 

Chris: Maybe, and then maybe tell us a little bit about how you decided to go and be there.

Steve: Yeah so Unist'ot'en is a clan of Wet'suwet'en nation, and the Unist'ot'en Territory, one of their territories, is about 66 kilometers south of Houston BC. And since 2009, they've had a reoccupation of their territory. They’re purpose, purposely opposing an energy quarter that the province and the federal government wants to, to put through there without their consent for a number of pipelines, Leah mentioned LNG pipeline but also fossil fuel tar sands pipelines to go through there. And they're currently resisting the coastal gassing pipeline 600 plus kilometers going out to the west coast. And in that space they’re, they're not only, they're not simply resisting the pipeline because it is devastating for the territory. It makes no sense in an age of global heating that's going to impact not only the Unist'ot'en and Wet’suwet’en but peoples around the world, but they're resisting it because that that space is sacred to them. That is their territory they have jurisdiction there they have lived there for millennia, and they are the rightful owners so that territory and so people, you know, Canada just affirmed legislatively to adopt or to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples I know we'll talk about that a little later, the BC provincial government, more than a year ago, affirmed that they were going to implement the declaration, this goes against the basic principles the minimum standards articulated in the declaration. And the Unist’ot’en saying, look, relational respect demands that you honor our, our jurisdiction here our laws, our traditions our relation, our spiritual connection as Article 25 in the declaration talks about, to the lands and territories and to the other than human creation, that is in that space. So they're, they're protecting it because they believe that the healing of the people is connected to the healing and protection of the land, and they're doing that, first and foremost for their people, but they're also doing it for the rest of us, because global warming does not honor boundaries and jurisdictions like we might falsely imagine. On the day that I went up to the Unist’ot’en, it was the day that the news of the mass graves at Kamloops came out may 28, I think it was that the day that I left there, a month in a bit later, or the week that I left there another hundreds of unmarked graves in Saskatchewan were made known to the public, and more graves this past week, have come known. When I was sitting around table with the indigenous leaders of the Unist’ot’en and hearing them talk about their brilliant resistance their perseverance there. They made explicit the connections between the disposition of children in their territory. And the ongoing dispossession that's happening right now, of their land, it's fundamentally connected. And it comes down to like, if we truly see ourselves in equal relationship we honor people's yes, and no and consent. Children were taken away without consent, land is currently being taken away without consent, children were taken away, because the government and not only the government, and this is another point that we should, but Canadian society wanted access to the land. That's why children were taken. And this is a part. So I come to this conversation as a white settler, and as a Christian and the thing that I would want to just add to what Leah offered up is that the genocide that has been inflicted and that continues was explicitly done in the name of Jesus, churches were at the helm of the fracture of indigenous families, and it was done in the name of progress so civilization, but in the name of Jesus. One Who, you know, I, I follow. So what is then the responsibility of church people like me? When colonization was wrought in the name of Christ, to do decolonization work what is, what is our role and responsibility in undoing or repairing harm that is unspeakable? 

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think a lot, a lot of us who are white settler Christian, you know we we have found ourselves with new awareness. With with the, with the coverage of, of, of  Wet’suwet’en and Unist'ot'en camp with with the, with the land protectors pushing back against against the oil companies trying to push this through standing their ground against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police we've seen that I've seen powerful images come from their Land Back Lane. And now, like you said, with the uncovering of graves at residential schools. Yeah, there's this, there's this unsettling thing that is happening. And we know. I think Steve because I come at it from the same space as you I come at it as a settler, Christian follower of Jesus, and our audience would identify in that space as well. You know there's a lot of our audience is, are folks who are Christ followers. And so we come at these conversations of it from, you know, from a faith perspective. But it's my conviction, I think we know we've seen in the past that this, that sort of jarring unsettledness can be used by the Creator, to ignite something to start something I want to ask you, Leah and I want you to respond too Steve but in the midst of this sort of, you know, finally some white settlers are opening their eyes. How have you seen people lean into this awareness, that's been developed from the spotlighted moments in helpful ways?

Leah: I just want to say like, you know, I had the privilege of working with Steve in the last parliament to push forward, a Bill C262 to see the full adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people. And, you know, I spent a lot of times time with people in the faith community who supported this call. So I think it's been a growing call within the faith community. I think it's important to recognize that for indigenous peoples whether they attended residential schools or intergenerational survivors. This is a very painful time. And I think it's important for allies not to take up the emotional space, you know it's not our responsibility to make you feel better, right. Oh, I'm sorry you're feeling bad about it. I know it's really painful. So I think people need to be cognizant of the emotional space that they're taking up in the discussion somebody said to me the other day, for example, “you know Leah, you know it's not just painful for indigenous people, it's painful for all of us.” I believe that, I believe that to be true, but you know, let's be clear about where we're taking up emotional space if we want to be a good ally because I think this show is about being a good ally. You know, we've had to spend many of us, you know, decades, years for young people you know they they were born into intergenerational trauma their whole life trying to work through this, including myself. I've had to spend, you know it's not up to us to make people feel better. We've been trying too hard to work through our own colonial trauma, like this, this is, this is real. I think, you know, I'm hoping you know it's one thing to feel badly, but that does nothing, you need to take action on that so you say I feel really badly I've heard about this. It's very sad. This is what I'm going to do differently. This is how I'm going to contribute to real change, going forward, to seek justice and reparations towards with Indigenous peoples Indigenous peoples, whose privilege I have benefited from, not even to have a place to live, a piece of Earth on which to reside on. How am I going to reconcile with that privilege? That's a difficult discussion because what happens when you start talking about real solutions and you have to discuss, have discussions about sharing privilege, or giving up privilege. That's the thing about white supremacy and misogyny.  As soon as you start opening that discussion up, you start threatening your own privilege. Privilege that has been born on the backs and continues to be born on the backs of genocide against indigenous peoples in this country. Those are hard discussions, those are painful discussions because then you begin to have to look at how am I contributing to this current system, and that is hard. I want to honor that that is hard, especially when the marginalization and human rights violations of indigenous people by the current by all governments and what some people call Canada now has been born off the human rights violations of of indigenous people here in Canada and throughout the world, in real time. I spoke to somebody the other day about mining in the Congo by Canadian mining companies, I've spoken to indigenous brothers and sisters in Fiji talking about how Canadian mining companies benefit of the violation of indigenous people residing in Fiji. We need to, if we want to reconcile in this country, then we have to be brutally truthful and honest. I think, I think it's more and more people in Canada are ready to explore that truth and act on that truth and have the power to push those for example, in government in opposition to have the political will to never waver on the human rights of anybody, including Indigenous people.

Chris: Yeah. Huge, huge, thank you, thank you for that I think like, that's a that's been a really big learning for me in this space as well I'll just, you know, not, not to take what you just said and and make it all about me but I mean I think I had some I had some hang ups about doing this interview because I think I mentioned at the beginning I didn't want to say something wrong. I didn't want to say something stupid or or offensive you know and and i think that it was a friend of mine who actually said, “it's really cute, Chris you, you don't even see the latent, you know, misogyny and white supremacy that informs your, your practice of thinking that you are beyond correction and learning.” And I was like, oh crap. What okay yeah you know and these moments have led to that so thanks. Thank you for for touching on that Steve, do you have anything that around that that you know you found in some of your circles with these conversations that are starting I think, you know, kind of, you know, springboarding off of what Leah, Leah just shared?

Steve: A couple thoughts come to mind might be coming at this from a different angle, just to recognize that like for indigenous peoples these, these epochal moments. These revelatory moments are happening continually like on an annual basis like this is this is huge what's going on right now. But we, we have had Wet'suwet'en. You know, last year, the year before. We've had Mi'kmaq fishers and the, the white racism on the East Coast, we've had Oka, Gustafsen Lake you can go through each period of time and say these are the moments and like, when will white society when will white church, step up? We have black lives matter. Last year, and how many people were like doing individual acts or institutional commitments to do something. Where are they now in this moment? So just to recognize that the voice is calling us to change an action are always present with us. And I think, like what we need to do right now is take some very intentional steps to build into our lives, you know, the opportunity for change, making for for action to happen and I think, you know, that means a lot of us, folks, linking up with a local group, so that we have people who we can walk with and we can learn from, we can you know we can have those bruising but persistent relationships that, that can help us transform. So that we're committed to this, because you know I, I say this in sincerity like here's to push back against the kind of reconciliation work that I do, like a lot of it is educational, a lot of it is like book clubs, like in response to things that are happening. And people say like what material change actually comes from what you're doing there? Last year when Black Lives Matter happened there was an article that came out Washington Post's it says from black people marching the streets, you know, crying out in anger and movement, white people form a book club. You know, like what change flows from that? So I think there are people that are that are taking those intentional steps. I think the key is to link arms with others. I’ll highlight one example, there's a group in southern Ontario in response to the 1492 Land Back Lane, a reoccupation of traditional Haudenosaunee lands resisting a development project there. A group forum, called clergy and laity in support of 1492 Land Back Lane, they've been like doing basic kind of educational group work, a lot of white people from different communities, helping each other do that work of learning, but they've been providing tangible support to the reoccupation there, meals and so on. You can do it with others. On your own oh, it's so hard to really stick with it. I don't think we're meant to do it on our own. So you got to link arms, that's that's it.

Chris: Yeah, I love that, I love that I had a mentor one time that said to me you know like the old adage, you know, how do you eat an elephant one bite at a time, you know, and with as many friends as possible, it's a lot easier that way. Yeah. Yeah. Leah Let's talk about political change. We know, we know that the injustices that indigenous people have faced and continue to face are systemic. So let's talk a little bit about systemic solutions, you just you just shared with us you know the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people, the adoption of that bill that put forward, that it's passed in Canadian Parliament. And we have the 94 calls to action, and we have the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the report. But there is a nuance between passing legislation, and then enacting. You know, it's one thing to check the box on that regard, but, but you know, what does it look like to actually begin to enact this, this legislation? 

Leah: Well, you know, that's a great question. I I don't suspect I mean certainly as somebody who's sat in that house for a couple of years already as a new MP well sat in the house and then sometimes remotely because of the pandemic. I don't think the behavior of colonial governments will change. I think they will continue as we have witnessed even out in BC. They will continue to willfully and knowingly and intentionally violate the rights of indigenous peoples. What it does provide us, is another legislative tool, another legal tool to fight for rights. We know there's over 200 Supreme Court rulings. You know, that have ruled in favor. You know of indigenous peoples, the Supreme Court in recent history we know that I don't suspect a behavior is going to change. I think it will take critical mass movement building you know I ran. When I ran for office, you know I'm a long time, a grassroots person. I ran with, with the belief that I would work with, continue to work with boots to ground and bring that voice on the inside. You know, that's how you know we got Bill C262 to for example, to pass through Parliament to be killed in the senate. That's how C15 ended up passing, you know, we were at a critical juncture, you know in the past year we have since just being elected we had a national shut down in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people's defending their right. You know, in Wet’suwet’en territory in opposition to the LNG pipeline bulldozing. People who have been on their land since time immemorial solidarity, beautiful. To going into a global pandemic that highlighted, you know, gross inequalities and equities that were there prior to the pandemic that have only been made worse by the pandemic. You know the truth is coming out in droves. To now finding, recovering what we already knew but many people chose to turn a blind eye. Beautiful sacred lives, family members, recovering and bringing repatriating, and bringing our children home. And the ocean, recently on fire and heat waves in, even the city of Winnipeg where we're looking at weather 35 degree weather climate emergency kills people. It kills the Mother Earth. It kills people, it kills people, it kills animals. It kills water life. Right? You know, we, we are at a critical juncture, and we can't leave it up to, to those in power. We need a movement. We need to continue building the movement to push those who can change laws, make decisions, such as myself, to be forced into doing the right thing because if people made the right choices we would have never had the Indian act. We would have never been in the climate emergency, we wouldn't be having debates about cutting down the last 3% of the old growth in the midst of a climate emergency as we watch our beautiful mother burning. We need a movement. And I think, going back full circle. Steve, with me in our differences, coming together, we have come together in building, participating in movement building to try and move forward, a better world for all in respect of our beautiful mother.

Chris: Yeah. Final question, I think I never realized we're getting pressed for time here. Final question. Leah I'll ask you, Steve. I'll ask you and then I'll ask you Leah. So we've talked about action. We've used that word a few times. What's the first step for someone who is wanting to act? What, what’s step one, where do they, where do they begin this journey?

Steve: I think step one is, is know the place that you're living, know whose land you're on, know with the, not only the past but the present, stories of the people. And as you're doing that work you seek to find ways to in with deep respect to, you know, to link up to get to know those people in the flesh. And then, and then step two and three and four is is start to support the struggles of the people, where you live.

Chris: Yeah, and Leah from you like, what, what would you say, same question like, like what's, where do we begin?

Leah: Well, I think we need to redefine action. I've been saying this in in a lot of places. Just act, um, you know, and there's different ways to act. You know you can, you know, run rallies and speak at rallies. That's one action but you can also write. You know some people acted when we walked for Bill C262 -  walking. Learning is an action. Listening is an action. Writing petitions is an action, you know going on the front lines. Much like my brother Steve does, is an action. I just think it's time that we have to act because we are running out of time. We don't have a lot of time this you know it wasn't it was calls to justice in the national inquiry into middle murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. It was calls to action in the TRC it wasn't calls to discussion. And we are running out of time. I think it is a time to really position ourselves where we are in part of the struggle and act accordingly.

Chris: Yeah. Thank you both. Our guests today has been Leah Gazan Steve Heinrichs we’ll give you some information in the description of this episode to find out how you can track with the work that they're doing. We’ll also give you some information on ways that you can start to get involved, as well as some resources for learning. So that you can be informed about how you act. Thankful for both of you. I'm so thankful that you both took the time to be here. And, yeah, we'll, we'll continue to track with you, and hopefully talk again, thank you so much.

Leah: Thank you so much for having me. 

Steve: Yeah, thanks. Thanks for having us. And I'd say, follow Leah on Twitter. 

Chris: Oh yeah, she's a great follow she's a great follow everyone. 

Leah: What is my, here I'm going to give you my, can I give you my Twitter? I was told to do this and then I say, what is my Twitter handle? What is, I always I always forget.

So on Instagram it's @leahgazanmp and on Facebook. And I believe on Twitter, I'm going to get the right handle this time last time I gave the wrong ones, it is @LeahGazan 



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