Tamia Thompson // Columnist
Creating space and delivering in allyship are concepts that I see moving from online into all different realms of my life as of late. Whether online, in-person, by friendship, or through blood relation, I feel like I now understand many of the subtle messages around all of us that create or destroy definitions of what real, authentic inclusion feels like. Presently, significant changes are happening in the very infrastructure we are surrounded by, altering the country as we know it. In seeing protest after protest demanding justice, we hear echoes of voices that have called for the demolition of the colonialist, imperialist footprint on the land we live on for years. Statues and monuments upheld all over Canada have been cause for demonstration and defacement. With more and more people feeling a growing distrust for the sense of place we have in a country that is not ours and the history we’re taught to believe about it, the narrative we follow as citizens shifts dramatically as our self-assurance in this space comes undone.
The elephant in the room is the refusal to give back that which does not belong to us. The dark history of how the state of Canada came to be is a topic often ignored by policymakers, from broken treaties to outright lack of protection. Even some of the roads we traverse are prime examples of relics around us that mark the colonial impact still visible today. Colonization roads (some of the first streets built by colonizers to bring them from one part of Ontario to another) are an existing stain in their presence and memory of what they once stood for. Their initial construction began with the intrusion upon First Nations territory by European settlers. The creation of these roads forced towns into existence and continue on, embedded throughout Ontario. Not only did the colonizers destroy everything in their path, but they forcefully prevented the Indigenous from access to and freedom within their homes. The remnants of that time are just daily routes to and from work for many, but in actuality, they’re this almost crude, ironic reminder of how the displacement of the Indigenous peoples of Canada is still very much attached to the land around us.
The definitions we, as Canadians, give to the things we identify Canada with is rooted in our own power. This means that if we collectively say we can improve the lives and experiences of any person(s) within our space, we can do so through the ways we speak to each other and what we allow to exist around us. The names, signage, and titles we give to things can drastically change how we view the space itself. The big idea is that we should have control over our spaces in all of their details if we seek distance from oppressive forces and histories.
Conversations spurred around what should be held in esteem when a Nazi monument in Oakville, Ontario, was graffitied this past summer, and police found the need to investigate it as a hate crime. This suggested a very wrong message, as citizens had been calling attention to more pressing issues of disregard and violence against Black people and Black life at that same time. This controversial disagreement in how the law is enforced comes side by side with heated debates brewing around the name changes that could be made for places monikered after colonial figures like John A. Macdonald and Henry Dundas. These two men committed vile acts in their lifetimes, Dundas being a global advocate for colonialism and Macdonald overseeing the genocide and starvation of Indigenous peoples. And to think there’s so much named after just these two, imagine how many more streets and places we pass by without realizing what has been left in the tracks of tragedy.
Researching the places we travel to find peace and comfort in Canada carries weight and responsibility that demands respect for the ground we walk on. A space of connection and honour is one that seeks knowledge of its history rather than covering up what shame may be held by those occupying the space. The nature, environment and ecosystems we embrace and rely on—the foundation of this land that was built upon intrusively—will always remain even when the concrete and glass turn to rubble and ash. In a root sense, we should be striving toward giving back to our communities (particularly our Indigenous neighbours) in whatever ways we can in order to restore our relationships with our spaces and the individuals within them. Our mission toward environmental justice necessarily depends on it.
Creating both headspace and tangible opportunities for the Indigenous peoples of Canada to have and take up ownership are meaningful ways to give space under their terms, as it was meant to be. Beginning the process of dismantling what cruelty has been left in the path of colonialism is a journey that requires extra attention to where we commute, how we speak, and what we believe. In discovering the truth of the space around us, our efforts should be driven toward making examples out of those who create equity and give onto that space. The notion of being ‘a part’ of anywhere is a reciprocal exchange that constitutes help, resources, and selflessness—it requires it even.