Food Sovereignty-8

Holding space for both grief and resilience

On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we reflect on the effects of colonialism on the lands and waters — and the resilience of the Indigenous people who steward them
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A pair of hands reaching into a bush to grab ripe berries.
Note: This newsletter mentions Indian Residential Schools. Support for residential school survivors and their families is available. Call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066 for the 24-7 crisis line.

Ten years ago, Secwepemc author Phyllis Jack Webstad founded Orange Shirt Day in so-called Canada. Webstad wore an orange shirt in memory of the one taken away from her when she first arrived at a B.C. residential school at the age of six. Today, for many Indigenous people, the orange shirt symbolizes the lands, language and culture they were stripped of — and also the healing that comes from reclaiming what was lost.

And it’s only the third year — after hundreds of unmarked graves were found on former residential school sites across the country — that we commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

For all of us at The Narwhal, it’s impossible to report on the natural world in Canada — lands and waters that were stolen from Indigenous Peoples since the violent inception of this state — and not find links back to residential schools and the legacy of colonization.

As we reflect on all that was taken, we also see how connections to the land have persisted — and how those relationships are critical tools in the fight for survival amid a rapidly changing climate. 

Near Kamloops, B.C., where historic wildfires have destroyed Indigenous-led food systems, Secwepemc people are once again singing berry picking and deer hunting songs that were nearly lost to residential schools.
Smoked salmon hanging from rafters with a hand reaching up through the smoke
A member of Lake Babine Nation in B.C. recently recounted how Canada once flew planes over the community to identify children to take away to residential schools — an attempt to target their knowledge systems. At the same time, the government accused the nation of overharvesting salmon and destroyed their fishing systems, damaging their food security for decades to come. Today, as the salmon are “cooking” in hot water on a warming planet, the nation is standing up to Fisheries and Oceans Canada — hopeful that the fish will return for future generations

In Ontario, a group of Indigenous stewards, biologists, municipal leaders and a “staunchness of aunties” is challenging the very colonial practice of creating national parks — by pushing to make the Ojibway National Urban Park a reality. It’s set to be “an action” behind reconciliation; anchored in Windsor, in collaboration with Caldwell and Walpole Island First Nations — that claim a part of the proposed park’s territory as their once-stolen home.
An aerial view of an ice road leading into Fort Chipewyan.
In Fort Chipewyan, Alta., where the last residential school closed in 1974, an Imperial Oil tailings pond leak went unreported for nine months earlier this year, until 5.3 million litres of wastewater spilled into the surrounding forests and wetlands. Months after the spill was made public, a third-party report said on Wednesday the provincial energy regulator’s handling of the incident followed the rules — even if those rules were flawed. Nearby Indigenous communities rejected the report and called the findings “insulting to those of us who have to drink the water.”

For Canadian media, the calls to action have been loud and clear: do more than just reporting the deep-seated trauma of Indigenous Peoples — highlight the stories of joy, successes, resilience and action.

These stories — which hold space for both grief and a vision for a better future — invite you to learn a mere percentage of that truth. As they say: without truth, there is no reconciliation.

Take care and don’t just wear an orange shirt,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor


What we’re reading & streaming:

In a new video, journalist Brandi Morin highlights the state of reconciliation in Canada.

For The Walrus, Michelle Cyca (Indigenous-led conservation editor at The Narwhal) writes about the swelling tide of resentment in settler Canadians — who are engaging in residential school denialism.

How exactly can you identify and confront residential school denialism? Sean Carleton’s explainer in The Conversation has eight useful tips.
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