Change, especially in the face of inequity, injustice and despair, is all too often excruciatingly glacially slow.
And then it can arrive and seem stunningly sudden.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today named our new Governor General and has made history doing so, selecting the first Indigenous person (but not first woman) ever to hold the position.
The GG is defined as "the federal representative of the Canadian monarch" (Queen Elizabeth II). The job includes the title of Commander-in-Chief, which involves liaising with the Canadian military on behalf of the Queen. Governor General is largely a ceremonial role. However, as one Indigenous spokesperson stated (paraphrase): It will be the first time an Indigenous person will be within the seat of government.
From a CBC article:
"Inuk leader and former ambassador Mary Simon has been chosen as the next governor general — the first Indigenous person ever to be appointed to the role.
"During a news conference across the river from Parliament Hill this morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the Queen has accepted his recommendation to appoint Simon — a past president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization — as the 30th governor general.
"I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation," said Simon from the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.
"Indeed, my appointment comes at an especially reflective and dynamic time in our shared history."
"Simon is an Inuk from Kuujjuaq, a village on the coast of Ungava Bay in northeastern Quebec. She was born to a local Inuk woman and a fur trader father who worked at a Hudson's Bay Company outpost."https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trudeau-gg-mary-simon-1.6091376
Niigaan Sinclair is a writer and activist as well as the head of the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba. His father is Murray Sinclair, a lawyer, a judge, a former Canadian senator and the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) (2009-2015). The TRC is described as being "a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience."
Niigaan Sinclair was interviewed today about the appointment of Mary Simon. In his remarks he stated firmly that Indigenous Peoples "are not subjects of the Crown" but "equal partners in Confederation". I haven't heard it expressed this way before and it surprised me. (Canadian citizens are considered subjects of the Crown).
Canada's Department of Justice states:
"The Government of Canada is committed to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through a renewed, nation-to-nation, government-to-government, and Inuit-Crown relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership as the foundation for transformative change.
"Indigenous peoples have a special constitutional relationship with the Crown. This relationship, including existing Aboriginal and treaty rights, is recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 35 contains a full box of rights, and holds the promise that Indigenous nations will become partners in Confederation on the basis of a fair and just reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and the Crown.
"The Government recognizes that Indigenous self-government and laws are critical to Canada’s future, and that Indigenous perspectives and rights must be incorporated in all aspects of this relationship. In doing so, we will continue the process of decolonization and hasten the end of its legacy wherever it remains in our laws and policies."https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/principles-principes.html
Irony then that the Canadian monarch (the British Queen) must approve the appointment - in this case, an Indigenous woman - even if it's only a rubber stamp.
The issues are complex and I'm feeling bad that I haven't looked into them more often and more carefully when it's really a huge big deal in Canada and I've been aware of it all my life. Aware that there's a problem there, not too well informed about the ins and outs of it. That right there is a big part of the problem. It's easy to leave things to government and trust they'll do the right thing, although not always (or even often) realistic.
Multiple discoveries have been made in recent weeks here in Canada of unmarked graves, at least one mass grave and remains of Indigenous children in school grounds (all of whom died at government-mandated residential schools). Too, there is the ongoing crisis of scores of "Murdered and Missing" Indigenous women and girls. You can't even really say "discoveries" because Indigenous Peoples knew where the burial grounds were. They are the ones who finally gave up on waiting for government action and themselves went with ground-penetrating radar to the areas they knew would yield results, and so it was.
Many emotions have been aroused and it's truly a painful chapter in Canadian history. Partly I feel awful for the suffering of the families, then and now, and partly for my relative ignorance about the various issues involved. Too, I don't know of anything I can do to help at all, in any way. Other than learn more about what happened and why and be alert to any chance to be an ally, if wanted.
I have known especially about the lack of clean drinking water on the reserves. It bothers me greatly but I haven't done much to find out why it is so and what can be done to improve that obviously major situation that the rest of Canadians don’t face.
I don't want the sum of my life to be "I could've done more" but in this instance it would be. :(
Irony then that the Canadian monarch (the British Queen) must approve the appointment - in this case, an Indigenous woman - even if it's only a rubber stamp, given the comment by Niigaan Sinclair about being equal partners.
The issues are complex and I'm feeling bad that I haven't looked into them more often and more carefully when it's really a huge big deal in Canada and I've been at least vaguely aware of it all my life. Aware that there's a problem there, not too well informed about the ins and outs of it. That right there is a big part of the problem. It's easy to leave things to government and trust they'll do the right thing, although not always (or even often) realistic.
Of course I see parallels between the US and Canada with the issue of how some citizens and the government treat others who are supposedly equal citizens or should be.
In Canada we've had all the recent upheaval and controversy over the search for and discovery of the remains of thousands of Indigenous children at the government-mandated schools, as mentioned above (parents had no choice but to send their kids away to residential school, unless they signed away their treaty rights), the larger picture of ongoing mistreatment/lack of equal treatment of Indigenous Peoples and the disclosures and questions about the involvement of religious institutions in the abundant and abhorrent abuses of Canada's First Peoples. I've vaguely heard about it for most of my life but not with the details that have recently been disclosed. And finally, maybe, this is the straw that broke the camel's back - the images of children's graves (as well as government inaction over the tragedy) and the telling and re-telling of firsthand accounts of abuse at the hands of teachers and officials, many of whom were nuns, priests and members of churches of various denominations. Finally, maybe, those most sorely affected, and those still suffering, and their descendants, are being heard. And this time decisive action will be taken and whatever remediation possible will occur.
Of course, the USA has grappled with similar issues in its own history, the oppression of "the other". The whole world witnessed a recent example in the painful and horrifying spectacle of the death of George Floyd. And there are countless other incidents in both our countries where some of the root causes are similar, although the targets may be different.
For some reason today, as I heard the announcement of the new Governor General, the first Indigenous Person appointed to the role, I heard Sam Cooke in my head: A Change is Gonna Come.
It's taken too long. And been so excruciatingly painful for all too many of our fellow beings. But at last maybe we're on the cusp. There can be no going back.
As a treat if you've read through this whole thing (which I hope is somewhat on topic, if only because a lot of the pain has been inflicted by skewed religious ideas and incompetent, unfit, unkind, if not outright criminal, church representatives, here's the amazing sound of Sam Cooke and his prophetic and most appealing statement: A change is gonna come.
Slow, definitely, but sure...it is to be mightily hoped.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEBlaMOmKV4