Opinion

Walking side-by-side a step toward reconciliation

Maeve Maguire

News Leader Pictorial

 

In 2007, Coast Salish artist Maynard Johnny Jr. and his non-Native friend Ryan Bruce walked across the silver bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway, hoping to be counted.

They were protesting a Facebook page called How many Indians on the bridge?

The page encouraged drivers to submit the number of First Nations people they saw on the bridge while they drove across it. The page’s creator was quoted in the Times Colonist saying it was all in fun, there was nothing racist about it.

Johnny disagreed.

“The game was outright racist. What if we said, “Let’s count the black people on the bridge”? It’s no different.”

Gone are the days when there was a sign in the theatre stating Native people were required to sit upstairs.

But the racism is still there, and while it’s not a daily occurrence, according to Johnny, it’s weekly.

Johnny credits his friendship with Bruce for helping him reconcile his anger and resentment toward non-Native people. The two share a mutual respect for each other and talk at length about government and the First Nations situation.

He said, “I can ask him as a First Nations person where he stands on things. I learned from Ryan not to jump to that defensive place. That’s where many First Nations people go. They build that wall because they are angry and intimidated.”

Johnny keeps an open mind toward the many non-Native people who know little about his people’s history.

“We as First Nations people need to understand people don’t know what happened, or why we are upset today about the residential schools. When they find out, they are in awe. I like to educate people, to tell them it’s OK to ask questions.”

Better understanding is the first step to reconciliation, but it’s not enough to break apart detrimental assumptions from all sides.

There has been a missing piece from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the tribunal that crossed Canada last year.

We heard the truth from residential-school survivors about the horrific abuses, family separation, and attempted cultural eradication, but there has been no opportunity to reconcile with Native and non-Native people.

Now that we are beginning to get the full picture of what happened, what can we do about it? How can we actively make a difference?

That walk across the silver bridge was Johnny and Bruce’s way of showing others that an alliance is possible between these two people.

Their thinking was if you’re going to count the Native people, you might as well count the non-Natives too.

It was a small gesture—fewer than 10 people participated—but it inspired a much bigger walk two years later.

The Walk of Nations was created as a legacy to the North American Indigenous Games where people of all nationalities worked side by side to produce the best NAIG event in its history.

Bruce, Jenn George and Michelle Nowzek at Social Planning Cowichan created the event to build on the multicultural relationships that had developed during the Games.

This year the Young Professionals of Cowichan are throwing their energy into raising awareness and money for the Walk.

There is a symposium about First Nations history for the Young Professionals groups on Vancouver Island, a gala fundraiser in May, and they are speaking to First Nations and other community groups about joining the walk in June.

Participating and contributing to the Walk, and the events leading to it, is one way everyone can begin to reconcile with their neighbours.

Maeve Maguire is a technical writer who lives and works in Maple Bay and writes monthly in the News Leader Pictorial. Visit her blog www.cowichandale.com, or email her at maeve@describewriting.com.

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