Reflections on Reconciliation after 150 years since Confederation: An Interview with Dr. Cindy Blackstock.

AuthorMarsh, Kirsten
PositionFirst Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada executive director, McGill University School of Social Work professor

CONTENTS Reflections on Reconciliation after 150 years since Confederation--An Interview with Dr. Cindy Blackstock 15 A MEMBER OF THE Gitksan First Nation, Dr. Cindy Blackstock has 25 years of social work experience in child protection and Indigenous children's rights. She is the Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and a Professor at the School of Social Work at McGill University. Her promotion of culturally based equity for First Nations children and families and engaging children in reconciliation has been recognized by the Nobel Women's Initiative, the Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, Frontline Defenders, and many others.

The Ottawa Law Review's Kirsten Marsh and Mina Karabit interviewed Dr. Cindy Blackstock in the Fall of 2017. Dr. Blackstock shared with the Ottawa Law Review her reflections on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples after 150 years since Confederation.

MEMBRE DE LA PREMIÉRE Nation Gitksan, Dr Cindy Blackstock a 25 ans d'expérience en aide sociale dans la protection des enfants et les droits des enfants autochtones. Elle est directrice générale à la Société de soutien à l'enfance et à la famille des premières nations du Canada, et professeure à la Faculté de service social à l'Université McGill. Sa promotion de l'équité culturelle pour les enfants et familles de Premières nations et ses efforts dans l'engagement des jeunes dans la réconciliation est reconnu par le Nobel Women's Initiative, Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, Frontline Defenders, et beaucoup d'autres.

Kirsten Marsh et Mina Karabit de la Revue de droit d'Ottawa ont tenu un entretien avec Dr Cindy Blackstock en automne 2017. Dr Blackstock a partagé ses réflexions sur la réconciliation avec les peuples autochtones après 150 années depuis confédération.

Ottawa Law Review: Dr. Blackstock, can you please tell us about yourself?

Cindy Blackstock: I grew up in the huckleberry fields of Northern British Columbia in the 1960s and 1970s. I was raised in the bush (in rural communities), so I had a lot of cultural interactions with the land even though I would not have known it back then. One of my starkest memories is watching the civil rights movement on CBC News as a young child. I remember the scary images of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) burning crosses in front of the homes of African Americans. As a five-year-old, I thought they were ghosts dressing up for Halloween. When I realized that they were really people, I could not figure out why these KKK members were so angry with African Americans. As young children often do, I believed that you had to have done something bad to make people that angry at you. I went and asked my mom, "why were the ghost people so angry?" She told me that the KKK did not like the other people because they were black, and that the black people had done nothing wrong. It was my first exposure to named discrimination; but I had seen and felt discrimination all around me as a First Nations girl growing up in a society where "Indians," as they called us, did not count for much. I did not like hearing that, and I was certainly not comfortable growing up to "not count for much."

Something puzzled me. When I asked people in our small town about the KKK, people were almost unified in their horror at this type of discrimination, but these were the same people who I repeatedly heard making disparaging comments about Indians. I could not reconcile how these people, who could be caring and compassionate about (what I would later know was) the civil rights struggle in the United States, were the same ones who, without any kind of consciousness, were able to pass these very discriminatory judgments about First Nations peoples. The hypocrisy was hard to untangle for a little girl who believed in the goodness of people. How could adults be horrified by racism against one group while perpetrating it against another? That question launched me on a life-long effort to see if education could help caring people unveil the disconnect in their own beliefs about race and culture in ways that ended discrimination for all.

Ottawa Law Review: You have diverse academic and professional experiences in arts, business, social work, and law. How has your interdisciplinary background contributed to your research and work with Indigenous communities? (1)

Cindy Blackstock: As a First Nations person, my worldview is endemically holistic. I really reject the idea of carving off one particular piece of human experience in isolation from the interconnections that exist in a complex society. And I think that explains how I have four different degrees, from four different universities, in four different provinces and states, and in four different disciplines. These different pieces within the Western academic system are so specialized that you can get pieces of the puzzle, but not the full puzzle. And that is why I found it so helpful to move around in these disciplines. I recognize my knowledge maybe is not as deep as someone who went right from their BA to their PhD in one specialized area, but I developed relationships with those people; so, if I need that level of depth, I can ask. What I was really after was a kind of conceptual vision about how colonization has enveloped otherwise caring people in a structurally racist society, and what we can do to unravel that, allowing people to become conscious of the realities facing First Nations children and become co-actors in reconciliation. So, I think for me the interdisciplinary background was simply culturally coherent with my worldview and is essential to do the type of work I do in the company of many others.

Ottawa Law Review: As a successful First Nations scholar and activist, what does reconciliation mean to you?

Cindy Blackstock: Not saying sorry twice. It is that simple.

Canada, as a society, has come some distance in saying, "we are sorry for what we did in Residential schools," and more recently, "we are sorry for what we did during the sixties scoop." (2) What Canada as a state has not done is demonstrate that it has learned from its philosophies, practices, and policies that enabled it to be a part of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission termed, "cultural genocide." (3) That lack of institutional learning means governments repeatedly say sorry and pay out settlements, but fundamentally repeat the same colonial patterns of thinking and acting that it did in the past. (4)

This profound government failure to learn and reform contributed to the landmark 2016 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (Tribunal) decision that found Canada racially discriminating against at least 165,000 First Nations children by providing inequitable services that are not responsive to the children's needs. (5) Canada welcomed the decision and did little to implement it...

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