Watershed moments

The learning I’m doing about anti-racism this week is bringing me a lot of American history. It’s heartbreaking, tragic and inspiring:

  • I’m reading The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. It walks through the approach America took from slavery onwards towards its former slave populations, and how that morphed into a justice system that continues in the same spirit.
  • I read The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a tragic and powerful tour-de-force through the hateful biases that are now built-in to many American policies and laws, the generations of pain it caused, and the work that remains ahead to undo. (A long read, but worthwhile)
  • If we only have 17 minutes, Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales) recently shared a rapid walkthrough called Race in America, that covers a lot of the same main points as the above pieces.
  • I listened to Ibrim X. Kendi and Brené Brown talk about How to Be An Anti-Racist. It’s not enough to believe that you’re personally ‘not racist.’ We need to move it into action that actively pursues equality.

Through all of this, it has left me pained and inspired: where do I start the work? America is not the home I live in, where my voting, petitioning, learning and advocacy might make a difference. Canada is.

In Canada, our own history has more to do with the displacement and disenfranchisement of Indigenous Peoples.

So tonight I spent a couple hours researching, looking to learn what actions I can begin to take to live out anti-racism in a Canadian context.

I took the time to read through the entirety of the report from 2015’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission. It is just 20 pages. It contains 94 calls to action.

I found that there’s a Government of Canada website that tracks what is happening with those 94 recommendations, so we as Canadians can keep the government accountable.

The government is not the lead on all recommendations. Some of them are for us as citizens to do. Senator Murray Sinclair challenges us to read through all 94 actions, and “think about how you can affect change in your own life to make this country stronger.”

I could see some overlap in how my work in the corporate sector could connect more intentionally. Like number 92:

“Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”

There is also overlap in how churches can show up.

One of the calls is for churches to apologize — even churches that didn’t actively operate residential schools.

I found the United Church of Canada’s response here, the Anglican response here

…and I also found my own church denomination’s response, here, from 2014.

An excerpt:

We regret that, at times, the Christian faith was used, wrongly, as an instrument of power, not as an invitation to see how God was already at work before we came.


We acknowledge the paternalism and racism of the past…
We acknowledge that we have work to do in addressing paternalism and racism both within our communities and in the broader public.


We repent of our denominational encounters with Indigenous Peoples that at times may have been motivated more by cultural biases than by the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.


We repent of our failure to advocate for marginalized Indigenous Peoples as our faith would instruct us to.


We are aware that we have a long path to walk. We hope to build relationships with First Nations communities so that we can continue this learning journey and walk this path together.

It’s a heartbreaking, humble, hopeful orientation for the learning and working ahead.

There is much to learn, and much listening to do.

Tonight I learned that a residential school operated 190 kilometres away from my childhood home. It had been closed 15 years before I was born, and had been operating since 1890, affecting more than 5000 children.

I didn’t learn about it in school, at church, or at home. I learned about it when I used this interactive tool.

I also couldn’t have learned about it on Wikipedia.
It wasn’t on Wikipedia.
It is now, because I added it.
I added the page, but I also edited the city page where the school was located (Cranbrook, in this case) so that future folks will learn this sooner than I did.

* * *

Last year, a friend asked me recently if I had ever taken the time to research my own watershed. To learn the names and locations of streams,  mountain slopes and terrain that become part of where our water actually comes from, to gain an intimate familiarity with the hyper-local reality of our ecosystem.

He explained that once he knew it…it situated him better in his exact time and place, geographically. It changed how he understood his context.

It’s that kind of personalized knowing that awaits us. There are stories that haven’t been told to us, histories that haven’t been shared with us, but which pertain to the pasts of our precise communities and neighbourhoods. There are ways our ignorance has contributed to harm. There are ways our systems benefit us, at the expense of another.

This is a watershed moment — a historic turning point, and also the invitation for turning towards, a new noticing of our exact context and ecosystem, so we can be more conscious participants in the work of anti-racism.

Once we explore our watersheds, we’ll understand what roles we can play in helping acknowledge the pain, and becoming partners in healing.

To answer my friend’s question, though: No, I’ve never explored my own watershed. This is a late start.

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