Why I Am Responsible for What’s Happened to Canada’s First Nations People

This is a hard post to write.

It’s hard, because I try as best I can to be a good person. I try to treat everyone with respect, and show compassion towards others.

Yet, as I sat listening to Dr. Michael Yellow Bird talk about the atrocities that occurred as a result of the colonization of Canada, I felt embarrassment and guilt.

Some people say that its ancient history. That it’s silly for me to feel guilty over something that someone else did a long time ago. It wasn’t me. I’m a good person.

Yet, it actually wasn’t that long ago.

And, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look around at our First Nations communities and see that the impact of those years is still very much affecting people’s lives today.

And, I have benefitted because of it.

There it is. That’s why I feel guilt.

There’s no doubt that I have worked hard in my life. I’ve spent more hours that I’d like to calculate sitting in a classroom, doing homework, working my way up through many jobs, putting in overtime and taking on extra responsibilities to get to where I am today.

Yet, I can’t deny that I could have done all those same things, yet, had I been born into a First Nations family, things might be very different. It’s certainly possible that I could still have a great job, a nice home, and all the amazing experiences I’ve had. But the road to get there would have been dramatically different.

The home I would have been born into could have been sub-standard. My family may not have had the same level of affluence. I would not have had the same opportunities. If I attended a school on a reserve, my education would not have been funded to the same level. My access to health care services would have been different. Instead of growing up with the expectation that I would go away and attend university, the assumption may have been made that I may not even complete high school. And, on a daily basis, I’d be treated differently by some people because of the colour of my skin. It would have been harder for me to find someone to rent me my first apartment, give me that first job, or simply treat me with basic human dignity. Some people would even dare to suggest that the government has given me a free ride, and that it’s my own fault if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that have been given to me.

What does any of this have to do with Restitution?

Restitution is all about looking inside yourself. About evaluating the person you are, and making the choice to be the best you can be.

A First Nations friend once told me that there’s a difference between feeling guilt and taking responsibility. She told me that I didn’t need to feel guilty.  But just because you didn’t personally do harm, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have some responsibility to help make things better.  I may not have caused someone’s car to crash, but when I witness the accident, I still have some responsibility to call 911 and help out in whatever way I can.

Instead of being the kind of person who searches for fault, trying to defend myself against having to take any blame or responsibility, I want to be the kind of person who recognizes when there is a crisis, and steps up to do what I can to make things right.

What kind of person do you want to be?


2 thoughts on “Why I Am Responsible for What’s Happened to Canada’s First Nations People

  1. Ruth Gray says:

    A very thought provoking article Rebecca. I want to to take responsibility for the injustices done to First Nation people so that the healing can begin.


  2. Lisa says:

    Well written- guilt is not helpful, but we can all step up to support change.


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