When I sit down to write, I tend to lean heavily on my lived experience and instincts. It’s just who I am and it’s always what just seemed to make sense to me. In the past couple of weeks, doing that has brought me to lean on some of my instincts that might be seen as self-protective, or many an attempt to manage the expectations of what might come as to future manage my feelings. When writing about the unmarked mass grave in Kamloops lately, I know that has been something that has strongly came through in what I wrote.

On this blog on that topic, I wrote that “I haven’t wanted to get my hopes up that this time could be different because that would involve our political leaders doing something that they rarely do; put aside the partisan crap and actually act.” The next day, a column that I wrote for the Kenora Miner and News was published where I talked about my experience of being present when the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions final report was presented. About that day I noted that was a day I’d never forget because “it felt like Canadians were finally facing the horrors of the residential school system” and that “there was some hope that maybe Canada was ready to work towards closure.”

In both pieces, I found myself leaning into those “hopes” with caveats because of how many times those hopes have been dashed. In the Indigenous community across this country, we all have our own stories about hopes, only to be dashed and then repeating in a cycle of failed promises, disappointment and frustration. After having your hopes raised so often, it’s understandable that eventually you stop hoping. It’s not because we don’t want things to go right, it’s just that we can’t believe it anymore without setting ourselves up for the inevitable pain of the just as inevitable let down.

In this moment, where Canadians are facing the aftermath of what was reported in Kamloops, I’ve seriously wanted to have that hope. I want better for my family, for my daughter. I never want her to have to feel that cynicism built in so deep because of all these broken promises. And in this moment, I’ve wanted to believe that this would finally be the time that hope manifested into something more than a broken promise. But I’ve hesitated in hoping because of history, experience and, well, Canada. In the meantime I’ve been looking for potential signs that could help melt away that well-earned cynicism. This afternoon I might have gotten a small piece of that, and it came from an unexpected source; a renowned former Mulroney pollster:

This polling from Greg Lyle at Innovative Research is something that he’s never seen the likes of before and frankly, never have I. The awareness of Indigenous issues is at an all-time high, up almost 30% from just two years ago. 77% of Canadians polled were at least somewhat familiar with the story from Kamloops, compared with 41% who were at least somewhat familiar with the Truth and Conciliation Commission when it reported in 2015. Almost twice as many more people noticed this time, compared to 2015.

81% said “they feel at least somewhat angry about the treatment of Indigenous peoples at residential schools”. 81%. 81% of Canadians never agree on just about anything, so to see that is striking. But these numbers go beyond shock and feelings, they point towards a changed expectation regarding action. They also say that:

  • 68% said the discovery reminds us that residential schools created issues that still require government responses today.
  • 52% said government has done too little for residential school survivors.
  • 70% said the government needs to provide funding to search all other residential school sites for undiscovered graves.
  • 68% agreed Canadians have a duty to help resolve the massive inequalities that Indigenous peoples face in Canada.
  • 55% agreed since governments have failed so badly that it makes sense for Indigenous peoples to take control of their own affairs.
  • 53% agreed that since Indigenous peoples were here first, they deserve compensation for the injustices they suffered when they lost their lands.
  • 63% agreed that the UN declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a good idea.

That last number really had me floored, as yesterday the governments UNDRIP legislation finally passed the Senate and received royal assent. After so many years of working on that with Romeo Saganash, I remember how hard it was to convince our political leaders in other parties it was the right thing to do. It was not politically popular or palatable to so many of them, yet today 63% of Canadians on board. I never thought I’d see that, ever.

Is this a blip? Is this just a moment? Or is this a case of Canadians finally waking up. Those numbers are as sobering as they are potentially hopeful. They not only show how Canadians have been affected by what happened in Kamloops, it also shows how little they cared about what happened in all those steps before we got to this point. I don’t know how to speak to that, but I couldn’t ignore that contrast.

A poll like this is something that can surely raise hopes, but while I welcome it, I can’t rush towards that hope yet. I have to fall back on the old political bromide of “a poll is just a snapshot in time”, it’s just my nature. But this is such a big shift, so seismic and substantial, that I can’t help but hold out some hope that maybe this time it’s different.

Ultimately, in order for this time to be different, it will require our political leaders to actually follow the lead set out in these numbers. Our political history is littered with examples of our parties refusing to do the right thing when it would potentially cost them a lot of votes. But if this polling is the start of the new trend, it would become clear that the Canadian public is much farther ahead of the politicians than they might have thought. Does a poll like this shake them out of their slumber and rush them all to rush towards action? With a Federal Election on the horizon, I guess we’ll tell. But in the meantime, I won’t get my hopes up too high, but I will bask in the glow of this thread of hope, hoping that more hope comes to back it up.