“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Lilla Watson, Murri (Indigenous to the land known as Australia) visual artist, activist and academic

Today is July 1, Canada Day.

This day was designed as a celebration of Canadian Confederation, the joining of provinces as a single dominion in the British Empire. Today and in the future, we will mark it as a day of remembrance. 

Community Foundations of Canada has been grieving since the initial findings of 215 unmarked graves at Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation. Since then, we have learned of more mass graves of members of First Nation communities including from Cowessess First Nation and Sioux Valley Dakota Nation. We know it is part of an enduring history of colonial violence. Generations of these nations were forcibly taken. The Residential Schools were an instrument for forced assimilation and genocide. These schools were supported by churches, governments, and through donations from philanthropy and charities.

As an institution, and as individuals, Community Foundations of Canada is taking responsibility for our role in maintaining colonial power structures. As settlers on these lands, we must rethink celebrations, not as a way to negate responsibility, but to face the truth. We know that we need systemic change to combat anti-Indigenous racism.

Community Foundations of Canada’s purpose is to relentlessly pursue a future where everyone belongs. This is impossible to achieve without the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indignenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice, and UNDRIP.

This work is about more than reading a report and writing a cheque. We ask for full participation of the community foundations network by signing The Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action, through The Circle, and maintaining an active commitment to reconciliation. 

Change happens in the hearts and minds of people: change happens because we change. It is time for settlers, for the leaders of the philanthropic sector, to sit with Indigenous people in this moment, and feel grief.

As outlined in Edgar Villanueva’s book, Decolonizing Wealth, leaders must role-model vulnerability and grief, to make space for the organization to follow-suit, function most effectively, and support change.

This is not easy. Sitting with this grief, being vulnerable, is challenging. Because we and our organizations have been complicit.

Villanueva writes, “Settlers and their descendants have to grieve the lives of their ancestors, the culture that made their acts of domination and exploitation even imaginable, possible, and acceptable…. The Native principle of All My Relations means that settlers are our relatives too. It means our interdependence is inescapable, so we may as well acknowledge each other’s trauma and engage in healing together.

As Chief Cadmus Delorme of Cowessess First Nation says, “We can’t control other people’s actions and we can’t control a system that is outdated, but what we can control is our thoughts and we can control our own actions.”

The team at Community Foundations of Canada is committed to leading with vulnerability, and doing the personal work, so action is not transactional or performative, but a natural outcome from reciprocal relationships built on trust and honesty.

We call on the network of people who make up community foundations to do this work just as we are: take time to grieve, listen, relate, to reach ouother and be in right-relationship with Indigenous-led organizations, leaders, activists, Knowledge Keepers and Elders.

Let us take this grief and transform it from guilt, into action.

Survivors and those seeking emotional support can call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066, toll free, or the 24-hour Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.

Find out where Residential Schools were located near you: https://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/beyond-94-residential-school-map/ 

Find out whose land you are on and treaty responsibilities at https://native-land.ca/

Beyond Thoughts and Prayers: Actions you can take to support residential school survivors, Toronto Star, May 31 2021