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‘It took a long time to get here, it’s going to take a long time to heal’

As we mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, reporter Steph Wood reflects on the legacy of colonial policies in the stories we cover about the environment — meaning, Indigenous territories — and the communities rebuilding systems Canada sought to destroy

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Reporter Steph Wood talks to people on a boat headed for the Mamalilikulla IPCA dedication ceremony.
Dear Narwhals,

To many people, we may simply write about the environment. But when you’re writing about lands and waters in the colonial borders of Canada, you are writing about Indigenous territories. Year-round, we try to cover the impacts colonial and extractive policies have on Indigenous Peoples. These stories include deep and complex histories we can never sum up in an article.

For every story about salmon or old-growth logging, you will hear about the impact of residential schools, or Indigenous Peoples being confined to reserves or displaced from their territories. You will hear about how this history of genocidal practices impacts everything today. 

This is front of mind as we approach the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, in recognition of children being taken from their homes. Some may call it a “holiday” now, but Orange Shirt Day has always been a call to action. It’s about learning and pursuing justice.

It’s a day to acknowledge the grief, but that is not isolated to only one day. Education around the ongoing colonial policies impacting Indigenous Peoples should take place all year, and the celebration of Indigenous joy and innovation too. We often carry joy in one hand and grief in the other.

No matter what I am covering for The Narwhal, I am always hearing about the connection to the legacy of colonial policies as Indigenous Peoples work to rebuild the systems that Canada sought to destroy. 

These stories are important to cover, but our articles can only provide a small glimpse into these deep histories, and the acts of reclamation happening today — like the piece I wrote recently about the Mamalilikulla First Nation unilaterally establishing an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA). The Mamalilikulla, part of a groundswell of Indigenous Nations declaring IPCAs based on their own sovereignty, invited me to their community event to celebrate.
 
Reporter Steph Wood talks to people on a boat headed for the Mamalilikulla IPCA dedication ceremony.

The Mamalilikulla were displaced due to a lack of clean water, lack of infrastructure and their children being taken away to residential school. They were also not allocated a reserve, so they slowly spread to urban areas and other reserves. 

Alongside community members, guests and a couple other journalists, I got to witness Mamalilikulla people sing and dance at Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala (Lull Bay/Hoeya Sound) for the first time in 100 years.

I’m still struck by how privileged I am to have witnessed such a beautiful act.

“I felt like I was connecting with all our ancestors,” one of the Mamalilikulla dancers, Carolyn Dawson, told me.

Mamalilikulla elected Chief Councillor John Powell said both the land and the people need time to heal from the trauma inflicted on them, but he sees it happening before his eyes.

“It took a long time to get here, it’s going to take a long time to heal,” he said. 
 
I recently got to write about my own nation, the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), and that story also looked at the deep history of the territory. The nation teamed up with partners to restore the Squamish estuary, after a massive pile of dredged soil and a spit was abandoned there in the 1970s due to industrial activity that took place without consultation. 

This time, in restoring the estuary, the nation’s voice was a leader in the room.

These stories about Indigenous-led conservation uphold joy and perseverance, and it brings me great joy and hope to help share them. 

At the centre of these stories is dedication to not give up, and to not forget — to remember all we have lost, all we have saved and all we are working towards. 

Wa chexw yuu, take care and never stop pushing for healing and justice,

Steph Kwetasel’wet Wood
B.C. reporter
Steph Wood
 

What we’re reading and streaming

Logo for CBC's Kuper Island podcast.
CBC’s Kuper Island

This podcast is hosted by Duncan McCue, an Anishinaabe journalist with CBC. McCue has been advocating for ethical reporting in Indigenous communities for a long time — educating people on the difference between “story-telling” and “story-taking.” Here, McCue tells the stories of four students who attended Kuper Island Residential School.

Two more excellent podcasts are Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo and Stolen: Surviving St. Michaels, both hosted by Cree journalist Connie Walker.
 
Two kids are seen embracing wearing orange shirts.
IndigiNews’ coverage

This Indigenous-led news outlet regularly covers Indigenous child welfare, and has established itself as a leader in trauma-informed, ethical journalism. IndigiNews has published a helpful guide about how to talk to children about residential schools.
 
Tanya Talaga.
Profiling trail-blazing journalist Tanya Talaga

A beautifully-written feature by nêhiyaw journalist Michelle Cyca about Anishinaabe journalist and storyteller Tanya Talaga, who has educated many Canadians about the violence of the education system against Indigenous students, from residential schools to the present day.

While you’re at it, explore this work by Talaga (who is on our board of directors): her book Seven Fallen Feathers and her film Spirit to Soar on CBC Gem.
Photo fellows Ryan Wilkes and Katherine Cheng.

Fellow Narwhals say hi!


In partnership with Room Up Front, we’re thrilled to welcome our 2022 BIPOC photojournalism fellows: Katherine Cheng and Ryan Wilkes!

From covering protests in Hong Kong to documenting Greenland’s vast, rugged landscape, Katherine and Ryan have done it all. Now, thanks to Reader’s Digest Foundation and the generosity of our readers, both our photojournalism fellows will bring their passion to change the coverage of the natural world in Canada — be it by zooming in on how proposed highway and development projects affect Ontario’s environment and communities on the ground, or profiling the essence of the natural world in sound.

Join us in welcoming our fellows!

 
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