Truth and Reconciliation Commission: a journey in healing
This week in Canada was a significant one for First Nations people, the Indigenous people of Canada. It was a week of remembering, making public history and healing. Indeed, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made public its findings and shared them with all Canadians. But wait what is the TRC you ask? Let’s look at the commission that made public a part of history that most Canadians are not aware of.
Why Truth and Reconciliation?
Hmmmmm why is truth and reconciliation needed? Well, because of centuries of unfairness, of injustice against the Native people of the land, of Turtle Island. What am I talking about? More specifically, I am talking about a part of Canadian (and USA) history that most of us did not learn in school. Residential schools. A part of history that most of us do not know about or do not feel connected to. “I had nothing to do with it”. Well, actually all Canadians had something to do with it. Residential schools (RS) were an government initiative in collaboration with the catholic church to “tame the savages”. An occasion to save the child and kill the indian. An occasion to make every child who attended hate their own culture and language. As well as a place of abuse of every kind.
It is reported that one out of 25 children who went to RS died in RS. Just about the same ratio as Canadian soldiers who died in Word War II. 150 000 children attended RS, hundred of thousands of families saw their kids being taken away in cattle wagons, in trucks, helpless while they drove away. Mothers trying to hide their children without success. Some having attended RS themselves, knowing full well what was to come for their young ones.
Granted there might have been some good intentions behind RS. Some. Such as providing an education to Native children. However, the end result was generations of Native people abused, ridiculed and punished for speaking their language or practicing their traditions. To the point of hating those traditions themselves, to the point of hating being Indian. It is hard to believe that those schools were actually opened until 1996. But it is true. Leaving hundred of thousands of people in need of healing.
Hence the creation of the TRC….
In 2008, the Canadian government made a public apology to First Nations people for the suffering that took place in RS, for an initiative that absolutely and totally failed (my words not theirs). At the same time, the TRC was created. To look into what happened in order to get to the truth. The members of the Commission interviewed thousands of survivors to get their story, to find out what their experience was like. And those stories are forever recorded.
Over the next six years, a series of events took place all over Canada. Truth and Reconciliation weeks all over. Weeks during which survivors got to sit down together to share. Sharing circles. Open to everyone who wanted to support. Not just listen as passive participants, but rather as active listeners, there to support, understand and be there to get to the truth, and continue listening no matter how hard it is to.
I was one of those active participants, who sat and supported in Vancouver, BC in September 2013. It brought tears to my eyes to hear the stories, to hear the numbers the survivors were called while at RS (numbers rather than names were used). Mixed with the smell of smudge, the sound of drums. A place where trauma was discussed but also a place of healing.
Those weeks were just part of the dialogue that took place over the years covering the TRC mandate. A mandate that came to an end this week. An emotional week filled with grief, sadness but also happiness and pride. RS were classified as having been places of “cultural genocide” (that in itself deserves a standing ovation), a place children were sent to lose their identity and culture and at times, die. Many who left their lives in RS were never even identified formally, as they just “disappeared”. How can an apology from the Prime Minister ever be enough?
What is next?
What is next is a very long report from the TRC recording all the stories of the survivors they have interviewed. A report containing findings and recommendations for the Canadian government and population. So that healing can take place, so that reconciliation can happen with what happened. So that awareness is increased and so that no one says “I had nothing to do with it” anymore. It’s not about placing the blame on anyone, it’s about reparation, recognition and healing.
What are some of the recommendations? More resources invested in the missing and murdered Aboriginal girls and women of Canada. A commitment to eliminate the over-representation of First Nations People in jails. The creation and funding for new Aboriginal education legislation, closing the gap for Native people. The creation of a commemorative holiday for the survivors of RS. The implementation of health-care rights for Aboriginal people. And so on. Yay, yay and yay! Finally!
I think the TRC opened the Pandora box that was RS. What might have been swept under the rug in the past is now out in the open. And after centuries of abuse being ignored or hidden, it feels good to have things in the open. Does it repair what happened, does it make it okay? Of course not. But it is a beginning. Just a beginning. Recognition that healing is needed. And we all need to participate for that to happen.
Finally, I urge you to look at the TRC website. Many interesting videos to watch. So much to learn on that site.
And a great article for my US friends:
All my Relations