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Oct. 16, 2021 | Saturday
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Indigenous residents want Ontario to make Sept. 30 statutory holiday
Fallon Farinacci grew up in Manitoba. When she was nine, her parents were murdered and her and her brothers made orphans. Police failed to intervene in the hostage situation that got her parents killed and she has recently started using her grief and story as a means to improve the lives and draw attention to the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Supplied)

Fallon Farinacci has gone through severe trauma as a Métis woman but has started using that narrative to raise money and inspire change for the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

Which made it all the more disappointing to her when the Ontario government failed to make National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a statutory holiday.

“That actually is something that has to change next year,” said Farinacci.

Farinacci is a Métis woman from St. Eustache, Man. She is raising money for Abbey House Transitional Home for Indigenous Women and the Manitoba Métis Federation, St. Eustache Local for Indigenous Youth.

When Farinacci was nine both her parents were murdered in her home while she was in bed. A family friend had become obsessed with her mother and entered the home one night, killing her father, her mother and then himself.

And the police failed to intervene.

The first shot was fired at 2:30 a.m., killing her father. Her older brother who had been threatened with a gun to his stomach escaped the house and called police.

Officers deferred action as long as they could, Farinacci said

“The RCMP officers who received the call called their next level in seniority. He was the only RCMP officer who was also a hostage negotiator. Instead (of showing up to the crime scene), he told these two officers to go to the Paul residence and see if they could speak with Andre.”

Andre is the name of the murderer. He had been repeatedly identified as a dangerous individual by Farinacci’s parents, who even had a restraining order filed against him, she said.

Andre had been repeatedly arrested for crimes involving drugs and firearm possession.

The officer who had hostage negotiating experience hung up the phone and went back to sleep, Farinacci said.

Officers didn’t arrive until 6:30 a.m., four hours after her father was killed.

When they arrived, Andre promptly shot Farinacci’s mother and then himself, she said.

“My younger brother and I had to wait in the house with three dead bodies until 8:30 in the morning" when the RCMP finally came in.

“And they only came in because at that point my grandfather had made his way to the door to get into the house.”

Less than a month later, Farinacci and her brothers were moved to St. Catharines to live with her mother's family.

These traumatic events highlight the damaging legacy of colonialism in Canada. The experiences of Farinacci and her brother were minimized and they received little help for what they went through, she said.

“None of us received proper post-traumatic care. I remember going to maybe two therapy sessions,” Farinacci said.

“And in 2004, my older brother committed suicide.”

But Farinacci has turned on this overwhelming grief and decided to use her story to raise awareness about the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“I wanted to bring change any way that I could and bring awareness to my brother’s and my parents’ story,” she said.

When she turns 38, Farinacci will be older than her mother, father and brother when they died. Her father was 37.

Raising awareness about Indigenous issues is at the heart of Farinacci’s identity now. All the more reason for her to feel frustrated that her son won’t be able to attend National Day for Truth and Reconciliation events because Ontario did not make it a statutory holiday.

“If (my son) misses one day of school that sends a ripple effect. One day, especially in a pandemic when these kids are being taught only two courses for X amount of days, it’s deeply impacting,” she said.

“It’s going to deeply impact (his education), so he can’t be there.”

Farinacci was critical of the school boards in Niagara, which could have chosen to close schools on the holiday but have not.

She asked Canadians to lend their voices in calling for schools to close and Ontario's policy to chance, “so that it doesn’t all fall on the backs of Indigenous people.”

Farinacci lives in St. Catharines, as does her little brother who is married with a family of his own.

“He’s doing amazing,” she said.

Farinacci will be a speaker at St. Catharines city hall at 10 a.m. on Thursday for a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event organized by the Niagara Regional Native Centre. Other speakers will include native centre president Roxanne Bucks, Orange Shirt day advocate Wanda Griffin and St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik among others.

Sean Vanderklis, of the Mississauga from Curve Lake First Nation, former president of the native centre and recipient of the CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowship, will also be speaking.

Vanderklis was also let down by the province’s decision. But he saw it coming.

“That’s extremely disappointing but also kind of expected,” Vanderklis said in an interview Tuesday.

“One of the first things the Ford government did when they took over was they cancelled those opportunities to redo education around First Nations people.”

In 2018, the newly appointed minister of education cancelled a planned revamping of how Indigenous history and culture is taught in Ontario schools.

Vanderklis was also cautious of the way Truth and Reconciliation Day was created.

A federally mandated statutory holiday to raise awareness and increase education regarding Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the residential school system was one of the 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 2015 report.

Vanderklis noted that six years passed before the holiday was created and even then it only came after the traumatizing discovery of 215 children’s bodies on a residential school property in Kamloops, B.C.

“What seems to be the pattern is that Indigenous people are just an afterthought. (It’s) tragic, but, to me, it’s the pattern of the relationship between Indigenous people and the Canadian government.”

Vanderklis stressed that Truth and Reconciliation Day should be about Canadians educating themselves about Indigenous issues and the history and ongoing trauma caused by the residential school system.

He hopes that, through learning, Canadians will be inspired to “assist with changing the world and changing government policy and electing leaders that properly reflect them,” he said.

Stanley Henry, a teacher at Brock University and Cayuga Nation community member of Six Nations, also stressed that Canadians need to take the responsibility of education on themselves and not rely on Indigenous people as a “crutch,” as Vanderklis put it.

“I’m disappointed. It’s a missed opportunity for learning,” Henry said in an interview.

He noted that Indigenous people will be forced to work on a holiday that was supposed to be dedicated to increasing education surrounding the effects of residential school.

Henry spoke about the importance of the day being held in September.

“This is the time of year when families lived in fear that the local Indian agent would come into their homes and basically kidnap their children,” he said.

“That trauma is still in existence within Indigenous communities and our lives.”

Henry doesn’t want the new holiday to become a one-off event for Canadians to feel like they have gotten involved enough in Indigenous issues.

“Don’t just talk about it for one day of the year,” he said.

“Carry forward the conversation. Know the realities and impacts of colonization are something Indigenous people live through on a daily basis.”

“Don’t fall into the check-box mentality, that we just do Truth and Reconciliation Day and then carry on with business.”

Farinacci shared the same message.

“Review the calls to action and commit yourself to one. Bring this conversation to your dinner table, to your workplace, write to your government and write to your local school board,” Farinacci said.

“And, if you have the day off, don’t let it be for nothing.”

RESOURCES: In a previous article involving Henry, the teacher gave us a list of resources for Canadians to self-educate on Indigenous issues. We recommend people take the time to review the list and commit themselves to reading through at least one of the recommendations starting today.

“Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese, the Truth and Reconciliation’s final report, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s reports and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People.

Henry also recommended “Fatty Leg” by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton, and “The Orange Shirt Story” by Phyllis Webstad as good choices for youth and adults.

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