Confession of a Canadian ‘’white girl’’: Bridging the gap between us-them mentalities towards Indigenous peoples

Growing up, I knew only two things about aboriginal people in Canada: 1) they don’t pay taxes, and 2) their post-secondary education is paid. It’s sad and embarrassing to admit but unfortunately, this is relatable for many Canadians (and those two facts aren’t even necessarily true).

I grew up in a small French town in Northern Ontario, surrounded by people who are proud of their language and their culture. Despite being taught to be proud of my Franco Ontarian heritage, my community failed to teach me about the cultures of the Anishinaabe and Objiwe community, the Nipissing (Nbisiing) First Nations. For most of my life, I didn’t even know this community existed, let alone their culture, their past, and their ongoing challenges… and it’s only about an 8 minute drive from my house (15 minutes if you follow the speed limit…). Seriously though, something’s wrong with that.

Throughout my education, I was taught to honor the famous Jacques Cartier for having planted a flag and “discovering” Canada. He was celebrated, respected but more than that, he was a hero. It was only in an 8th grade history class that I was introduced to residential schools. In this hour long lesson, the teacher justified the actions and intentions of our European ancestors as ‘’good’’. They wanted to ‘’civilize’’ the first people who were here in Canada and it’s thanks to ‘’us’’ that Aboriginals today live such a “good life”. We were taught that the French came to colonize and civilize the indigenous people and make their lives better.

It was my first lesson on the Aboriginal people of Canada, but also my last. During my four years in high school, I was taught nothing about Aboriginal culture (unless racist jokes and discussions that went against indigenous movements count?). The educational system failed to inform me about the General Allotment Act, the Indian Reorganization Act, the Indian Act, the assimilation experiments on concentration camp, Dear Island, the 60’s Scoop, the Trail of Tears, the long-term effects of residential schools, treaty violations and so much more. Why weren’t those in the curriculum? Why weren’t those discussed in classrooms?

It’s in the course Introduction to Aboriginal Studies at the University of Ottawa that I got a glimpse of the history, misconceptions and stereotypes of Indigenous peoples, not only in Canada but all around the world. My first boyfriend and his family are aboriginal and I was able to learn more about who they are as a community and their beautiful way of life. My perception on Aboriginal peoples has changed drastically. If it hadn’t been for that little 3 credit bonus point, easy elective, last minute decision class…and the luck I had to be part of an aboriginal family through my boyfriend at the time, I still would live with the false ideologies and perceptions towards Indigenous peoples, and this is what I find truly concerning. There remains a large number of Canadians who are misinformed and I wonder how they are going to know the truth. I think of all those who do not have the opportunities I had, and how they will remain ignorant. Not necessarily their fault, but due to the lack of information and awareness in our Canadian societies.

I don’t blame my parents or my teachers for my lack of knowledge about our true history because I am aware that they learned it the same way I did. They, like any other Canadian, didn’t have the opportunity to learn about the true history of our country. That’s somewhat the problem isn’t it? We have generations and generations of false information about our history. And we seem to think that history is part of the past but that’s false. Our history is transmitted in the stories we share about the past to future generations. Over the years, we have placed the Indigenous peoples under a microscope, similarly the same way a scientist would do with an insect. The one who observes has the power to define. Then, we learn about our history and realities based on these definitions and interpretations that are most often false.

I now feel privileged to be learning about different Aboriginal cultures in Canada. I’m learning a lot about their defeats and sufferings, the challenges they have faced and the ones they are still facing today. Even with their difficult past, it’s amazing to see how they have been able to overcome the burdens placed on them and how they continue to defy their challenges. Sadly, the healing and rehabilitation process of these lost cultures won’t be possible if not all Canadians are mindful and aware of what went on and what is still going on today.

No one here should feel colonial guilt for what our ancestors have done and the mess and despair they have caused. We are not responsible for their actions, however, we are fully responsible for today and the course of this country. I think that together as a community, with the support of Government initiatives, educational institutions and organizations, we can properly educate our country about our history. Together, we can raise awareness and eliminate false ideas about Aboriginal peoples. Society’s fixed and most often discriminatory opinions towards Aboriginals people can be eliminated if everyone is given the opportunity to learn the facts – an opportunity I wasn’t given until the age of 19.

I know I’m just a ‘’white girl’’ talking about large matters that I have so much left to learn about. I might not fully understand what it means to be Aboriginal in our world today, but I’m trying. These courses, readings and discussions with Aboriginal individuals have helped me understand that whether someone is First Nations, Métis, Inuit or non-status, we are all united as one. I hope we walk into the future together and continue on this path towards mutual respect and reconciliation. There is still so much for all of us to learn.


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Janie Pépin

Full time student, Honours BA with Specialization in Communication / Minor in Indigenous Studies at the University of Ottawa

8 thoughts on “Confession of a Canadian ‘’white girl’’: Bridging the gap between us-them mentalities towards Indigenous peoples”

  1. Your first two “facts” are actually incorrect. Native people still pay provincial taxes – it’s certain federal taxes that are levied. And, not all First Nations youth have post-secondary education paid for. They must be on a reserve, and it’s up to the band offices on their respective reserves to decide who gets funding.


    1. Yes thank you for clarifying that! I am very aware of that now because I had the opportunity to learn the real facts 🙂 Many Canadians still have these false misconceptions about aboriginals. At the time, those were the only two things I knew! And they weren’t even true! How sad!


  2. OMGosh….Janie, I sincerely say miiqwetch, to you for such an incredable statement ( article ) and do hope that many more people would learn & understand , what you have… have somewhat restored, what little faith I had in canadian ( European ) society….Miiqwetch.


    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this kind message! I appreciate it a lot and I plan on continuing to share with my culture what I learn about Aboriginal cultures. Merci, Miiqwetch 🙂


  3. Chi Miigwetch ma belle Janie. Maintenant grâce à toi et ton message, on va pouvoir s’éduquer sur la vie de nos voisins….les Premières Nations! Chi Miigwetch Janie for sharing your knowledge about the First Nations! I too didn’t know much about them until just a few years ago when I attended a Gratitude Feast with the Metis people at Dutrisac Cottages. I was so impressed with their cultures and traditions. I even learned a song around the fire. I learned a lot while spending time with them for only a few hours. That is when I knew I had to educate myself regarding our neighbors and our First Nations. I find it very interesting. I love my French culture but there is nothing wrong with educating ourselves with other great cultures. I especially love nature and that is one thing that indigenous people are respectful of and grateful……God’s creation!!!


  4. I was just sent the link to your post here. I’m actually quite curious about how much more your knowledge has changed or increased since you wrote this.

    Yes, it’s quite a shame that the Cdn government continues to work to suppress full information even in current reports on virtually anything they need to report on outside of the diligence of the Cdn Auditor General Reports. The amounts of money they report as having been given is and has always been exaggerated -to great, self-satisfactory fanfare.

    There is the continuing hope in the next generations as social media as widely opened up the opportunities for Indigenous voices to be heard. I seriously doubt there’d be even this very little effort of the TRC calls to action being implemented without this technology. Media in general has been complicit in denying and revising Indigenous history and as this is the main avenue for continuing education once we’re out of the school system, they too much be held to account much more firmly.

    I’d say Indigenous people aren’t asking for ‘white guilt’, but most certainly to recognize that the systemic racism is still in place which is still serving to great benefit, non-Indigenous Canadians. The true justice for the inequities may require Cdns to pull in the belt somewhat, which is where we often see a quick turn of opinion, politically and generally. Again, the hope for future generations come forward when perhaps the standard Euro-centric values and ideas of success may be revised perhaps closer to traditional Indigenous values. We shall see.

    So, Jane, yes it’s very important to hear other voices speaking to these issues, and in particular to amplify the Indigenous profiles and voices. I don’t know what you may have written since this, but I am interested in what you’ve learned over the year.

    Hiy hiy

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I stumbled across your blog through a link (via UBC) and was so heartened by the authenticity and humility portrayed through your blog (it is so refreshing ). I hope to see such qualities manifest in others of your generation. Please post more photos of your travels, etc… Merci!

    Liked by 1 person

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