Listening, Learning, Living
At the 2023 BC stewards conference in Penticton, members and representatives gathered to listen to a panel of three Indigenous Canadians speak about truth and reconciliation and what it means for our communities and workplaces
Meet the Panellists
Ryan Bruce, Moderator, CLAC BC Manager of Government Relations
Nicole Norris, First Nation Liaison at Island Corridor Foundation, Nanaimo, BC
Hank Siegel, Independent Truth and Reconciliation Consultant, Saugeen First Nation, former Local 68 member
Maynard Johnny Jr., Coast Salish Artist, Chemainus 13, BC
The following panel discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m grateful to be able to have this conversation here today. I ask, as much as possible, that you participate with an open heart and an open mind and take a moment to reflect on the conversation and the willingness of our panellists to share openly. And if you can, through that reflection, think about what role we can all play, what we can do in our daily lives to support this journey.
For some, it’s a journey toward reconciliation. For others, it’s a journey of healing. I ask you to think about that in your day-to-day lives with your family, as well as in your workplaces.
I want to thank each of you for joining the circle with us today. What I recognize is that the topics that we’re going to broach today are difficult to hear. But I also want you to know that they’re difficult to talk about, and by you being in the room with us today, you’re carrying some of that weight with us.
My English name is Nicole Norris. I’m a lot of things. I’m an identified Indigenous leader of the Pacific. I’m an identified female leader in climate change. But more importantly, I am one of the great-great-granddaughters of many greats, of Chief Capilano, and that is the foundation of everything that I do around Aboriginal rights and titles and all my healing practices. I’m really excited to start this journey with you guys today.
My name is Hank Siegel. I come from the Saugeen First Nation. My band number is 262. My personal number is 313501. My residential school number was 017. That’s how the government identified me. Much like you have a social insurance number, every time I had to register for something, I had to use that particular number. And that was part of the residential schools. I don’t consider myself a survivor. I consider myself a thriver.
My name is Maynard Johnny Jr. I’m a Coast Salish artist. I have Kwakwaka’wakw in my family—my mom’s Kwakwaka’wakw from We Wai Kai First Nation on Quadra Island across from the Campbell River.
Ryan and I have built a brotherhood in a sense. It gave me hope that there are people out there like him who will open their minds and hearts to understand what we went through as Indigenous people. You can take that knowledge and use it with your colleagues and your workers and family, people that maybe don’t understand why things are the way they are with Indigenous people in this country.
I wonder if you guys could start off with talking to us about reconciliation. Why is there such a focus on it?
All my friends that I went to residential school with died tragically. You know, alcoholism, random violence. I’m reflecting a lot as I get older, and I can actually stem it right back to the residential schools. Second-generation trauma is real. I know it’s real because I deal with it with my son all the time.
[The residential schools] were systematically done to destroy us as Indigenous people, to not allow us to succeed. Those types of things are what people don’t necessarily think about. They took our children. Not just a few of them—all of them. They took all our kids to systematically destroy us. And that’s the question everybody should think about first, let alone what they did to us in the residential schools.
The idea around residential schools was essentially to assimilate us. They didn’t recognize our hereditary system because they didn’t understand it. They didn’t recognize our governance or monetary system because they didn’t understand it. The piece that’s brilliant about that is, if you want to create mass effect and change on a people, you start with their children.
I have a son. And when he was six, what really hit home for me was how those early years are the formative years. And throughout those formative years, what they learned [in residential schools] was physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse. They were malnourished. And because of that malnourishment, it changed them at a genetic level. And thus began a multitude of generations that started out at a disadvantage.
My dad went to a residential school and never talked about it. He passed away in 2000, and I didn’t know he went to a residential school until after he passed away. The generational trauma continued from my dad to me, to my mother, to my brother. I didn’t go to a residential school, but it impacted generations, from the beginning of residential schools until now.
My house is in my name, my land is in my name—I inherited it from my dad. We paid $675 a month for 25 years until we owned it. But I technically don’t own it because it’s under trust with my tribe, which is under the Crown. Therefore, if I wanted to build an art studio, no bank would give me a loan because my house entitlement and my land entitlement is under trust with the Crown.
The oppression of the Indian Act still happens today. How can I thrive as a person who is dependent on my tribe as a status Indian and cannot use my house as equity to further my livelihood? And that’s across the board, right across Canada, for all Indigenous people. Things have changed over the years, but still, it’s not changed enough.
I want to talk a bit about some next steps and how we can break that cycle.
No person in good conscience and in good heart and mind is going to make every single Canadian reconcile for something that you didn’t participate in. When I talk about the action piece, if you know the truth, it’ll change the trajectory that you do to your work. It’ll change how you represent the [Indigenous] people that come to you when there is an issue.
They always say, there’s a lot of talk out there since COVID about mental health, and we never know what anybody is dealing with. For Indigenous people, it’s so much more. You have to become trauma-informed. You have to understand where those triggers are and how to support that allyship. Because that’s what it takes. That’s the action piece—allyship.
I’ve been through that process with a union steward. I was sitting on the other side of his closed door in tears, and he got down on the floor with me and said, “Nicole, I can’t even begin to imagine, but I’m listening. Use me, use my voice. Use my seat and I will do my best. Just guide me.” It’s a surrendering. It’s an action.
I had a conversation at dinner last night about why this is put on us. Why is truth and reconciliation put on Indigenous people to educate others on what the actual history of this country is when it concerns Indigenous people?
We have to tell our stories so that people understand what’s going on, which I totally agree with. At the same time, when you tell your story [as an Indigenous person], people look at you and go, “Oh, that’s so sad. I’m so sorry that happened.” And then they move on. Or they say, “I didn’t know. What can I do?”
It’s what you do after you ask that question. Research. You’ve got Google. You’ve got movies. You’ve got books. You’ve got all kinds of things.
There are misconceptions that we don’t pay tax. Well, we pay tax, just like you. There are so many misconceptions. Those are just a few that have to be addressed.
Can you talk about what may be going through the minds of our Indigenous members?
Three years ago, I got a job on the pipeline as the Indigenous coordinator on site. When I went there, it wasn’t the job I thought it would be, so I gracefully stepped down. I said, “I’m not learning anything here, and you’re telling me what policies you want. You don’t know our people.”
When I went to boots to the ground, we’re doing our orientation, and the first thing I notice is there’s a couple of native guys and they’re withdrawn. They’re standing back. They’re not engaging in the conversation. But I can guarantee you, they’re absorbing it. They’re listening.
When you’re a steward, if you see an Indigenous worker not engaging, he is engaging. He’s just laid back. For a lot of them, it’s their first job—ever.
If you take the time to teach them the ways, I guarantee you that you’re going to get a great worker. They’re going to work above and beyond the call of duty. And that’s what I know from working with them.
Success comes with implementation. Allowing Indigenous knowledge into the executive spaces that make those decisions, exercising free prior and informed consent, and us having equal and privileged opportunity just like the others.
Success comes through education. Success comes through networking, and it shouldn’t just be the [Indigenous people] who are articulate and easy to look at. We all deserve a seat at the table, and I think that success will come with Indigenous people making the decisions for Indigenous people.
It’s really hard for me to not be cynical. It’s really hard for me to believe that there’s a bright future for Indigenous people.
What I realize now is truth and reconciliation is going to take decades. It’s going to move forward, each day, each month, each year.
What we need to do in this country is take Indigenous cultural beliefs, Indigenous thoughts, and incorporate them into today’s society.
I’m actually pretty excited. It wasn’t that long ago that we weren’t allowed to talk about pretty much anything about residential schools.
But this summer, something happened when my son, who just turned 16, he says, “Dad, I’d like to go see Phil.” He wants to meet my mentor, Phil Fontaine [former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations]. My son is the president for the student body of the truth and reconciliation board for northern BC.
He wants to continue that path, and we need all levels involved. We need people to deal with the political part of it. We need workers. Things are changing slowly, but I do see the light at the end of the day, and I’m a dreamer too. I want to dream big. Let’s do this!
As Canadians, who are we if not people who can rally together and support those within our own country that need help? It’s part of being Canadian.
To our panellists, thank you very much for being open, for coming. I know you’ve all got lots going on, but for you to share so openly and be so real with us was a tremendous learning experience.
This is a continuing conversation. I challenge all stewards and members, if you’re up for it, to take what you’ve learned and ask yourself, what more can I learn? How can I apply it in my life? What are the steps we need to take to affect meaningful change for all, for our kids and our communities, and future generations of Indigenous people in our country?
Resources from the Panel
What to Read
• 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph, available on Amazon or wherever you buy books
What to Watch
• Killer of the Flower Moon (2023), directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Jesse Plemons
• Bones of Crows (2022), directed by Marie Clements and starring Grace Dove and Phillip Forest Lewitski
What to Research
• The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action. Visit rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca for more information.