Content Warning: The following message deals with intense emotions, genocide, and personal lived experience.
Oki / Hello / Bonjour,
Most of you know me, my name is Asarial, and I am a proud, two-spirited, second generation surviving, member of the Blood Tribe, a part of the Treaty 7 area of Alberta.
My reserve is one of the reserves that represent one of the nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy (those who only speak the Blackfoot Language). The Blackfeet (from Montana), the Siksika, the Pikuni, and the Kainai (also known as the Blood) are the only tribes that speak the Blackfoot Language.
I grew up and lived on the traditional lands of the Ktunaxa, close to the ʔaq’am community, later working at the former Residential School of St. Eugene Mission from 2006 thru the end of 2012.
With the recent publicity surrounding Residential Schools, their impact on the nation, and my own personal history with the lasting, generational trauma felt by every Indigenous person, I have decided to take a leave of absence.
The morning of June 30th, 2021 I received word that an area located close to my former workplace and the Residential School of St. Eugene Mission, housed unmarked graves containing 182 bodies. Though the news will sensationalize this as a mass grave, it is not the truth and only does a great disservice and injustice to all other recovery efforts from residential schools across the lands. In reality, the bodies found belong to a community cemetery whose location was never forgotten.
I encourage you to search for the statement released by Sophie Pierre and ʔaq’am for corrections to the misreported information.
This Saturday, July 3rd will mark the beginning of the search of both Residential Schools located on the traditional territories of the Kainai; St. Mary’s, and St. Paul’s. There are not one, but two schools, each with their own mass grave with the remains of my family and our community.
I am fortunate to live, reside, work, and acknowledge and respect the lək̓ʷəŋən peoples on their traditional territory and the Songhees, Esquimalt and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.
However, I cannot continue to shy away from my own culture and the history I have with this nation, nor the shared experiences of other Indigenous people within these lands.
For this reason, among many others, I requested an indefinite leave of absence through which I may find the time and opportunity to reconnect with my culture, my community, and fully embrace this aspect of myself.
I do not wish to be spoken of in hushed whispers. I fully believe all of Canada needs to come to terms with the reckoning that has begun. For this reason, I am sharing this truth and my honesty in hopes that this will cause people to question the status-quo.
To see the systems of oppression for what they are, and to find the strength to want to see them demolished.
I challenge RBC, as my employer, as the biggest bank in Canada, and all other financial institutions to ensure policies are in place to support not just me, not just their employees, but all Indigenous people of Turtle Island.
This doesn’t mean implementing the single call to action from the TRC report for the Private Sector, it means pushing for ALL recommendations to be implemented regardless of scope. No one gets an award for doing the bare minimum.
Take this opportunity to seriously think about how they can end the systems of white supremacy through colonialism and all the harmful effects brought about through its export from Europe.
This to me, also means completely divesting from its financial interest in the very same industries doing untold harms to First Nations peoples, their unceded territories, and the lands for which our Hereditary Chiefs are responsible.
We need to feel seen, and heard. I need people to share in our horror and our outrage at the reality that the government along with religious leaders, and the financial backing from private citizens systematically planned and executed not only cultural genocide, but actual genocide, that is still perpetuated and still legislated to this day through “The Indian Act,” as well (and more insidiously) through “The British North America Act,” later superseded by “The Constitution Act.”
In 1996, when the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation “school” finally ceased operating I was 9, my younger sister was 7 and the youngest sister was 5. We were the same ages as the children whose bodies were found in these graves.
In 2010 while I worked at St. Eugene Mission, I recall a co-worker who shared a story about having to dig ditches as a young boy. He didn’t know it at the time but those holes could very well have been meant for him. It may seem unimaginable to many, but this has always been our reality, this has always been our history. Hidden in plain sight; silenced, and ignored.
The thing I want to leave you with, is that while this is happening all around us, this is also happening to me, and many other children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
For the allies who question what they can do to support us and/or me, I’d ask that you start engaging with indigenous people. Listen to them tell their stories, because nothing documented in history as it’s written is a reliable recollection of truth, as it exclusively favours those it’s written by.
Take the time to learn about Turtle Island’s First Peoples, there is a wonderful course available through the University of Lethbridge, called “Indigenous Canada”, read the 2015 Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s report, and search for the topic “Decolonize Your Mind”, and read the essays published on “White Privilege” and “Settler Privilege”.
Stop voting for politicians who won’t help us or think that we are not a priority. We are more than a problem as described during confederation, and certainly more than token props to be trotted out and used during photo ops at the convenience of people who see us as a tool to be used instead of people who are still hurting and still grieving.
Talk to your neighbours, friends, family, and co-workers about what’s happening and don’t sweep these issues under the rug.
Finally, I would ask you personally to take it upon yourselves to reach out to a trusted contact, someone who is aware of the history of Canada from a First Nations perspective; for me it’s a professional mental health outreach worker who is about to complete their 12 year bachelor’s program, and worked directly with the Ktunaxa Nation for the past 6 years of her career.
She has been personally involved in my life for many years and has my permission to discuss anything and everything about me while I am unavailable.
It is with a broken heart I take this leave of absence, but through Truth & Reconciliation, I believe I will have the time and the space to heal, to reconnect, and to rise again.
For I am a survivor and, in solidarity, your friend,