The Indigenous Perspective: From the Papal Apology to Our Interview with Buffy-Sainte-Marie, Our Top Stories from 2022
Buffy-Sainte Marie arrives to the Toronto International Film Festival’s Tribute Award, in Toronto, Sept. 11, 2022. Photo: Chris Young/Canadian Press
Canada’s Indigenous communities experienced a number of historic moments in 2022, from a papal apology for the abuse at residential schools to a groundbreaking Supreme Court appointment.
From those firsts to preserving Indigenous languages and spotlighting legendary artists like Buffy Sainte-Marie, we highlight a selection of those stories from the past year.
In January, the Canadian government agreed to pay $40 billion to compensate the families of Indigenous children who were taken from their homes as part of the First Nations Child and Family Services program, dating back to 1991. As reported on EverythingZoomer.com, “The agreements include $20 billion for potentially hundreds of thousands of First Nations children who were removed from their families, who did not get services or who experienced delays in receiving services. Another $20 billion is to reform the system over the next five years.”
The final settlement agreement was hammered out in July, with Cindy Woodhouse, the Manitoba Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, saying, “First Nations children have always deserved to be treated fairly and equitably, and this $20 billion compensation settlement recognizes that this was not the policy nor the practice. We look forward to its ratification by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the Federal Court, so that compensation can begin to reach the children and families impacted.”
For National Indigenous Languages Day in March, Zoomer looked at how Canadian Indigenous communities are working toward language reclamation via a story by Pamela McCoy Jones, the University of Alberta’s Executive Director of the Supporting Indigenous Language Revitalization Initiative.
McCoy Jones wrote that, “Indigenous languages are currently in crisis and Elders and language keepers are working tirelessly to document, teach and develop resources for generations to come,” but that there are “fewer and fewer fluent language speakers in Indigenous communities.” That said, the Anishinaabe member of Batchewana First Nation explored how Indigenous communities, federal initiatives and educational institutions are all working to help protect languages from being lost, while her own role “is to listen to our Elders and language keepers and find strategies to support communities, with them as the lead, and in a respectful way.” She also provided links to numerous resources for those who want to help ensure Indigenous languages continue to flourish in Canada.
In April, Pope Francis met with a Canadian First Nations delegation at the Vatican and apologized for the role of the Catholic Church in the horrors of Canada’s residential school system. It was a start, but Indigenous communities wanted more. First, the apology should take place in Canada.
The Pontiff, at age 85 and dealing with knee problems, arrived in Canada on July 25 for a five-day tour that included meeting with members of various Indigenous communities, performing mass before 50,000 faithful at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton as well as at the National Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupré in Quebec, and speaking with residential school survivors in Iqaluit, Nunavut. In Quebec City, Pope Francis declared, “I express my deep shame and sorrow, and, together with the bishops of this country, I renew my request for forgiveness for the wrong done by so many Christians to the Indigenous peoples.”
Some appreciated the apology, while others felt it fell short of accepting true responsibility for the Church’s role in the residential school system. Yet others believed that the apology rang hollow if more meaningful action wasn’t taken.
Lori Campbell, 50, a member of Montreal Lake First Nation as well as an intergenerational residential school survivor who serves as the associate vice president of Indigenous Engagement at the University of Regina, told Zoomer at the time that, “It’s only been because of consistent and persistent pressure by Indigenous peoples that finally seven years later, the Pope came over to deliver an apology.”
She added, “We saw the Pope apologize for individual characters or individual Christians versus the role that the church played in supporting the ongoing genocide and supporting sexual and physical abusers.”
In May, Charles and Camilla — then the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall — embarked on a three-day tour of Canada and spoke of the “pain and suffering” the nation’s Indigenous people have endured, and how it must be understood. Following a visit to the remote First Nations community of Dettah, Northwest Territories — where he and Camilla met with community members and took part in traditional ceremonies — Charles said that, “All leaders have shared with me the importance of advancing reconciliation in Canada. We must listen to the truth of the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples, and we should work to understand better their pain and suffering. We all have a responsibility to listen, understand and act in ways that foster relationships between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada.”
As Zoomer noted, however, that “Charles stopped short of apologizing on behalf of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, for the ‘assimilation and genocide’ of Canada’s Indigenous children.”
On Canada Day, Kaitie Jourdeuil, a PhD Candidate in Political Theory at Queen’s University, wrote that the holiday, “can be a day to celebrate the privileges we enjoy as Canadians. However, we must also acknowledge that we enjoy these privileges as settlers.”
Broaching the difficult but necessary subject of land restitution, or “land back” discussions, then, is crucial to both healing past injustices imposed on Indigenous communities in Canada as well as for the protection of the environment and combating climate change.
Jourdeuil defined the idea of land restitution as pertaining to Crown land — not privately-owned land — which includes “the return of jurisdictional control to Indigenous nations.” That, she noted, means that those nations would possess, “the right to make and enforce laws over a geographic area. It also often includes control over the extraction and development of natural resources.”
She added that not only would this see Canada making good on treaty obligations that have been previously ignored, thus helping to prevent clashes between Indigenous communities and the government, but that “Indigenous jurisdictions can mitigate biodiversity loss.”
It’s a concept, Jourdeuil believes, that all settler Canadians should consider supporting.
“Settler Canadians have a collective responsibility as Canadians to support land restitution — regardless of our individual actions,” she wrote. “This is because land restitution is required for building just relations with Indigenous people and nations.”
How Elsie Paul, a Métis-Cree Elder, Is Using TikTok to Help Teach Indigenous Youth About Their Culture
In August, Zoomer profiled Métis-Cree elder Elsie Paul — a 78-year-old retired social worker who joined TikTok to share knowledge of her Indigenous culture and traditions with younger generations. Known as Techno Kokum (Techno Grandmother) on TikTok, Paul boasts 61,000 followers on the social media site where, as Zoomer noted, she shares information “on everything from the significance of the eagle feather to the traditional understanding of kinship in her culture.”
Paul told Zoomer that she came up with the idea of starting a TikTok channel after speaking to grandparents in her community.
“They never retired traditionally. Grandmothers and grandfathers were always involved with the community, teaching the younger generation and the community, because they have lots of wisdom and knowledge.”
In June, Paul marked National Indigenous Peoples Day by serving as a featured performer at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s (APTN) Indigenous Day Live concert.
Paul, originally from Wolf Lake, Alberta, also noted that her personal journey was shaped by those who came before her, including her parents, who were residential school survivors. She was punished for speaking Cree at her day school as a child and eventually fell into drug and alcohol abuse. Zoomer noted that her experiences as a troubled youth eventually led her toward a vocation as a social worker. And now, that same drive to help, educate, and inspire younger generations is on display in her TikTok videos.
“Even though there’s so much trauma, once we know the history we go into recovery. That’s why I do what I do right now,” she explained. “There’s a reason why we went on that hellish journey. Once we heal, we get gifted with extra credentials.”
In “Historic Moment,” Michelle O’Bonsawin Becomes First Indigenous Person Nominated to Canada’s Supreme Court
August 19, 2022 turned out to be an historic day in Canada, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nominated the first ever Indigenous Justice to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Michelle O’Bonsawin, a 48-year-old member of the Abenaki First Nation in Odanak, Que., and a former Ontario Superior Court judge, was described, in a statement from the prime minister as, “a widely respected member of Canada’s legal community with a distinguished career. I’m confident that she’ll bring invaluable knowledge to our country’s highest court.”
O’Bonsawin’s appointment followed the retirement of Justice Michael Moldaver and received praise on social media following the announcement.
RoseAnne Archibald, who made history in 2021 when she was elected as the first female National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, tweeted, “I’d like to applaud Michelle O’Bonsawin for making #HERstory today as the first-ever Indigenous Justice on the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s an important appointment at a critical time and Justice O’Bonsawin is a qualified choice.”
And Dakota Kochie, an Ojibwe Indigenous rights and environmental advocate, added, “MASSIVE news. This will positively impact Indigenous rights for many years to come. What a positive legacy for PM @Justin Trudeau.”
Buffy Sainte-Marie is a national treasure and, at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, her incredible life and career received the documentary treatment in Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On.
And what a life and career it’s been: a six-decade-long career of trailblazing music, performance and activism; time spent in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell; her 1970s and ’80s appearances on Sesame Street — making her not only the show’s first Indigenous star but also, after the 1977 episode in which she breastfed her son, the first woman to nurse a child on television; becoming the first artist to use digital communication to record an album, Coincidence and Likely Stories, on an Apple computer way back in 1992; winning the Polaris Prize in 2015; and, of course, becoming the first Indigenous person to ever win a competitive Oscar (in 1983 for co-writing “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman).
Sainte-Marie, at 81, remains as passionate for life and art as ever, and she spoke with Zoomer about everything from challenging herself (“I don’t challenge myself on much of anything except don’t eat too much cake”) to being on the creative cutting edge with her work (“I happen to be on the cutting edge every now and then just because I’m lucky enough to have a very unusual life”) to opening up about the highs and lows of her life for the documentary (“Audiences are hearing about some things for the first time, but I’ve been living with my realities throughout my life.”)
She also spoke about enduring abuse from her ex-husband, her secrets to healthy aging, Indigenous activism and her hopes for true reconciliation and healing for Indigenous communities in North America, and being decades ahead of society when singing about Indigenous issues.
On that last front, she isn’t bitter. As she told Zoomer, “Sometimes you have to carry the medicine for a long time before it can be effective.”