GUEST COMMENT: Melvin Larocque, UNW Equity Vice President and Member of the Deninu Kųę́ First Nation
With the recent recoveries of unmarked graves at Indian Residential School (IRS) sites, our nation has been torn apart. But instead of dividing, we should be coming together. We are all struggling in different ways. Allow us to hurt. Allow us to grieve. Allow us to be angry. Please, don’t feel shame. Feel some compassion. Within our union we are all Brothers and Sisters and we always stand and support each other.
The NWT has been one of the last hosts of IRS and it seems to hit us hard regardless of where these recoveries are made. We are all connected and this affects us all. We learn that adults are aunts and uncles and those our age are cousins. I am very proud to have so many cousins in our homeland. More proud to have so many aunts and uncles that survived. Our family is still here - we are hurting, but we are still here!
There exists years of injustice with the Dene, Metis and Inuit trying to work with the governments of the day. Treaties were signed as a means to cooperate and live together peacefully. Yet, they were not honored by the Crown/government. In order to “progress” and take ownership of unceded territory, governments worked with churches to create the IRS to advance their own interests as Treaty signatories, stake claim to our homeland, and take the Indian out of the child. There is stark evidence of abuse not only in IRS, but with the land dealings of our people.
There has been some progress toward reconciliation in the NWT as the GNWT has taken the initiative to implement “Indigenous Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity Training – Living Well Together”. This is mandatory for all employees. But unless you come to this training with an open mind and heart, you will leave with nothing changed in your views about where you live and whose land you occupy.
A lot of people are missing the point, despite being sympathetic and supportive of the babies being recovered in IRS graveyards. Many still have this notion that these are ancient crimes that have long passed.
If you live and work in the NWT, there is a very high chance that someone you know or work with is a first, second, or third generation survivor impacted by the IRS system. Be aware of who is around you in your day to day activities and in your workplaces. Your fellow union members ask for compassion and understanding.
When you see the hard to house natives in front of the post office or library, remember, they are survivors struggling to make it in a world that is no longer theirs. The difference between them and others? They are out in public doing what others do at the golf club, in the pubs, or at private parties.
There are thousands who perished at IRS who need to be brought home and grieved. But there are thousands more who lived through the nightmare and are actively and endlessly re-victimized for it every day of their lives. You are sad for those who were buried nameless, yet you want the survivors pushed out of your sight the same way. You want justice, but not in your backyard.
If this makes you uncomfortable and angry for a little while, be thankful you don’t have to live it every day of your life. We have feelings and compassion. This isn’t about “us versus them”. This is about all of us coming together and supporting each other. We are not holding you personally accountable for the past. We only want reconciliation, not revenge.
Just over 50% of the NWT population is Indigenous. 30% of the territorial public service is Indigenous. As union members who represent that public service, along with municipal government and private sector workers, we are all members supporting each other through our labour movement. We are all family, now more than ever.
Your collective support and willingness to stand is needed to right a wrong. Take the training, read, ask, try to learn and understand; but most importantly, reach out to your fellow members and stand unified. Stand strong like only our union can.
If you want to honor the babies who never made it home, support the ones who did.
Melvin Larocque, Equity Vice President