Notes from WATERtea:

“Problems and Solutions to Injustice to Indigenous People in Canada”

with Canadian Deputy Minister Gina Wilson

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The audio recording is available here and the video recording is available here.

Introduction to Gina Wilson      

Deep thanks go to Rosemary Ganley who responded to WATER’s inquiry about Canadian women who are working on indigenous issues. Rosemary, it appears, knows everyone who is making change. They feel about Rosemary the way we at WATER do: if Rosemary Ganley makes a suggestion, we take it very seriously. So, we are  fortunate that Rosemary, a regular columnist for the Peterborough Examiner, put us in touch with Ms. Wilson’s office.

Ms. Wilson is Deputy Minister of Women and Gender Equality, as well as Deputy Minister, Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and Senior Associate Deputy Minister, Canadian Heritage. She was the first chair of the federal Indigenous Women’s Circle and is herself Algonquin.

She oversaw the release of Canada’s first-ever State of Youth Report; engaged Canadians in a series of round tables and summits on anti-racism; led the co-development of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Action Plan; and launched the development of a Canada-wide LGBTQ2 Action Plan. She is also currently the Deputy Minister Champion for Indigenous Federal Employees. She has a long history of senior executive appointments, as well as deep experience in First Nation circles where she was CEO of the Assembly of First Nations.

She is the mother of three children and the grandmother of her beloved Charlotte. It is a deep honor for us at WATER to have the opportunity to discuss the hard issues of indigenous injustice with a person of such thorough preparation, achievement, and most important, commitment.

In advance of the input, we offer a humble word in Ojibway, Miigwech which means ‘thank you’.

WATER friend Rosemary Ganley offered a Canadian welcome to Deputy Minister Gina Wilson in the form of a traditional symbolic gift of tobacco. Rosemary noted the esteem with which Ms. Wilson is held in Canadian circles.

Summary of Remarks by Gina Wilson

Ms. Wilson began her remarks with a land acknowledgement of the place where she lives in Canada. She noted ‘water’ as a central concern for indigenous women and was intrigued with WATER’s name, conveying a sense that perhaps WATER’s commitments are similar.

She shared her own story in a profound way to highlight the current situation related to the 150+ residential schools where unmarked graves of children have been found. Her family was made up of rural people who had limited finances but rich relationships. While she never attended a residential school, other relatives did. The courageous leadership of Aboriginal Canadian Phil Fontaine in reporting abuse touched a chord for her.

Later, she worked for the Canadian government including on the Settlement Agreement in 2002 through which a number of denominations (Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Church, and others) agreed to make financial reparations. Her work included processing claims of people, including children, who were abused. The Prime Minister eventually offered an apology on behalf of the government.

The intergenerational impact of the residential school abuse trauma is very powerful. Ms. Wilson’s husband took his life while processing his own experience of residential school abuse. Her young son, who did not go to such a school, is affected by his late father’s experience. Her older children who loved their stepfather experience similar loss and trauma.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is asking Pope Francis to visit Canada to deliver a personal apology from the institutional church. While the Roman Catholic Church was part of the Settlement Agreement, many years later it has paid only a fraction of the $25 million it pledged. The United Church and Anglican Church in Canada have offered money, apologies, and care.

More than 8,000 children’s bodies have been found buried near the residential schools, with estimates as high as 22,000 predicted when the investigations of the genocide finish. The impact on survivors and family members is simply beyond words but needs to be recognized, reconciled, and healed. That would lead to a new beginning in a positive way according to Ms. Wilson.

Q+A, Discussion beginning with Canadian participants first

  1. A colleague from the Niagara Peninsula asked how Ms. Wilson is received in Parliament and in the government.Gina Wilson responded that keeping the teaching from elders—“be patient but push”—helps. Letting government know how indigenous people think and letting indigenous people know how government works are some of her strategies. She reported being received well especially as she ascends the ranks with increased influence. The Prime Minister listens to her! Ms. Wilson knows how to make herself heard.
  1. A participant from Treaty Four in Saskatchewan, a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, spoke of dealing with intergenerational trauma both personally and with others who are affected. She asked how local people can make a difference in the work of the federal government.“Grassroots efforts make change” is what Ms. Wilson underscored. She advised working with government officials who do not know much about indigenous issues and need education from the grassroots.
  1. A Canadian writer observed that Ms. Wilson had brought the WATER group to a deeper level of sharing and spirituality. What are sources of indigenous spirituality and Christianity?Gina Wilson made clear that we are whole people who bring our spirituality to work with us. She is encouraging quiet time and places to enjoy it in workplaces for government employees. She observes that such personal integration leads to better work and health. She assured the questioner that she would share some resources with her.A participant mentioned the work of Art Solomon, a teacher of Gina’s, who integrated indigenous and Christian spiritualities. His daughters Priscilla and Eva Solomon in Ontario carry on his work.
  1. Another Canadian religious leader spoke warmly of Phil Fontaine and his courageous work. As a leader of a women’s religious congregation, she has been involved in reconciliation work.Gina thanked sisters of all congregations. Sisters have stepped up just like indigenous women.Participant Sister Jacinta Dkhar, an indigenous person from a tribe in northeast India, is working with sisters of her community in Canada to deal with indigenous issues. This kind of international approach is unique and provides mutual insights.
  1. A justice seeker from New Brunswick reported on the need to embrace indigenous spirituality.
  1. A U.S. participant from Santa Fe, New Mexico, a state with 26 federal tribes, described a trauma-based state where one culture destroys another. “No more stolen Sisters” is a claim there where one in three women is a victim of domestic abuse. Ms. Wilson answered that “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” is a part of the Canadian Action Plan.
  1. A woman from Treaty Six, Alberta spoke movingly as a white person about how important it is to feel the feelings that indigenous people experience. She affirmed that indigenous people are not responsible to teach white people, but raised the question of how others can share those insights.Ms. Wilson reiterated that emotional sharing is part of her culture and to be encouraged. Elders have so much to share on science, culture, and spirituality that reaching out to them for reconciliation and understanding is a good investment of everyone’s time.

Ms. Wilson made herself available to WATER colleagues to work together on these issues. WATER thanked her enthusiastically and looks forward to more collaboration. This was a great example of feminist spiritual and moral values put to the service of deep political and social changes. Gratitude abounds.