Indigenous Perspectives: Stories from Indigenous Public Servants Episode 10 – Priorities, pt.2

“All Canadians are treaty people. All Canadians, their governments have made certain commitments and promises to the Indigenous peoples in this country to have a peaceful and respectful relationship so we can share the land and its resources to mutual benefit. And reconciliation it seems like a huge undertaking, which it is, but it starts with each of us: each Canadian, each individual doing just small little steps to making it a more respectful society.”

In this episode, public servants share their thoughts and feelings about their ideas for the way forward on reconciliation (part 2 of 2).

Duration: 35:50 minutes


(soundbyte: Tim Low)
“All Canadians are treaty people. All Canadians, their governments have made certain commitments and promises to the Indigenous peoples in this country to have a peaceful and respectful relationship so we can share the land and its resources to mutual benefit. And reconciliation it seems like a huge undertaking, which it is, but it starts with each of us. Each Canadian, each individual doing just small little steps to making it a more respectful society.”

(music: : “Hoka” – Boogey The Beat)
Indigenous Perspectives. Stories from Indigenous public servants.


This is Indigenous Perspectives, a program where we hope to explore the experiences and perspectives of Indigenous public servants, what reconciliation means to them, and what it can be for Canada.

(music: “Mossorgsky’s House” – Cris Derksen)

Madeleine Redfern, social activist and two time mayor of Iqaluit, Nunavut, said:
“We’ll never achieve true reconciliation, without first realizing that systemic discrimination occurred and is still occurring. Many of the same mindsets, ignorances [sic], biases and prejudices are very much in play within our society.

“Most people believe that since I am 'nice' or 'good' and that the system and policies are done carefully and with good intention - and if any discrimination exists - its someone else, or from above.

“Rarely can anyone identify [the] “why” or “who” [that perpetuates discrimination] because its invisible to them.

“That is why it’s incredibly important to include those who’ve been actively discriminated against in government policies and actions. Their views in how the system hurts and how to make improvements is key to addressing inherent systemic problems.

“Not just 'consultation' but actively support minorities to participate in all aspects of the process: evaluation, analysis, assessments, revised and new policy discussions, debates, and development … and of course, training, hiring and implementation.

“Ideally, the great number of people who should be participating are those who are disproportionately affected by policies or actions that discriminate. Their voices should be the most prevalent.”

And now, in their own words, the thoughts and feelings of some of Canada's own public servants about their ideas for the way forward on reconciliation.
(flute: Greg Reiter)

So speaking just in terms of yourself as an individual – not as the department or a public servant, but just as an Indigenous person – what would be the three priorities of things that you'd like to see changed?

In government or in general?

It can be either way in our country because reconciliation… it's bigger than just the federal government.

Yeah it is. So, three things that I'd like to see changed. The first one is the definition of Aboriginal or Indigenous. I work really hard to ensure that any opportunity I have to demystify the term Aboriginal is reflective of all the three groups. The Canadian constitution defines Aboriginals as First Nations, Inuit, Metis. So that's one of my first areas is… we shouldn't always just use that term Aboriginal or Indigenous. We should always define the three groups. They deserve to be recognized as the three groups. The second one is [the] perception that they get everything for free. Like, Canadian perception that education is free, healthcare is free, housing is free. So. I'm thinking more broadly with perceptions of some of the minds sitting on Christmas dinner, for example. They're so lucky! Aboriginals get everything for free! And little do they know that if an Aboriginal wants funding for post-secondary [education] the long process – the application processes – is quite lengthy [and] detailed. My daughter just graduated from Carleton a year and a half ago and now my son's in his first year. I can assure you that the application process to be considered – considered, not guaranteed – for funding, it's very detailed. So, for me, that's another public perception that I really like to bring awareness to. And then, I guess the third… definition, perceptions… and the celebration and the opportunity for all Canadians to celebrate one another. National Aboriginal Day, June 24th, that celebrates the First Nations, Inuit, Metis cultures… there has been advocacy from all three groups to have this as a statutory holiday in Canada. Of course, we're limited to statutory holidays. Provinces and territories have their own as well. But I think that would really increase the awareness of the three peoples and help address some of the perceptions that there are. Like, there'd Queen Victoria weekend in May. Maybe we can work in May and use that stat holiday in June instead, for example. So… I'd say those three areas: definitions, address some of the perceptions that they get everything for free, and recognizing the peoples nationally.

Government is so big and one of the things that I realized when I finished my term with the TRC, I took some time off and needed to recover spiritually. I came back into the government and I'd realized I was encompassed with reconciliation, TRC, and the stories of survivors and such. I was a bit surprised that the knowledge level was pretty basic. I had hoped that it was more advanced than it was. So because I had been making these presentations while I was at the TRC, to universities and such, I got permission from my boss, a director, to start evangelizing reconciliation and just to create a forum. And it's a forum so that people can understand, “OK. Now and get it.” And that's one of the things that people come to me after my presentations – “I never knew!” – and now that you know through your own interpretations you can go off and reconcile. And whatever that means from your own department, whether you're a policy analyst, whether you're a Director General, or what have you. Now you can have your own interpretation of what reconciliation is. One of the things that I'm challenging people to do now – it's not an observer sport. It's not Aboriginal awareness or Indigenous or any Metis or First Nations awareness. “OK, now I get it and now I can continue doing what we're doing.” I make the analogy that it is something like innovation, which means you need to do something differently. And my colleague, my old colleague Catherine Fournier, she once said for those that are policy analysts or are developing box notes or such if you can put in there, in a bullet: this contributes towards reconciliation. That's a good start. So, that kind of changes people's mindsets. It means that we were doing something slightly different than we did before. If it doesn't contribute towards reconciliation then I would have a serious look at what we're doing. And I think this government as a whole really kind of wants to embrace it and I think this government or bureaucrats right now need to understand just a bit more of our history so that they can say, “OK. Now I get it.”

I would definitely like to see a lot more Aboriginal people climbing up the executive chain. Right now there's not a lot of that representation, particularly in the groups I've been involved in. There is in other groups – Indian and Northern Affairs – there's definitely a lot of representation in that group. When I first joined the Public Service in Public Works I was only native in that entire group of 60-plus people, or maybe I just didn't know if anybody else identified. But I felt like there wasn't a lot. I just like seeing a bit more representation in the government itself. There is definitely some programs and [inaudible] supports there to help people climb the ladder. It's just a bit tricky. I think there's just there's probably a lot of hesitation from Aboriginal people to the trust that read especially the ones who come from country areas like rural Northern Ontario. The government's nearly spoken of negatively – municipal, federal, all levels. They see it as a waste. But it's a secure job for people and it would be nice to see people get more interested. But even that too, I think that's kind of… It's a nice thing to have these things inside the government that are ready to help support people. But when I first started… I was mentioning that it was really hard for me to get into the government and I tried to use my Aboriginal status to get into government and that didn't really do anything because nobody knew how to connect the wires. They didn't even know how to get me there and they weren't really interested in me. Nobody was interested in me because it was a lot of extra work and research. There were no experts anywhere. And I think that a big problem with that too is, even before you can get to that stage you have to have a pretty good education. You have be pretty stable in life in general. You have to be in the kind of areas that the government is targeting. [inaudible] Living in an urban environment, you have to be able to [inaudible]. Just the commute and all these things. There's a lot of obstacles. It is actually really very challenging for myself, coming from a small community. [inaudible] I was well motivated by that and I think that that was probably the main reason that got me to this point was that I was motivated. You j just move to the city and try to get a government job. There's not a whole lot you can do and I find there's a lot of agencies that will help take on the cases to try to get you into those positions. But I find that those agencies are maybe not predatory but they're looking for their own interests. They want to get some money out of getting you hired. So it's not just a selfless act they're doing and it's not always in your best interest. I'd like to see more support to get people into the government with Aboriginal ancestry.

You know how there's two recognized languages: English and French. My first languages is Inuktitut. I do not qualify to get a bilingual bonus even though my position includes to have Inuktitut as my language skill set. So that's one. I think the second one in my opinion there is a lack of mentorship program for specifically for Inuit to get into leadership roles. I want to be able to work my way up but because my English language is not where I want it to be, I can't seem to get any higher or advance myself. There is lack of Inuit staff nationwide, I think. There should be more Inuit in each department everywhere, especially here in Ottawa and the north of 60.

Talking reconciliation – first of all just in general as far as what it means to me and what it means as far as what's going on in the country – my experience that I bring to this as an Indigenous person will be very different from what others will bring to background that I bring, the interests and the priorities that I bring. In my case, because I live a mostly assimilated reality, a mostly urban reality. My wife is non-Indigenous. My kids are – as of today I'm not I'm not exactly certain that they would be eligible for community membership going forward. That's one of these things where policies might change so I don't know how that would play out. And at any rate I still have some extended family back in Six Nations but a lot of that family is now a diaspora all over the country and mostly urban whether it's in Toronto or elsewhere. So the the interest is not necessarily immediate from me in terms of my own family. I do obviously have extended family out there for which the issues around reconciliation and discrimination and rights is an immediate issue and I want them to see that work is progressing and that things are changing for the better. So the commitments that the government has made in that area are really exciting. Some of the commitments are pretty new still and some of them feel vague and so there's a lot of places where a bit of a disconnect is happening as far as the expectations. Oh, we're going to implement all the TRC recommendations. Well, how are we going to do that? Are we actually making the change happen? So, there's a lot of expectations. If you ask Indigenous scholars, Indigenous community representatives in different parts of the country quite a few will say that they are impatient with the government as far as progress on some of these areas and they're probably right and in a lot of areas. And, more importantly, the government of the day, the public service can't count on people in communities just saying, “Oh great! The government wants to do reconciliation! Let's get on board now.” No. So, I think the most interesting thing about the government's recent messaging on reconciliation is the recognition – and this is something that the Prime Minister said explicitly so I don't mind quoting it – that the onus is on governments to change how they do things. Just the end of August the Prime Minister announced that there's a plan under way to split Indigenous Northern Affairs Canada into two departments one to manage the Crown's relations with Indigenous communities and peoples and a second one to manage the delivery of services to communities separately from the conduct of relationships and discussions on self-determination negotiation ,self-government negotiations, and so on. In the Prime Minister's announcement, he said something to the effect – and I'm going to get it wrong – we have pushed the creaky structures within INAC about as far as they can go and that we need to make changes to government structures, policies, practices, that will allow a new relationship to emerge. And allow a new relationship to emerge in a way that is sustainable that would not be dependent on one government's direction but that it would be a lasting change. That's a really key recognition that the onus isn't on Indigenous peoples to work with the Government of Canada on reconciliation. The onus is on the Government of Canada to change its policies and practices. So, the fact that the Prime Minister recognized that is pretty exciting. The fact that slowly, piecemeal, sometimes it's messy, sometimes it's in fits and starts, but you're seeing some of those changes start to come to pass. That makes it an exciting time to work in this area. But in terms of how government works and how the public service works stepping back and just looking at how the processes within government can cut off those different voices, and how do you how do you support that?

I get to speak frankly now, as a former public servant, and I put the onus on their Deputy Head to lead by example that I didn't feel it was fair that the room was mostly filled with people who said the middle ranks or lower – which is nothing. I mean, I was there at one time, too. But what was unfair is that those are the people who are buying in and taking interest. And they have very little influence or authority to change how things get done or the priorities. And I felt that that was a disconnect and I have no problem saying that to the Deputy Head. I knew her, which was sort of helps. I think it's important when you're doing these things to bring in some outside people too if you can because it's easier for us to find the elephant in the room. But it has to be constructive. Like I didn't get that Deputy Head my opinion without offering her the solution. And when those folks asked me the question about what they could do, I said, well you can only do what you can influence. But you can ask for training and learning more about the Indigenous space. You can, when you're negotiating your work plan, build in that you have some time to discuss things, or you work together and through that [Indigenous] lens, or you can build in your performance agreement that you'll achieve certain goals. But you make it built into your performance agreement and then your manager is going to give you the time to do it, because if it's not it just won't be part of your day. So, you have the influence capacity. You may not have the authority to run it. Somebody above you does, and that's why I said to the Associate Deputy Minister. “Only you have the authority to tell your leadership.” And I said, I know your leadership and they're all great people and they're are all extremely busy but they need to understand this. When the staff are asked to do things. They need to understand that it's important. We're telling them it's important. The Prime Minister is telling you it's important in the mandate letters. How are you going to achieve it? I sat on a committee with Global Affairs scratching their head about [inaudible]. What we don't do well is we don't resource the need. We say, yes, this is a priority but that's about as far as it goes. So our actions don't match the words. Actions speak louder than words and that's the risk we're in now is that we have a lot of really great ideas again with no capacity to do it. Speaking truth is difficult for some people but at the same time what I'm trying to illustrate is I was constructive in response. There is an answer. It just takes a little bit of thought and structure.

Now for the typical Canadian that may not really grasp the importance of reconciliation, how can you explain to an average Canadian why this reconciliation process is so important for our future as a country?

Well, first of all, all Canadians are treaty people. The treaties that were made with Indigenous people and include the First Nations and the Metis and the Inuit. The Inuit have a Crown-Indigenous relationship, they refer to it as. The Metis Nation has accords and the First Nations have treaties. But all Canadians, their governments have made certain commitments and promises to the Indigenous peoples in this country to have a peaceful and respectful relationship so that we can share the land and its resources to mutual benefit. So, when those commitments and those promises have been broken over the last hundred years or more, 150, 200 years, I think it's in the interest of all Canadians to recognize that, to recognize things like the Indian residential school policy and the impact it's had on Indigenous peoples. And the inter-generational impacts it's had. I think it's in the interests of all Canadians to recognize that – number one – to recognize the truth and that's the truth part of reconciliation. But it's in everybody's interest to reconcile the impacts of the truth – what really happened – and to do their part in making sure that reconciliation works. And reconciliation, it seems like a huge undertaking, which it is. But it starts with each of us. Each Canadian, each individual doing just small little steps to making it a more respectful society so that Indigenous peoples aren't viewed in their stereotypical ways of the past, but viewed as the original peoples of this land who shared their resources and in fact ensured the survival of the European people whose ancestors a lot of Canadians are – newcomers maybe not so much. But they have taken on their reconciliation commitment as well as they become citizens of this country. And we just try to make it a better place for everybody. So, to answer your question, as Canadians we all have responsibilities to making sure this happens. And Canadian society is what we say it is. And not go back to the history but to make it a better future for everyone. I mean, small things like, you know, taking part in Aboriginal Awareness Week or Indigenous Awareness Week and some of the things that happened internally for the federal public service we have Indigenous Awareness Week, so we have activities in our offices in all departments throughout the country. But for National Aboriginal Day and it may be called National Indigenous Day this year, I'm not sure – or next year. But just a small thing like participating in a National Aboriginal Day event and becoming more aware of the culture and the traditions of Indigenous peoples and talking to Indigenous people about their culture and about what they do and what they'd like to see happen in the future and finding out how they might be able to help make that happen in the smallest of ways. It's not just huge things that has to happen, although those will and can happen, but at the individual level it's just becoming more aware and more respectful of Indigenous culture, that's really the starting point.

I was listening to podcast while driving a while back and I was hearing these panel experts talking about the fact that there's some injury caused by the fact that we still have certain names and certain statues and memorials all across Canada. In particular, they we're talking about the Fort Amherst and how one of the Indigenous leaders had given back his Order of Canada because he was facing opposition for over ten years to rename that port. And I was kind of taken aback a bit when I heard what the panel members were saying about needing to protect our history and not wanting to rewrite our history and perhaps just reframing our history. And that surprised me. It surprised me because to me it was very simple. If I, for example, was assaulted at work by let's say one of my managers and that this was common knowledge and everybody agreed that this happened and that my manager would keep his position. Not only that, I would keep receiving emails with his name on it and I would I would see celebratory holidays with his name on it. You know, the injury will not be erased but the insult will not be added to the injury. So, when I hear things like that I say I don't I don't really care about Canadian history. I care about Canadian people and I care about the values that we want as a country and if I look at reconciliation I really don't think it stops at an apology. I think that those parts and those statues and those buildings should be renamed and replaced as a symbol that Canada we stand strong with those that have been injured and we are writing the values. We are showing the next generation what we value, who we cherish as heroes, and when we tell the history of the new port name, for example, it doesn't mean that the old port name is forgotten. It just is weaved into the story, the new story about what happened, but what we did about it and I think that will be so powerful for our country to take that approach. And after having seen the movie on the residential schools and being a mother myself I think we owe nothing less than that kind of unity as a country for this group as we would do for any other group.

Where I come from just last night I was on Facebook looking through some of my friends' lists and came across a couple of articles, pieces, videos, short clip videos where an Inuk is interviewing fellow Inuit living in Iqaluit on the beach in a tent. You know, so there's so many issues out there in this country alone where you have Canadians. And Inuit say they're 'First Canadians, Canadians First'. It's part of the ITK slogan and, in fact, their logo has a Canadian maple leaf to really demonstrate how proud they are as Canadians. And yet, we have some Canadians living on the beach freezing to death in a boat or dying from fire from using Coleman stoves in a closed space. So you know there's a lot of work that could be done to really address some of these social issues faced by a lot of the communities across the northern regions.

I think it's very difficult for people to imagine… people that have never… people that have always been in a city… people that have always had a middle class income, or better, to imagine situations like that. Or, like Grassy Narrows, where there are generations of people suffering from mercury poisoning and there's a lack of clean water. It's because we're not confronted with it every day. It's not our reality. It's almost impossible to imagine that this still exists in 2017.

Exactly. And then when we look at the United Nations Human Index and best countries to live in, we still top at 10. But then when you bring out the chapters to that, Aboriginals [lifespan] used to be I think 80-something or so and now they're at like high 40s or early 50s. So, you're absolutely right Todd. It's hard for general Canadians to even think that these are the realities faced in some of the northern communities or not having access to safe or clean drinking water. So yeah, that's a really good point that you're raising because it's really hard for them to imagine that when they're living comfortably, right? You know they've got access to two or three cars in the driveway, homes. One thing on my former mentor the former president ITK who has now passed on, Jose Kusugak, once said as well in the southern cities you've got your home, they're like blocks, your lot. And if you're mowing the lawn you can't go over your block because then you're invading your neighbor's property. And it's so true because we're all boxed in in a lot of the southern cities. So sometimes it's not comforting to get out of that box and think about others who may not be in a similar box. So, I've always remembered that that analogy that he shared about when we say 'thinking outside the box' versus 'always in the box' or 'in the lines of the box'.

I participated in a UBC course and I was really fascinated to hear somebody from South Africa. There was a little video. He talked about their Truth and Reconciliation process. So he recognizes some of the parallels in what Canada is going through and what South Africa went through. And he was saying he'd been away quite a long time and he had gone back and he said, there's just so much more to be done in South Africa. There are still so many wrongs to be righted. And I guess one of the things is you have to celebrate every small success. And so for me, sometimes I get really discouraged because it seems like such a huge mountain. Like we'll never… we'll never get beyond. And yesterday when I did the blanket exercise one of the facilitators said, 'this is really, really important that we celebrate every small success'. And so I started to really reflect on that and I thought, yeah, you know. I was able to fill that workshop. That's a success. I had people saying good words about it and asking for more information. That's a success. And one person at a time. It's like when I was struggling with doing my Master's and someone said, you know, they told me 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.' So it's kind of the same thing. We can just move one small step at a time. But it's so important to recognize and celebrate those small successes because they will grow. And you know if we can continue to move it forward and if people continue to sort of be curious and really open their hearts to want to understand, maybe we can get it right and honour all those words and treaties and agreements that we committed to as a nation.

Indigenous Perspectives: Stories from Indigenous Public Servants is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada

All opinions expressed on Indigenous Perspectives are strictly those of the individual and are not necessarily those of their employer.

Public servants featured in this episode were Fannie Bernard, Don Bilodeau, Janice Edgar, Ryan Jeddore, Daniel Jette, Tooneejoulee Kootoo-Chiarello, Tim O'Loan, Tim Low, and Leesie Naqitarvik.

Our main title music is by Boogey the Beat, with additional music provided by Boogey the Beat, Cris Derksen, and Greg Reiter.

I'm Todd Lyons, host, writer, and technical producer for this series.

Thank you for listening.


Download (MP3, 19.1 MB)Episode 10 – Priorities, pt.2 - Indigenous Perspectives: Stories from Indigenous Public Servants

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