"Decolonizing Reconciliation"

Remarks delivered at the second RavenSPEAK: Amplified Event on December 11, 2018:

Thank you for having me here this evening. I wish to begin by acknowledging that I am a guest upon the unceded territories of the Musqueum, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. I wish to pay my respect to Elders both past and present, and express my sincere gratitude for our ability to gather here tonight in such a beautiful place for such an exciting and important gathering. 


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"We need nothing less than a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. I give you my word that we will renew and respect that relationship.”

Nearly 3 years ago to this day, newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood in the presence of Survivors and their families and delivered this solemn commitment. And I sincerely believed him. I sincerely believed that after generations of efforts to marginalize, delegitimize and eliminate Indigenous voices from these unceded territories, that we would finally begin to realize true Nation-to-Nation relationships as envisioned historically in treaty and more recently in his campaign platform. After decades of criminally underfunding Indigenous Nations, of turning away from the socioeconomic inequities and injustices that continue to exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, I sincerely believed that Indigenous peoples would be given the agency and resources to fully fund the work they have taken on themselves to strengthen their communities in light of this continued neglect from paternalistic politicians on Parliament Hill. And after 150 years of colonization, of stolen children and missing mothers, I sincerely believed that the violence directed towards Indigenous peoples would be more seriously addressed through criminal justice reform. 

Yet just last week, Prime Minister Trudeau stood before the Assembly of First Nations, with words that carried a dramatically different tone from those delivered nearly 3 years ago: "The legacies of colonialism took more than 400 years to create, so change won't come overnight.”

In preparing my remarks for this evening, I sought to reckon with the realization that we have once again been failed by our federal government. Failed by a government that is awaiting the results of a second National Energy Board assessment on a pipeline purchased without Indigenous consent. Failed by a government who is preparing to stand again in front of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in response to continued concerns over equitable funding for all Indigenous children. And failed by a government pushing for the conclusion of the National Inquiry despite concerns over its process and the over 100 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls whose lives have been lost since this government assumed office in November of 2015. 

In losing faith in the federal government, I have never lost faith in the strength of Indigenous voices and leadership - tonight is a testament to this strength. And I have never lost faith in those who are committed to working in service to and in support of the vision we collectively hold for a just, equitable and decolonized future. But these recent developments have reaffirmed for me some important truths.

We cannot as a country meaningfully pursue reconciliation without Ottawa at the table - colonization and our nation’s capital are too deeply intertwined, their actions and inactions too central to our current realities to be ignored. And so we will continue to demand justice, equity and action from those with political power, and to push our elected officials to move beyond territorial acknowledgements and symbolic gestures as seemingly sufficient acts of reconciliation.

But as a country we cannot wait for change to be enacted from above. Canadians cannot assume that with 77 of the 94 Calls to Action involving the federal government that one is somehow extricated from their own commitments and responsibilities, which go well beyond a single cultural competency workshop. We live in a country of Colton Boushie, Tina Fontaine and Brydon Whitstone. And until this reality changes, we have work to do. 

As a country we cannot outsource this work to a charismatic national leader - its scope and urgency is simply too great, and the rarity with which governments of any kind have been at the forefront of social justice movements should in itself give us pause. For it was the Constitution Express, the Tsilhqot'in decision and countless other acts that have elevated Indigenous sovereignty and the right to self-determination in modern times, not a progressive policy briefing. Oka, Athlii Gwaii and Standing Rock are what have reaffirmed the unwavering right to free and informed prior consent, not a speech delivered on the floor of the House of Commons. And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, from which so many recent reconciliation efforts have been attributed, came not through a line item of the federal budget, but as a part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Change has come from people, not parliaments. And in this era of reconciliation, we need every single Canadian to join us in realizing this change. 

And so, as we gather this evening with another year nearing ever closer to its end, I’m reflecting upon where we are as a country - how we’ve arrived at this moment, and the journey that lies ahead. And I’m reflecting upon the words of our prime minister, which carry with them a seeming surrender to the enormity and implications of past promises and remarks. In reflecting upon these things, I am left with the question - how do we prove him wrong? How do we break the political cycle of looking to future elections, budgets or even future generations, and build into our lives daily acts of decolonization and reconciliation? 

I cannot ask this question without asking it first of myself - what are my commitments as we look to the year ahead?

I live as a guest upon these unceded territories, in a city whose costs exclude so many. I possess degrees whose courses and curriculum failed to account for Indigenous ways of knowing and being. And I work within a charitable sector whose financial roots lie largely in the exploitation of Mother Earth. For myself, 2019 must involve a deeper exploration of the ways in which I’ve been (and continue to be) living within and perpetuating colonized structures. As a Métis man, 2019 must involve continued reflection upon and action around the importance of intersectionality to these conversations, as well as a critical assessment of the balance I seek to strike between bridge building efforts into the space and work alongside and in service to Indigenous communities and Indigenous-led organizations. And 2019 must involve ongoing support of initiatives such as RavenSPEAK which elevate and amplify Indigenous voices and leadership. 

This is what decolonized reconciliation looks like for me, but I have no right to preach or prescribe, as everyone’s individual journey is unique. All that I ask is that in the presence of these incredible Indigenous voices that I am humbled to share the stage with tonight, that you take a moment to reflect upon these same questions - collectively, let us make 2019 a year in which this societal shift that is well underway becomes impossible to ignore.

Thank you. 

Alexander Dirksen