Toronto·First Person

On Sept. 30, I hope people will do more than just take the day off

Andrea Johns, a member of the Mohawk Nation living in Toronto, says while it's an important step for survivors of residential schools and their families to have the day recognized, meaningful action is needed, too.

In order for the day to be recognized, there needs to be meaningful action

On Sept. 30, I hope people will do more than just take the day off

10 months ago
Duration 4:11
FIRST PERSON | Thursday marks Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Andrea Johns, a member of the Mohawk Nation living in Toronto, says she hopes people take the time to reflect and learn about the history of residential schools.

This is the First Person video of Andrea Johns, a member of the Kanien'kehá:ha/Mohawk Nation living in Toronto. Read the transcript of her video below. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

Shé:kon sewakwé:kon, Andrea ióntiáts. Kanien'kehá:ka ní:'i táhnon Tsi Tkarón:to kenákere.

Hi, everyone. My name is Andrea Johns. I'm a member of the Mohawk Nation and I live in Toronto. 

My reaction to the naming of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was... that we need truth before reconciliation. The federal government, along with the churches, funded and administered the residential school system in Canada. And I think that while it's an important step for survivors and for their families, awarding oneself with a holiday — taking the day off from work when there's still so much work to be done — is something to recognize. 

In order for it to be recognized, I think that there needs to be meaningful action taken about Indigenous issues in Canada. It's great to, again, have a holiday that recognizes the legacy of the residential school system. But there's a lot of things that are tied to the residential school system: socio-economic issues and missing and murdered Indigenous women and land and economic inequalities.

All of those things are tied, and a direct result, of the residential school system. So having one day to commemorate survivors is great. But if it only lasts one news cycle and we move on, then nothing has actually been accomplished from having that day. 

I hope people will take the day to learn, similar to how on Remembrance Day, you would have assemblies in school or you would learn about the atrocities of war. Taking that day to actually reflect and learn about the history of residential schools in Canada and how they have led to the current issues that we see in Indigenous communities. I hope that people won't just take the day off, like they would treat it like any other holiday, going to your cottage on potentially unceded Indigenous territories or spending the time not engaging with ... the history of residential schools. 

Johns's great-grandfather Gowandehsonh, or William Andrew Johns. (Andrea Johns)

Both of my great grandparents went to residential schools. My great-grandfather Gowandehsonh, or William Andrew Johns, went to the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, and my great-grandmother went to an industrial day school. Both my great grandparents spoke their languages before they went to residential school, and then neither of them spoke them ever again when they left residential school. My grandfather was super ashamed to be Indigenous and used to tell people that he was Italian.

Out of all of my large extended family, I'm the only person who speaks Mohawk. So, looking at that and seeing that interruption in the transmission of language and of culture within my family. I have members of my extended family with mental health issues, there's been suicide in my family, substance abuse, incarceration ... a variety of other socio-economic issues that I do believe are directly connected to my great-grandfather and his nine children and all of the abuses that he suffered at the school.

Johns' father and great-grandfather are pictured here with her sister. (Andrea Johns)

Reconciliation looks like and means to me making good on the treaties and original promises of the land that were made between Indigenous peoples and settlers. It's supporting and revitalizing our languages and our communities that have been decimated by the residential school system. Unlearning the histories that we were taught and learning about the true histories of the land and Indigeneity and Indigenous people and their cultures is really important, I think.

I am marking the day by going to work. I work for an indigenous non-profit organization and we will be spending the day doing teachings with elders, working with our policy team to talk about the impact of residential schools on our communities and the work that we need to do to support members of our communities, as well as doing some cultural activities like language programming and beading — my favourite. 

Johns is a beadwork artist and has been selected to be featured in Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto in June 2022. (Laura Pedersen/CBC)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrea Johns is a member of the Kanien'kehá:ha/Mohawk Nation living in Toronto.

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