June is National Indigenous History Month, an opportunity to honour the history, heritage, and diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada. In this post, we asked John Borrows, professor and the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, a few questions about what Indigenous History Month means to him. We’re also including a short excerpt from his book, Law’s Indigenous Ethics.
UTP: What does “Indigenous History Month” mean to you?
John Borrows: Indigenous History Month is a chance to see our past in light of its complexity. Canada itself is situated in a very complex stream of time. Within Canada, many forces brought us to where we are. Furthermore, numerous Indigenous nations exerted influences on the state through the past 150 + years. More importantly, Indigenous peoples have histories that predated the nation state. In my view, though they are also in flux they will also persist in exciting new forms through the next 150 years, and long after the current configuration of the nation state passes.
UTP: Do you plan to celebrate it?
JB: I celebrate Indigenous History Month in many ways, through lectures, seminars, and other public events. When I am home I also mark June 21 as a time of transition, as days are long and the sun is the farthest north for the year in our hemisphere. It is a time of renewal.
UTP: What resource(s) would you recommend to descendants of settlers who want to develop their understanding of the Indigenous experience in Canada?
JB: One of the best ways to develop understandings of the Indigenous experience in Canada is to appreciate there is no “one” experience. There is a great deal of diversity amongst Indigenous peoples. This is as true across Indigenous communities as it is within Indigenous communities. We are ideologically, politically, spiritually, and socially complex. We are fighting for the freedom to be different from other people in Canada. We are also fighting to free to be different from one another within our homelands. The best way to understand this is by developing direct experience with Indigenous peoples in many walks of life.
Excerpt from Chapter 7
Respect: Residential Schools, Responsibilities for Past Harms
Nuance is sacred, as I have argued throughout this book. …There is so much goodness, beauty, and decency in the world. However, to ignore the darkness that shaped and continues to shape Canada and our communities would also be to disregard reality. To whitewash this history would disrespect those who were raped, beaten, belittled, demeaned, and denied access to a loving family and community upbringing. We must also remember that, throughout most of Canada’s history, Indigenous women were stripped of their Indian status when they married non-Indian men. This, in turn, removed a great source of strength from our communities – my mother was among these people (her status and mine was only restored in 1985 through belated amendments to the Indian Act). To add fuel to this fire, another round of children being taken from us began in the 1960’s through the 60’s Scoop. Even today, 50-80% of the kids in government care in western Canada are Indigenous children.
One of the results of this treatment is that Indigenous peoples’ lives are drastically shorter than other Canadians. They are marked by more suffering as measured by considerably higher rates of poverty, injury, and incarceration, and significantly lower levels of education, income, and health. We are currently in crisis mode; Indigenous peoples are living through a period of profound, extended, multi-generational trauma.
The TRC Commission’s Final Report was clear in its finding about the causes of the problem concerning Indigenous/Canadian relationships. It reported that Canada worked to undermine nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous peoples, and acted to diminish and marginalize their collective and individual capacities.
Click here to read the full excerpt from Chapter 7 of the book.