Speaking at Ryerson last week, Anishinaabe journalist Wab Kinew said students can work towards the goals of reconciliation with a simple action: voting.
“This election campaign is a time to pose to the people who want to run this country the question of which of those (Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action) is most urgent, and how are you going to act on them,” Kinew said.
Kinew has reported for the CBC and Al Jazeera America and is currently the associate vice-president of indigenous relations at the University of Winnipeg.
Kinew also urged students to work with faculty and campus organizations to push for the inclusion of indigenous issues in university curriculum, one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. The list of 94 recommendations for the government and public to redress the legacy of the residential school system in Canada was released this past June.
The Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson hosted the journalist and First Nations activist as part of the school’s DisOrientation Week. According to CESAR, the week of events is meant to immerse students in activism, social justice, action and knowledge, and encourage thought-provoking discussion on campus.
The event was part of CESAR’s larger effort to make sure Ryerson students come out to vote in the upcoming federal election. It was organized in conjunction with the Racialized Students’ Collective and Ryerson’s Indigenous Students’ Association.
According to a statement made by CESAR vice-president internal Rabbia Ashraf, they will be helping to co-ordinate advanced on-campus voting from Oct. 5 to 8.
Kinew opened his talk by touching on the history of colonialism in Canada, illustrating how much those histories still impact us today. He described how European settlers immediately broke treaties with First Nations groups and not only removed their traditional ways of life but also prevented them from participating in any new developing economies.
“Nowadays, if you do encounter a community that is trapped in a level of dependency, you shouldn’t wonder how this happened or whether it happened by accident, because it didn’t,” Kinew said. “It happened by design. And it is a testament to many indigenous peoples that they managed to escape that dependency trap and are today self-sufficient and in power.”
Kinew also briefly outlined the history of the Indian Act and the residential school system, which his own father was subjected to as a boy.
For Kinew, highlighting this negative history of colonialism and the residential school system is not meant to condemn present-day Canadians for “the sins of their father, as it were,” but instead “to motivate people towards reconciliation and concrete measures to achieving social justice in this lifetime.”
He said that getting out to vote in the upcoming federal election is one of the best ways for both indigenous and non-indigenous people to make a political statement and take steps towards reconciliation.
“To me, voting is paramount,” he said. “Ask the questions, demand that the leaders at least engage and then send a message by showing up at the polls on Oct. 19 and supporting the party (that) you think has the best stance on indigenous issues.”
Kyle Edwards is the community director of the Indigenous Students’ Association at Ryerson. He said Kinew’s message is important for all members of the Ryerson community to hear.
“To have an event to encourage us to vote is absolutely necessary at Ryerson,” Edwards said.
“To show that we care about our country and who runs our country is extremely important. I think that is the message he (Kinew) was trying to get out — not just for indigenous populations, but for all people.”