Guntas Kaur: As Sikhs, We Must Educate Ourselves And Support Ongoing Indigenous Struggles
We need to view the recent revelations of past and present injustices as a call to action for all members of the Canadian Sikh diaspora on this National Indigenous Peoples Day
June 21, 2021 | 3.5 min. read | Opinion
Growing up in Punjab, my imagination painted Canada in different shades of hope, freedom, and opportunity. For some time now, that imagery has been replaced with Canada’s grim history of settler colonialism, displacement of Indigenous peoples, and ongoing systemic oppression of Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities.
As a member of the Canadian Sikh diaspora, a community that has become an integral part of the multicultural fabric of this nation-state, I often wonder about our community’s role in changing the trajectory of Canada’s nation-building project. Most importantly, the actions we need to take to honor Indigenous peoples, their ancestors, and the land that we now refer to as home.
This realization took a lot of unlearning and reflexivity, along with a dash of privilege that comes with university education and community organizing in spaces that also question Canada’s problematic settler nation identity.
The recent confirmation of 215 unmarked mass graves on residential school property in Kamloops, BC, and hundreds more across Canada continue to unveil the truths that the Canadian government has deliberately tried to hide from the national narrative. Indigenous communities have been battling with these realities and been telling us their truths for decades - we have just failed to pay attention.
From missing and murdered Indigenous women to boil water advisories lasting years to Indigenous people being disproportionately incarcerated and being subject to police brutality, overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system—the list goes on.
I firmly believe that Sikhs should be at the forefront of fighting Canadian settler colonialism alongside Indigenous communities.
Sikhs were amongst the first South Asians to migrate to Canada in the early 20th century and we continue to establish ties across the country. Early Sikh migrants arrived in Canada battling oppressive immigration policies and like all migrants, have been systematically restricted to learn about the true keepers of this land or how to appropriately respect treaty relations with Indigenous nations.
More importantly, the foundation and essence of Sikhi lies in standing up against injustice and the oppressor, no matter who the oppressed are. These are the values on which our Gurus laid the foundation of Sikhi. Hence, it is our duty and responsibility to have uncomfortable conversations about our positionality on this land, both individually and as a community, so we can act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples collectively.
Recently, we have witnessed many examples of Sikh solidarity with Indigenous people. For example, over 50 bikes with the Sikh Riders of Canada Motorcycle Club travelled from Abbotsford to show support for Indigenous community members at the grounds of Kamloops Residential School.
We need to view the recent revelations of past and present injustices as a call to action for all members of the Canadian Sikh diaspora. Let’s collectively educate ourselves about the past and ongoing Indigenous struggles and movements.
As a generation that carries the potential to better understand these struggles, make the effort to share this knowledge with our elders and the younger generation.
Visit https://native-land.ca/ to learn more about the communities whose land you currently reside on. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Report findings and implementation of the 94 Calls to Action are also integral to this work. Second, we should donate resources to Indigenous-led organizations. Some of these organizations include - Indian Residential School Survivors Society, Orange Shirt Society, and Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.
Finally, we need to continue amplifying the voices of Indigenous creators, artists, and activists in digital spaces and our daily lives. The work has been done for us, we just need to start paying attention and doing our part.
Reconciliation is not just meant to occur between the Canadian state and Indigenous people. It is an intentional and meaningful process that also needs to be initiated among all settlers and immigrants residing on Indigenous lands.
Each one of us has participated directly or indirectly in the ongoing colonisation of Indigenous people, their land, and resources. We no longer have an excuse and it is long overdue that we come to terms with our complacency and walk in solidarity with Indigenous people by participating in meaningful action.
Guntas Kaur is a graduate student in Immigration and Settlement Studies at X* University. Her research looks at decolonizing early Canadian Sikh migration story and exploring relationships between Indigenous peoples and the Sikh diaspora from a critical solidarity perspective. Her passion for this field of study led her to live and work with Tl'etinqox First Nation in 2017.
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