Rotarians Honouring Indigenous Peoples

“One’s nativity is not of his own choosing, but whatever it may be, it is entitled to respect; and all nations have honorable place in the world’s family.” – Paul Harris


In divisive times its easy to forget we all belong to one family. Indigenous people have been underserved and oppressed by their governments all across the world. Seen as a threat to their cultural supremacy, governments would try to eradicate indigenous cultures and traditions in the hopes the indigenous people would “assimilate” to their way of life. In Canada, this was done by separating indigenous families and forcing indigenous children to attend residential schools, where they were taught a curriculum that separated them from their identity. Many children suffered abuse and neglect from the hands of their educators. Some even died. These atrocities were only brought to light due to the thousands of indigenous Survivors that gathered to demand redress for the abuses they suffered due to the government’s racist policies. Together, they won the biggest class action suit in Canada’s history and propelled indigenous issues into the public eye.

The terms of the settlement were outlined in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement agreement. One of its mandates was to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC probed the social and systemic effects of Canada’s residential school program, and released a 94 point call to action for the Canadian government to reconcile the harm it had caused to its indigenous people. To the TRC, reconciliation is “about coming to terms with events of the past in a manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship among people, going forward”  (TRC, 6)

For reconciliation to be successful, better relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians must be established. Any peace project’s success is contingent upon strong relationships. Rotarians in southern Ontario foresaw this, and in 2014 they established Honouring Indigenous Peoples (www.rotaryhip.com)  HIP is a Rotarian initiative that seeks to empower Canada’s indigenous people through improving indigenous education and “promoting the understanding and awareness of the culture, history and issues of indigenous people to Rotarians and others” (HIP). To ensure HIP’s mission stays on track, its board is led by an equal number of passionate Rotarians and Indigenous People that make decisions based upon consensus. There is much to be done for indigenous people to achieve the equity they deserve. HIP and Rotarians across Canada are laying the groundwork, and building the relationships, to make that goal possible.

HIP is making an active effort to bring indigenous culture into mainstream Canadian focus. They promote indigenous artists and performers, and share indigenous traditions. During workshops, HIP has invited indigenous speakers to educate Rotarians and other Canadians on challenges indigenous people face, as well as introducing ways other Canadians can become advocates for indigenous people. HIP also provides aid directly to reservations. Many reservation schools are still neglected and underfunded by the Canadian government. HIP holds fundraisers for reservation schools and provides school supplies to many indigenous youth. Most importantly, HIP is working to incorporate indigenous cultural education in reservation schools, public schools, and universities, to ensure no generation will be denied their identity again.