This piece was written by Scugog Arts member Lucy EM Black in reflection on Chief Kelly LaRocca’s presentation on Indigenous issues.
‘Engage in radical kindness’ was among the concluding remarks of Kelly LaRocca, Chief of The Mississaugas of Scugog First Nation at her presentation on September 29th  at the Scugog Recreation Centre. Hosted by the Mississaugas, the Township and Scugog Arts, a large crowd of over 250 people were present for LaRocca’s eloquent and moving remarks. The evening commenced with a gift of tobacco, a ceremonial smudging ceremony and a musical interlude by the talented Gary LaRocca on guitar. Chief LaRocca began by introducing herself in the context of her family clans and Indigenous roots. Her talk was divided into five clear components: cultural awareness; the residential schools’ era and intergenerational trauma; the significance of the Williams Treaties, 1923; how to best support the Indigenous community; and a conclusion.
LaRocca is an engaging, gracious and brilliant speaker. She summarized key milestones in the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada and provided important information about their belief system in order to reinforce the significance of the history she was sharing. Among the beliefs she shared is that the Anishinaabe, and others, believe that ‘children choose their parents’ before they are born and that the ‘Creator sets them on the path they choose’. We are to understand from this, the importance of the connections between the family unit and spirituality as something that takes place in conjunction with birth. Knowing this vital piece of information, we were given a glimmer of just how devastating it was to rip children from their families and to forcibly raise them under conditions that were meant to erase traditional familial ties and belief systems.
LaRocca summarized the importance of the Royal Declaration of 1763 in which King George III acknowledged aboriginal rights and imposed a fiduciary duty of care on the government. Marking this declaration was a wampum belt which represented autonomy and mutual non-interference or, in LaRocca’s words, ‘two canoes going downstream beside each other’. Also touched upon was the Treaty of Niagara of 1764 which is often cited as ‘Canada’s Indigenous Constitution’. It stipulates a nation-to-nation relationship with the Crown and reinforces reciprocal independence. Included in the historical review, was the 1857 Gradual Civilization Act which was a top-down piece of legislation and the precursor to the Indian Act, which established enfranchisement. Followed by the 1867 Constitution Act, a division of power took place, without Indigenous consultation, and the province was given power over property, civil rights and justice. This was further reinforced in the 1876 Indian Act where, once again, there was top-down legislation that eroded Indigenous rights. The White Paper of 1969 proposed the total assimilation of ‘Indians’ with the view that there should be only one approach to law for all Canadians. Viewed by many as ‘cancel culture’, this piece of legislation was ultimately defeated. The Williams Treaties of 1923 continue to be significant documents. Treaty 20 covers the Lake Scugog area and protects the harvesting rights associated with pre-confederation treaties.
In 1848 Alderville opened the first residential school. Through the ensuing residential system, seven generations of Indigenous people never knew what it was to be parented in their own homes and communities, and subsequently lost the opportunity to develop healthy role models for the parenting process. The ‘scoop’ that took place in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s, continued the practice of forced removal, based upon the prevailing belief at the time that Indigenous people were culturally inferior and therefore unable of adequately provide for the needs of their children. Indigenous children were sent long distances from home, sometimes outside of the province and even outside of Canada. Many were adopted. In 2008, Prime Minister Harper offered an apology.
The Truth & Reconciliation Commission Report came out in 2015, confirming, among other things, that genocide had taken place, and also that a legacy of intergenerational trauma was the result of the residential school initiatives. Although the federal report lists 94 calls to action, many of these fall within the purview of provincial governments, however, and require buy-in from those governing bodies.
How to better support Indigenous people was one of the final components of the talk. There were five key pieces included in this response: be aware that Indigenous people have a longing to be understood in conjunction with their history; be respectful; recognize that seven generations of suffering took place and that Indigenous communities are still healing and will continue to heal for at least seven generations; accept the opportunity to be an ally and challenge misinformation; and finally, find ways to implement the calls to action, commit to ongoing partnerships, and be willing to engage in radical kindness.
The Chief’s final words were met with a standing ovation of considerable duration. The evening was impactful and informative without being accusatory or divisive. The discussion, while frank, was careful and respectful while still addressing the inequities in child welfare, the penal system, mental health and institutional or systemic racism. This was an honest presentation that produced an excellent evening, one that many of us hope will be the first of many such dialogues.