We need to understand our shared history, says Roberta Jamieson

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

UWaterloo's 60th anniversary convocation lecture was delivered by Roberta Jamieson, one of Canada’s important visionaries and leaders. Hosted in partnership with the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre and the Faculty of Arts, Ms. Jamieson addressed “Education and Reconciliation, the Path to Canada’s Future”.

Here is the Waterloo Chronicle's coverage of the lecture, written by Waterloo Region Record reporter, Anam Latif.

​Reconciliation sounds nice, but putting it to action is what will make a real difference for Canada's indigenous communities, says Roberta Jamieson.

"For the next 150 years, we indigenous people are looking for change," the lawyer and First Nations activist told a crowd at University of Waterloo Monday night as part of a special convocation lecture.

"This time around, Canadians have the opportunity to become former colonizers."

Jamieson was the first First Nations woman to earn a law degree in Canada. She has seen a lot of positive change since she was one of only four indigenous students at university, but there is still a long way to go.

"We have to demonstrate that we live in a reality where we support each other," she said.

Jamieson said education is important not only for indigenous communities, but even more so for non-indigenous Canadians who have a distorted view of this country's troubling shared history.

Part of the problem is that many aspects of indigenous history are not even talked about, she said.

Like how indigenous people were run out of town at sunset, relegated onto reserves and made wards of the state, she said.

"We were, by law, declared to be non-persons."

Roberta Jamieson speaking at University of Waterloo
First Nations activist Roberta Jamieson spoke to a gathering at Federation Hall at the University of Waterloo on Monday night. Photo: Peter Lee, Record staff

Jamieson said her vision is for an education in which all of us are encouraged and empowered. She outlined three kinds of education that she said Canada should embrace to mend relationships with indigenous communities.

"The first is to educate Canadians of the truth of what they found when they first arrived on Turtle Island," she said, referring to the name first given to North America by many indigenous people.

The second is to acknowledge the true history of what happened between settlers and indigenous communities.

"Canadians need to know what happened," she said.

She said the third is for indigenous communities to educate their own people.

Jamieson quoted Sen. Murray Sinclair, who said that "education is what got us into this mess. The use of it will get us out of it."

He was referring to the impact residential schools have had on generations of indigenous people.

"The residential schools and '60s Scoop set into motion an intergenerational legacy that has still not let up," Jamieson said.

"In 2017, I believe Canadians really want to see change."

She said she has never been so optimistic about the future of indigenous people, following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report.

In the next 150 years, she wants to see "statistics turned upside down," from the low numbers of indigenous youth graduating from high school to high rates of youth suicide and the startling number of missing and murdered indigenous women.

She wants to see all Canadians speak a few words in an indigenous language, to acknowledge the indigenous heritage behind the country's many names, to share resources equally, and to build sustainable indigenous communities.

This isn't about making people feel guilty, Jamieson stressed, adding that guilt will not help us.

"We need to understand our shared history," she said.

Jamieson, a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, is a woman of many firsts. She was also the first non-parliamentarian to be appointed an ex-officio member of a House of Commons committee, and the first woman appointed as Ontario's Ombud.

She is the president and chief executive officer of Indspire, a charity that invests in the education of indigenous people.

Story originally published in the Waterloo Chronicle, June 13 2017.