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What Reconciliation Means to Me

The word reconciliation is often used in conversation when talking about the relationship between Indigenous and non-indigenous people. However, it can also be talked about in the sense that many Indigenous people are in the process of being reconciled to their families, culture, and communities.

As a child, we lived across from my mother’s home reserve. My mother sewed us winter jackets out of the Hudson’s Bay blankets she exchanged for home-tanned furs. My parents owned Trench Services that offered “jawbone,” which is more commonly known as credit given on a person’s word. After selling goods to the local Indians, my father would load the riverboat that would carry the Indians and their supplies through a series of rivers and waterways to the local Indian reserve.

After my mother lost her life in a house fire, we moved away from the community, but still spent summers on the reserve eating dried meat and bannock, sleeping five people in a one-room plywood shack, and swam in the lake when it was time to clean up. Our grandmother washed our clothes using a scrub board and store-bought soap in a small pond not far from where we lived. 

The adoption fell through and I was moved into the child welfare system. 

On grocery day, we would follow the powerlines up the mountain to the local store where we purchased necessities and a few extra items. My brother and I were each given a few coins to buy one candy and one small toy. I would usually buy a rub-on tattoo of a flower or a bee, and my brother would settle on a squirting flower. We laughed gleefully, showing off our treasures that brought us a multitude of joy. On the way home, we would jiggle our voice-boxes as we ran down the mountain scaring away any wild animals in the area for miles away.

In 1974 I was removed from my family and put up for adoption under the Adopt Indian and Metis program that was prevalent in Canada at the time. An elderly couple of the Jehovah’s Witness faith took me into their home and the adoption process began. The problem was that, at the tender age of seven, I had already developed a relationship with Jesus. My relationship with Jesus did not go well with the Jehovah’s Witness couple and they tried to beat Jesus out of me to no avail. The adoption fell through and I was moved into the child welfare system. 

I made my way through a series of foster homes that rendered their own kind of abuse on my fragile mind, body, and spirituality. Over time, I lost touch with who I was, and when my Dad passed away in a boating accident when I was twelve, I felt like I belonged to no one, that nobody wanted me, and nobody could ever love me. I became addicted to all kinds of substances and sought out chaotic situations to feed my adrenaline addiction.

My parents were loved, and I longed to be loved too.

In the early 1990's, I had overcome my addictions, and when my home reserve started to seek out estranged community members I applied for my Indian status and band membership. On March 27, 2000, I signed a document that officially made me one of the Queen’s Indians. Although treaty status gave me special privileges, I had become nothing more than a mere chattel, and although I had a piece of paper that said I belonged my band, the fact remained that I had been estranged for many years. I had been whisked away from my community through family deaths and the sixties scoop that sought to assimilate First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children by removing them from their cultural connections.

I lived off reserve, and as such, I remained estranged. I walked, talked, and dressed differently, and once I was able to obtain post-secondary education, I thought and wrote in a different way. Like many other First Nations children, I had lost my cultural connections, yet I longed to belong. I longed to know who I was, who I was created to be, and I yearned to belong. Somehow, I knew that I belonged at home on my mother’s reserve, with her people, and where my Dad had run the riverboat carrying goods and people. My parents were loved, and I longed to be loved too.

This is where I belong. This is who I was created to be.

However, the Lord works in mysterious ways, and he just seemed to keep sending me back to school. First for management studies, then for psychology, sociology, and then intercultural studies. My interest in the band, my people, and my culture caught the attention of others, and I was eventually nominated to become a band counselor but was instead elected to the Land Management Committee. Eventually, I was called to move home where I would work in the Land Management Office. 

This last summer, the drumbeat boomed in rhythm with the heartbeat of the Creator. The wailing songs of my people cried unto the Creator as I was guided through the Spruce-Bough Ceremony, wrapped in a blanket, and walked through the tunnel of love. I walked under outstretched arms joined above me, as people shouted, “Welcome home Agnes”, and “Welcome home Tootsie.” I was officially welcomed back into my home community, as a returning member after being lost and held in captivity as a result of the sixties scoop. I feel loved. This is where I belong. This is who I was created to be. I now honour the triune God, Whuta, who is my Creator, my saviour, Tsizi, and the indwelling Gwichi’ m’nadu, the Holy Spirit within the context of the cultural ways of the Tse’khene people. I am home. This is reconciliation.

To reflect on Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action for National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada check out the Do Justice podcast.

Photo provided by the author.

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