Reconciliation, Reflection and Action

September 27, 2023
With special thanks for contributions to this piece by Matt Neveu, BMO Commercial and Client Banking Director and Dan Adams, Interim Head, BMO Indigenous Banking Unit

Reconciliation reflection and action

To mark Canada’s third official Truth and Reconciliation Day and to express our commitment to year-round reconciliation action, we feature below:
  • How National Day for Truth and Reconciliation started;
  • an interview with Matt Neveu, BMO Commercial and Client Banking Director and member of Batchewana First Nation, about residential schools and reconciliation work his team does.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: How it started

September 30th is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. It started as “Orange Shirt Day”, an Indigenous-led grassroots movement launched by author Phyllis Webstad1 of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation in 2013. At a Residential School Survivor commemoration event Ms. Webstad shared how her favourite orange t-shirt gifted to her from her grannie, was confiscated along with other cherished belongings, upon arrival at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School when she was just six years old. She was the third generation in her family forced to attend residential school. The story of her lost t-shirt resonated. Now, the orange t-shirt symbolizes generations of First Nation, Inuit and Métis children who were stripped of their dignity, freedom, cultural identity and even their lives, through Indian Residential Schools between 1883 up until 1996 when the last one in Canada closed.

In 2021, the federal government responded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #802 and designated September 30th as a statutory day of remembrance to honour the memory of the children who never came home, survivors, and all those impacted by the Indian Residential School system. Six other provinces have since followed suit. Now, ceremonies and events are held across the country each year to mark the day.
While the work is ongoing, the formality of establishing a national day of remembrance helps elevate the importance of formal recognition of the harm caused, education from Indigenous perspectives and reflection.

In the spirit of all the above, and as part of our own journey to educate ourselves, interested clients and broader investment industry, we spoke with our colleague Matt Neveu, a BMO Client and Commercial Banking Director who is a member of the Batchewana First Nation. Matt works out of BMO’s first on-reserve commercial banking office on Rankin Reserve within the Robinson-Huron Treaty area in Ontario where he leads a team that provides full-service banking support to First Nations communities in the greater part of Ontario. Matt generously shared with us his reflections on residential schools, and the importance of education and reconciliation action in his work.

An interview with Matt Neveu on what reconciliation means to him

Photo credit: Dan Adams

Where was this photo of you taken and what is its significance?

This picture was taken around September 30th, 2021, in front of Algoma University where I went to school to get a business degree on a scholarship from Batchewana First Nation. The building to the right is the original Shingwauk Residential School which closed in 1970 and was named after Chief Shingwaukonse who was from Garden River First Nation located just outside of Sault Ste. Marie. It is now a historical part of the university. On this day I went to the former residential school with my Indigenous banking colleague Dan Adams to pay respects.

The news of the discovery of the unmarked graves that year really hit home for me and my family. We placed shoes on the steps to the school. As a parent myself I think about what parents went through having their children stripped from them in an attempt to “take the Indian out of the child’. I look at my own children and it really hurts me. Most Indigenous people you speak to have been impacted by the residential school system directly. It has had generational effects on many families, and this is apparent. I am different in that way.

My Father is Indigenous from Batchewana First Nation but his father, my grandfather, lost his status many years ago because my great grandmother married an Indigenous man who lost his Indigenous status. They decided to move off the reserve. Losing status meant that my grandfather, who was a fisherman in Batchewana, had to rely on Government regulated fishing licences, which exposed him to quotas and limitations, which was different from other direct family members who did not lose their Indian Status. His ability to earn a living and support his family was challenged. While it was hard, it may also have been a blessing because as a child, my grandfather never had to attend residential school. We were reissued our status after amendments to the Indian Act were made in 1985 to address the Act’s discrimination towards Indigenous women and their families.

In Ontario, 80% of Indigenous people live off reserve.3 Several of my family members moved back to the reserve when opportunity presented itself. Over the past several years I have been reconnecting more with my community and participating in many events.

What is the importance of education for non-Indigenous Canadians about residential schools?

It is important for Canadians to understand our true and complex history. We didn’t learn about this in school and didn’t understand the true impact of residential schools and Indigenous peoples’ connection to the land and their treaty rights. There are a lot of misconceptions, for example, that life’s necessities are free for Indigenous people, including education and housing. It is important as Canadians to become educated and learn the truth as there are many other common misconceptions of our people.

...reconciliation is just a word until you actually do something.

It all starts with education! It is important to take lessons from the past to improve our future. At BMO more than 39,000 employees have completed the online training course Nisitohtamowin ᓂᓯᑐᐦᑕᒧᐃᐧᐣ4 [an eLearning course for understanding history from Indigenous perspectives]. This education can help ensure that the influence we can have through all the decisions we make as BMO employees are informed by a more accurate understanding of Indigenous history, culture and rights including the creation of programs to help First Nations, Métis and Inuit people get ahead. For example, BMO’s commitment to an inclusive workforce has created excellent opportunities in my career. When I began my career with BMO I was provided with an executive mentor through BMO’s Indigenous Mentorship Program.5 Now, I try to give back as best I can to an organization that has done so much for me. Education, employment, and procurement is all part of reconciliation, otherwise, reconciliation is just a word until you actually do something.

Why was it important to you for BMO to open a commercial banking office in Rankin Reserve?

It is part of BMO’s corporate reconciliation journey. There are BMO client banking services on reserves across the country so why not a commercial banking office? Opportunities for employment in banking are typically not on reserve. Now, I can work in a community that I love for a company that I love. Having a BMO Commercial Banking office here is a good way of telling our customers and communities we serve that we are here to do business with everyone. Having an office in the community gives me great perspective in my job and in my role. But I also spend a lot of time visiting various Indigenous communities across vast distances in Ontario.

Our customers include First Nations led governments, economic development corporations, and businesses for everything from health and education services to hotels, airlines, water treatment facilities, equipment, community complexes, infrastructure projects and more. One of the most impactful banking service programs my team delivers is BMO’s on-reserve housing loan program6 that enables First Nations members to own their own homes in their communities thereby circumventing restrictive measures of Section 89 of the Indian Act. Through this program, First Nations members can build intergenerational wealth, something that since the creation of the Indian Act was very difficult to do.

What are your hopes and dreams for your community and Indigenous peoples across Canada?

I would like to see true equality for Indigenous peoples, so they are enabled to have access to capital and the opportunities that brings. Indigenous communities investing in tangible assets on or off-reserve within or outside their traditional territory means they can do business wherever they want. We are seeing a lot of innovation and economic development, which is providing own-source revenue back to communities. This translates to a better way of life for people. Giving them hope and self-determination in enabling them to invest where and how they want to invest by being able to direct capital into projects that they think are most meaningful and impactful for them and most beneficial to their communities. This ultimately will lead to better social outcomes and opportunities, education and being able to support one’s family. We will start to see great improvements in quality of life from one generation to the next. This is one way we can reconcile the intergenerational effects of residential schools. This is the most rewarding aspect of my job.

If you were to issue a call to action for readers, what would you say?

  • If you haven’t learned about Indigenous history from Indigenous perspectives, take the Nisitohtamowin ᓂᓯᑐᐦᑕᒧᐃᐧᐣ course that was developed by the First Nations University of Canada, Reconciliation Education and BMO Financial Group
  • Look for other opportunities, all the time, to learn about the true history of our land and think critically about the mis-education that was historically provided in schools
  • Listen to more Indigenous voices, be curious but respectful
  • Attend and support Indigenous events and businesses

Disclaimers:

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BMO Global Asset Management is a brand name under which BMO Asset Management Inc. and BMO Investments Inc. operate. Certain of the products and services offered under the brand name, BMO Global Asset Management, are designed specifically for various categories of investors in Canada and may not be available to all investors. Products and services are only offered to investors in Canada in accordance with applicable laws and regulatory requirements.

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