Cities across the country celebrated National Indigenous People’s Day yesterday but despite all the pomp and ceremony, at least one Six Nations elder says there is still a long way to go to achieve reconciliation between Indigenous people and settlers in Canada.
“Being here today is a great idea but I don’t think…that there can ever really be reconciliation,” says Norma Jacobs, a Six Nations elder who was a keynote speaker at the National Indigenous Day Celebration at Hamilton City Hall.
The event drew about 100 people from the city’s urban Indigenous community, as well as surrounding communities, along with city staff, citizens and Mayor Fred Eisenberger.
Beginning with a land acknowledgement, the event featured youth, elder and two-spirit voices, along with singing and drumming.
Jacobs, who just released a book called, O Da Gaho De:s – Reflecting on our Journeys, said colonization did damage Indigenous communities and that it’s been a “long” and “tough” journey trying to overcome that.
“Every day is a struggle for our people,’ said Jacobs, but she’s also thankful. “Every day I wake up and give thanks that I have life. I just think about that time when they landed on our shores. We offered food, we offered safety, we offered shelter but where did it get us? No one respects us. We lost our language, our values; they’ve all been interrupted and violated.”
She said the only way forward with reconciliation is if, “we revitalize our values, to look at our values, and what does it mean to share, to give someone something without expecting something back. What does it mean to look after your elders? What does it mean to care for your children and to give them a place to live? Home is where everything starts, with parents who care.”
She said Indigenous people need allies and people who will listen.
“We need someone to stand with us and say, ‘your story is true. How can we help you?’ I don’t like that we’re not appreciated for our knowledge. I don’t want to feel lesser for our knowledge because I have a lot to give. I have a lot of gifts from the Creator. I want to be kind to people. I want to share. I want to see people happy, not struggling.”
She said people need to respect each other and lift each other up.
It’s one of the teachings in Haudenosaunee ceremonies, she said.
“We do ceremonies, not just for us, but for the whole world. We honour you, we honour you that you came here to be with us, to learn about life, to learn about peace.”
She said it’s hard to get past all the violence of colonization but, “we’re getting there. We’re learning how to speak our language again. We’re learning our ceremonies. We’re learning to be proud of who we are as a people.”
“I wish for all of us that we find those compassionate ways to look after one another, to honour each other, to remove the labels that we’ve been so covered with. It’s a way to isolate, to determine who deserves more. We’re not all good at building. We’re not all good thinkers but we’re valuable.
“Today, in being here, and celebrating this Indigenous people’s day, this solstice, I hope that some of this conversation helps you and supports you and validates you.”