Positive Actions Must Follow Words
by Lewis Cardinal
As respected Cree elder Gary Moostoos quietly sat and ate his noodles in the food court of Edmonton’s City Centre Mall this October, he had no idea that he was about to be thrust into the glaring local and national spotlight. The news of his humiliating treatment and his banning from the mall went out at light speed through out the indigenous community in Edmonton and across Canada. It galvanized people for a call to action.
The people rallied, indigenous and Canadian alike, and together denounced the pervasiveness of racism and discrimination. This was a good thing. It shows promise. With growing attention, the mall’s corporate headquarters issued a pledge to make an apology. What was a total surprise to many was what Moostoos did next and why that is important.
Moostoos did not reject the apology nor its sincere delivery by mall general manager Olympia Trencevski. She certainly showed courage.
He acknowledged and appreciated her apology and said, “There is still a lot of work that needs be done. I cannot say at this time that I can accept the apology. I need to see action happen.” From an indigenous perspective, this makes perfect sense if we are really serious about addressing the issue. That is why words are not enough. A commitment to sustained action is key. A commitment to dialogue and process is required. Only by facing each other in an open and honest dialogue will there ever be remedy.
From an indigenous person’s perspective, apologies by governments, politicians and corporations have become much like treaty promises: a lot of words and no action. Platitudes, grand gestures and photo ops come easily when the media or the world is watching; however, when the attention leaves rarely have we seen bold sustained action follow those promises of reconciliation. This should come as no surprise as to why indigenous people in Canada simply do not trust or readily accept apologies and promises from governments and corporations when words are not attached to action and process.
Canada in relation to indigenous people has a long history of relationship failure that sadly repeats itself. This simply means that our country has not learned from its past and by that ensures a future that can be one of continuous conflict. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Indigenous cultures have always sought to maintain harmony among human beings, the environment, the spirit world and the cosmos. We have come to understand that human beings can easily slip out of balance. Humans tend to take too much, make war and be destructive such is our common nature. Ceremonies were given to us to maintain balance and harmony while we live here on Mother Earth. Ceremonies can be seen as processes of reconciliation.
Ceremonies bring us back into step with the natural rhythms of things, to right what is wrong. Our ceremonies are our Robert’s Rules of Order. There’s nothing laissez-faire about indigenous cultural ceremonies or traditions of governance. There are protocols that need to be followed and appropriate steps taken when seeking balance and right relations. Anything else is futile.
The problem with the general public, our governments, and corporations is that they do not see nor understand that Indigenous ceremonies and protocols have the intended outcome of mutual benefit. If only they have enough courage to sit and listen and share with an open heart will things change. The wisdom here is when you move the heart, the mind follows, and when the mind follows, actions change.
In this case, Gary Moostoos was correct in waiting to see what will be done and is willing to sit and listen and share. From this process there will be a resolution that will not be dictated by one, but through a consensus of those who sit in the circle. This is what is called “a good way” or “in a sacred manner.”
This kind of work is not easy. It requires courage and it takes time. It’s a worthwhile process that can set an example of how we can address our grievances and feel safe to share this city. An apology without sustained action becomes meaningless.
The first ceremony toward healing a broken relationship or correcting an injustice is prayer and dialogue. The second ceremony is what is agreed to do together in “a good way.” If we are to embrace the concept of reconciliation, then we must agree that the word reconciliation is not a noun, it is a verb.
Published with the author’s permission.