Q&A with Dawn Martin-Hill about truth and reconciliation
Dawn Martin-Hill is a Mohawk woman and the first Indigenous cultural anthropologist in Canada. She lives at Six Nations of the Grand River and is this year’s keynote speaker at the Gandhi Peace Festival on Saturday.
The topic of this year’s free virtual festival was truth and reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
Ahead of her lecture, The Spectator spoke with Martin-Hill about what she plans to discuss, her perception of the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and how society can move forward.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What is your lecture about?
I’ll look at the Great Law of Peace that our people have had for over 1,000 years, and our Thanksgiving address, which is our most ancient acknowledgement. It’s our worldview and has everything to do with our ecosystem and our environment.
It doesn’t matter what you reconcile if we’re destroying our future existence. Greed and exploitation is going to put us all in peril, and that’s something we can all relate to, especially young people.
Also, I’ll look at how the pillaging of lands and residential schools are the latest outcome of the Doctrine of Discovery. Before that, we had millions massacred, disease killing our crops, 50 million buffalo slaughtered so we would starve. They did everything they could so we wouldn’t exist, and the problem is we survived.
What do you hope people take away from your lecture?
We all knew about those babies who were buried in unmarked graves. We knew how much the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did in their investigation, and Canada is withholding the information that should speak to Canadians in very plain terms.
Think about the ways in which you’ve maybe treated or dismissed Indigenous peoples and their claims to land, their want to protect water, missing and murdered Indigenous women, the sterilization of Indigenous women, the economic apartheid. The fact that we’re not bitter and don’t want revenge is due to the philosophy of our people, the Great Law of Peace, to always move in the direction of hope and compassion, and try to change the minds of people — you greet those people and try to heal them and their minds.
Canadians need to reconcile with their own history of this country and come to terms with it, and figure out how to create a new legacy.
By doing nothing, you are part of the problem. You can’t say “get over it.”
How do you feel about the public’s response to Truth and Reconciliation Day?
Somebody putting an “Every Child Matters” sign on their door is something that, as an Indigenous person, you not only notice, but it really does move you because those are the ones who matter.
Those neighbours matter, not the government, the Pope and the bishops. The next door neighbour in Caledonia who their kids go to school with matter. The average citizen makes up this country, and they’re the most meaningful.
How can we be a more peaceful society?
Rescind the Doctrine of Discovery. Be compassionate, provide aid and assistance to those who need it, and support human beings. Most of all, support the land. We can’t live without water, without being able to grow food, without rain, without our air being clean. When you fracture parts of the Earth, you’re fracturing yourself.
Our environment will determine whether we can have peace or not.
You can stop climate change, don’t just accept it.
To listen to Martin-Hill’s lecture, visit gpsj.humanities.mcmaster.ca/gandhi-peace-festival/.