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  • Writer's pictureJen Greenway

Sharing Turtle Island and Making Space for Both Indigenous and Settler Grief During Reconciliation

*originally posted to


I've been thinking a lot about the original vision that our ancestors had for Turtle Island when the first newcomers arrived on their ships.

In many of our cultures, our peoples possess stories and prophecies that have been passed down, predating contact, warning us that we wouldn't have this Land to ourselves forever and that hard times were coming. We've always known that it's our sacred duty to protect and manage this Land, and with that duty also comes the task of teaching newcomers how to live on this Land. It's been a long time since we saw the first Europeans dock on Turtle Island, but we still take our sacred duties very seriously.

When we talk about sharing this Land, Western worldviews and Indigenous worldviews collide and cause friction, as has been the case over the past 500 years. During this era of decolonization and return to Indigeneity, Indigenous peoples are no longer accepting the hegemony of the Western worldview that has attempted to crush our own out of existence. The LandBack Movement, also called Idle No More 2.0, has begun a resurgence of Indigenous activism, but, with the help of social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, we now have unprecedented amounts of support from Settler allies that are learning about real Canadian history for the first time -- not just the Whitewashed stuff spoon-fed to us in Canadian schools. Perhaps you, yourself, are even a Settler ally who has found your way to our side recently because of the re-education process. The support and togetherness are incredible, even if you only tap into it online.

However, something that's been troubling me a lot in recent times has been conversations with Indigenous activists who are unwilling to make space for Settler ally grief and tears during the decolonization process. There seems to be this growing concept that Indigenous peoples have suffered at the hands of Settlers, and continue to suffer at their hands, their privilege and their racism, thus Settler tears are not welcome or acceptable reactions. This reaction frightens me.

Let me explain:

When we ask Settlers to educate themselves on our shared history and to read about the horrific things that have been done to us, by their ancestors, we open them up to emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds. They experience our trauma vicariously in the same way that we jokingly like to "live vicariously" through our adventurous friends. A gut reaction may be to think "well we've suffered, so they can suffer a bit too," but I'm going to stop that thought process right there. That thought process is not Indigenous to Turtle Island. It's been imported along with colonization and the colonizer regime of fear and control. The colonizer mindset has taught us that we must stomp or be stomped on. It's taught us to hurt those who hurt us, instead of focusing on restoring balance as our ancestral teachings taught us to focus on.

Thankfully, most Indigenous folx aren't of the mind that Settlers aren't allowed to grieve or join our movement. In fact, most Indigenous folx remain optimistic about future reconciliation with Settlers despite all the reasons Canada has given us to throw out our hope for it. The unfortunate part is that those who are of the mind that Settlers have no right to tears or take part in grieving happen to be very vocal in their stance against Settler trauma, and I strongly believe it's because most of them don't understand the true workings of primary and secondary trauma or vicarious trauma. Perhaps the understanding or nuance that one doesn't have to be physically present to experience the trauma of a traumatic experience is lost on them.

I believe in giving grace to Settlers who have chosen to educate themselves and change their ways, even if their past actions have been negative towards the Indigenous community. If their actions have been solely based on ignorance, as is the case for most people growing up with a racist Canadian education system and systemic racism backing up their biases everywhere they turn, then we have to remain optimistic that once a Settler has educated themselves and begins the work of decolonization that their past actions were built on a worldview different from the one they now possess!

Of course, my belief is that we give Indigenous folx who are vocal about their distaste for Settler grief the same grace when/if they come around to the understanding of trauma and decide to change their stance. Still, perhaps they maintain their viewpoint despite trauma education, that's not up to me to decide. What I can say, however, is that on both sides of the reconciliation struggle, lack of access to information and education, whether about Indigenous-Colonial Settler history or how trauma works, plays a massive role in the miscommunication and mistrust between both groups.

Sharing Turtle Island, and decolonizing, requires Indigenous peoples and Settlers to work together in balance and harmony in the way that our ancestor's original vision depicted. However, we'll never achieve that vision if we traumatize each other, then gatekeep whose trauma and pain is valid or acceptable in the present. In order to share Turtle Island and properly decolonize what has been improperly dubbed "Canada," we all have duties and sacred roles to take on. For Settlers, it means educating themselves on real history, stepping up and stepping in and utilizing privilege to dismantle the systems that benefit them and only them. For Indigenous peoples, it means honouring the spirits of those who have come to join us in this fight for equality and giving them the space to grieve when they need it because adding more pain to the scale does nothing to restore balance or heal the energy on this Land.

I firmly believe in the original vision that our ancestors had for Turtle Island, and, thankfully, so many more people are coming around to remember that vision as well. Now, all we need to do is remember our ancestral teachings and continue to make and hold space for each other's spirits as we heal our communities and as we heal the Land.


Jen Green


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