Ontario Regional Chief says education is critical for moving forward

·3 min read

Canada Day 2021 passed with little fanfare in many Manitoulin communities as Islanders supported Indigenous calls to cancel Canada Day following the discovery of unmarked graves at several residential schools in recent weeks. The support was appreciated, said Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare.

“We see that and we definitely appreciate that,” he said. “I have nothing to jump up and down for and maybe shoot fireworks for at this time because the timing’s wrong. They’re digging up bodies. The focus right now is on residential schools.” The numbers are still rising and it’s going to get harder, he said.

The regional chief is hopeful we can all celebrate a little more next year, “after all of us, including the government, do some positive things. We’re given that much time, to next July. I hope we do see us celebrating July 1 next year.”

Some businesses remained closed on July 1 while others remained open. One Gore Bay business chose to stay open in order to donate their Canada Day profits to the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund, which spreads awareness about residential schools, supporting survivors and educating Canadians.

Education is critical, said Regional Chief Hare. “We’ve heard the stories. Everybody’s heard them. People thought we were exaggerating but it did happen. I don’t think other people thought it was that bad but now that we’re finding the evidence, the tone has changed.”

When he meets with the premiers and the federal government he will be pushing for more funding for education. “Put it in the schools,” he said. “Then invite us to speak to students. Whenever I’ve talked to students, you could hear a pin drop. The support is there.”

“We have 12 months to heal. I’ll be honest, I’m waiting for Garden River and Spanish. You always hope there’s nothing but I think there will be something, unfortunately. Again, the biggest thing I’ve been saying is the federal government, they came and got these kids. I truly, strongly believe they’re responsible financially to take them back home. We definitely don’t need any more studies. We know what happened. We know what we’re dealing with. It’s there in the Truth and Reconciliation reports that took years and cost millions of dollars.”

“Everybody wants to work together to move forward on this now. We need to work on truth before we can do reconciliation. Education is the key factor,” he said. “It’s got to start from there.”

For those who don’t know where to start, these links can help you begin:

Find Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports at nctr.ca. The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund was inspired by Chanie Wenjack’s story and Gord Downie’s call to build a better Canada. Find educational resources to build awareness and understanding at downiewenjack.ca. The Anishinabek Nation has recently launched an interactive online educational resource for educators that covers First Nations history, treaties and Indigenous rights. Find it at anishinabek.ca under the ‘Education and Resources’ tab.

Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Manitoulin Expositor

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