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It's On All Canadians To Seek Out Indigenous Stories And Art

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Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie holds a note with the English translation of his indigenous spirit name while speaking during an honouring ceremony at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, Dec. 6, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

By Craig and Marc Kielburger

Canada's beloved poet Gord Downie inspired us to think about reconciliation and resolutions. And it's the indigenous leaders we've spoken to who have given us the tools and advice we need to advance this important project.

As we enter 2017 and our country's 150th year, sharing stories and rewriting the narrative surrounding indigenous people in Canada is the most important resolution we can make as a nation.

Secret Path, Downie's potent graphic novel about 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack's escape from a residential school, encourages Canadians to explore the dark parts of our nation's history. Stories have power; they can be a first step toward reconciliation.

We need to hear tales that move beyond stereotypes to challenge and teach. These stories are out there -- indigenous people have been telling them for generations, but too often we haven't listened.

justice sinclair
Justice Murray Sinclair speaks during the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report in Ottawa, Canada, Dec. 15, 2015. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Justice Murray Sinclair has said that reconciliation is everyone's responsibility. The question remains how all Canadians can contribute.

Indigenous people are the fastest growing population in Canada, and Justice Sinclair wants all Canadians to familiarize themselves with their story. "The first and most important step in establishing a good relationship is to be open to information about that person and be willing to share," he told us following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report.

It's on each of us to seek out new voices by exploring art and history, listening to musicians and podcasts, and intentionally exposing ourselves to the narratives of Indigenous people in Canada that have long been ignored.

The vocal acrobatics of Tanya Tagaq, celebrated Inuit throat singer, convey a connection to the earth, sharing both its celebration and pain.

tanya tagaq
Singer Tanya Tagaq presents an award at the 2015 JUNO Awards March 15, 2015 in Hamilton, Canada. (Photo: Sonia Recchia/Getty Images)

Anishanaabe storyteller Ryan McMahon's podcast, Red Man Laughing, wields comedy as a tool to disarm as he tackles some of the toughest issues facing Indigenous people in Canada.

Tales of land and elders teach lessons of personal identity in Anishanaabe musician and author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's work.

We could go on. Wab Kinew. Tracey Lindberg. Richard Wagamese. Thomas King. A Tribe Called Red. To that list of artists, we must add the voices of thousands of survivors of residential schools, whose stories fill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

The rise of these voices is already changing the landscape, says author Joseph Boyden, who's fiction features indigenous stories. The Toronto District School Board's 588 schools recently added an addendum to their morning announcements, acknowledging the traditional territory and caretakers of the land. It's a small gesture, but an important one that helps change the narrative taught in schools.

We have our own journey ahead towards a country all Canadians can be proud of.

That narrative need to focus on teaching indigenous and Canadian history, says Boyden, the "things that created the rules of engagement and set the course for where we are today." That includes first contact, colonization and treaties.

When Chanie Wenjack ran away from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School 50 years ago, he was trying to find his way home to Ogoki Post. He had 600 kilometers of cold Ontario wilderness to traverse and no path marking the way. He died alone.

We have our own journey ahead towards a country all Canadians can be proud of, but as Downie told us, "I see a new path opening, a path to reconciliation." That path will be marked with new voices and unfamiliar stories.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.  

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