A message from Helena Starr, of Eskasoni First Nation

Dear people of this nation,On Truth and Reconciliation Day, we must first acknowledge the Every Child Matters movement and the importance of spreading the truth about the thousands of children’s lives lost because of the federally funded, church-run, residential school system. We mourn the loss of a beautiful generation of Indigenous people, and we must push to find their remains and return them to their families.Please open your hearts and minds and listen to Indigenous peoples’ wisdom and knowledge about the environment. Question the knowledge you’ve learned in public and private schools. There is a fundamental process we all must go through to protect the environment and our homes. We first must begin decolonizing our minds, which means pushing our pride aside and learning to center the voices of those more knowledgeable in these matters. We cannot change if we are only willing to believe in the colonial way of thinking.I’ve seen an unfortunate yet common mindset within the environmental movements across our nation. Many Canadians, specifically non-Indigenous people, have become numb to the suffering of others. They’ve tried to tune us out, to silence our voices.I understand there is great pain when we allow ourselves to feel it: the guilt, the shame, and the helplessness. But we cannot let these define who we are or what we can become. For years, my people fought to protect our right to live on this land, our rights to hunt and fish, and the right for our future generations to have a healthy future. Despite facing hardships and mistreatment from those unwilling to challenge the status quo, we’ve continued to fight. If we are serious about creating a just and green future, we must believe there is a way forward, even if it’s difficult and even when it hurts. My Indigenous brothers, sisters and cousins need support from our non-Indigenous allies. We cannot do this alone. Supporting our grassroots movements might mean funding the necessities, such as food, blankets, and legality to allow us to continue fighting on the ground. Or it could be as simple as exercising the willingness to learn the Indigenous perspective, as vast as it is. Be brave enough to challenge the status quo, even if it means unlearning past thoughts and reevaluating past actions. Allow yourself to learn from our artists, activists, educators, teachers and grassroots movements. Learn about Every Child Matters, Idle No More, our long history of anti-pipeline protests, our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Treaty Rights (such as Treaty 1752 and Treaty 6), and the Indian Act of 1876. Our First Nation rights are intertwined with the environmental movement and the climate crisis.So please, take this day to be your new beginning.We are all treaty people, and each of us has a responsibility to ourselves, to each other, and the lands.And to my beautiful Indigenous sisters, brothers and two-spirited siblings, YOU matter. When you listen and read this, know that I felt your presence as I wrote. Stand tall and be proud of who you are. Even if you decide not to become an activist or fight a good fight, your existence is enough, and nobody can take that away from you. Just by being you, you show we are still here. So take up space, share your stories, and continue to support each other.— Helena Starr, 20, student in Mi’kma’ki (Nova Scotia)