Jatinder Singh: Honour Indigenous Voices This National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

When talking with a recently arrived international student, I asked him to imagine if the population in every state of India was reduced from the Millions to just a few hundred thousand

Jatinder Singh
September 30, 2021 | 3.5 min. read | Opinion

From Sunday 26th September to Thursday 30th, the Khalsa Aid Canada social media platform has been honouring indigenous voices. This is in recognition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, both of which will occur on September 30.

No other posts will be shown. We desire to amplify indigenous voices and organizations. To listen to their truths.

Before I continue, it is important to acknowledge that those of us who live in Canada do so on the traditional lands of the Indigenous peoples. Myself, I acknowledge and respect the lək̓ʷəŋən peoples on whose traditional territory I live and the Songhees, Esquimalt and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

Khalsa Aid Canada has been working alongside Indigenous communities and charities, providing aid and support, when requested, for several years. Our first major effort was the reconciliaction with the Ahousaht Nation, which led to a $200,000 pledge for youth development in the name of Maggie Sutlej Ahousaht. Since then, our chapters across the country have started to build trust with indigenous communities through our seva.

We are not alone in this. It is heartening to see the seva of other Sikh organizations across the country too. Note that I use terms like ‘working alongside’ and ‘partnering’ with indigenous communities. It is important to acknowledge that they are our equal partners. Otherwise, we are susceptible to fall into what is often called the white saviour complex. We are guided by our indigenous friends and colleagues. Everything from land acknowledgments to providing gifts to indigenous elders are things we have learnt and continue to learn along the way.

We will make mistakes. However, the importance of this seva is such that we will learn from those mistakes.

What shocked many Canadians this year was the confirmation of unmarked graves at former residential schools.  The mainstream media uses the word ‘discovery’ and not ‘confirmation’. The indigenous peoples have long known these graves were out there. For them, it was not a discovery. 

Explaining the extent of the genocide that has occurred on this land is difficult. Hundreds of years of colonialism cannot be easily explained in a few minutes. However, we can begin to understand the magnitude of what has happened.

When talking with a recently arrived international student, I asked him to imagine if the population in every State of India was reduced from the Millions to just a few hundred thousand. Imagine then the few left in Panjab have their land taken, diseases are allowed to spread and kill, conflict persists with colonial rulers, intoxicants proliferate, you’re forced to live on reservations, prevented from performing your ceremonies and have your children taken away.

Now think of the trauma this inflicts on a community that went through this as well as the injustices that continue to this day.

These interviews are of those who are our friends and colleagues. We honour their voices and are humbled by their agreeing to share with us. We took great care in ensuring no undue pressure was put on them, nor any leading questions to steer their voices. We merely asked them their thoughts on this first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We wanted to hear their uncensored voices.

Outside of a simple poster, no other marketing was done. We even decided against any trailers of their interviews, as that would have meant making editorial decisions on what sound bites to use - something that could easily lead to sensationalism. For many interviewees, I will be frank, it was difficult. Requesting someone to potentially relive their traumas is a big ask.

In one case we decided not to post the interview as it was not entirely clear we were comfortable with the consent that had been provided. In another case, the interviewee decided against having their interview published. These are their stories, they own them and we share them with great care. 

For reconciliation to occur, we must first understand the truth and listen. Just listen. If there is an ask from Khalsa Aid Canada on this Day of Truth and Reconciliation, it is to listen to and share these interviews with others and to learn about indigenous organizations, such as the ones we have highlighted on our social media platform. 

Some of these interviews discuss traumatic events. If you need support, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-866-925-4419, the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 and the Native Youth Crisis Hotline at 1-877-209-1266.

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Jatinder Singh is National Director for Khalsa Aid Canada. You can find him on Twitter at @jindisinghka.


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