Truth and Reconciliation Commission: in search of justice and healing

Truth and Reconciliation Commission: a journey in healing

Hello all

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.

TRC logo

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.

truth and reconciliation

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?native american smudging

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


32 thoughts on “Truth and Reconciliation Commission: in search of justice and healing

  1. Paul

    Wow. This is a compelling page. I had no idea about the Cultural Genocide happening. The comparisons to World War II really struck home. This information is incriminating and should be acted on! The fact that many Americans are still unaware is scary. In this fast paced technological world it’s easy to forget about our roots and this article really got me thinking about what we can do. Thanks for the great read!

    1. Emily Post author

      thanks Paul!
      The comparison with WW II really struck a chord for me too. The genocide that happened in those schools is unbelievable in our days. Incredible that something like this was happening until 20 years ago! I just hope that awareness is increased

  2. Adrian

    I had no idea that this was occurring and you’re right about it not being included in history books. For years, I had often wondered about how one-sided the US textbooks seemed to be and I see the same was done in Canada too. Now, I am more aware of what has happened in Canada and I have you to thank for the data on it.

    More people need to know about this and that things are heading towards repairing the damage that was done.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Adrian
      yes this big part of history for North America, Turtle Island as it was called, is not one we learn about in books. Unfortunately it did happen and its about time there be recognition of it and healing for it. I hope it also happens in the USA

  3. Joseph

    Hope you’re sitting down, this might be a long comment.
    Canada extends down from the Atlantic shores, all the way to the beautiful pacific ocean, and I’ve seen it all. I began traveling when I was 14, and lived on many Native lands.
    While travelling through “La Cote Nord” , I met a Montagnais Elder, in around Ungava Bay.
    Well I ended up spending over a year there, learning their ways, sacred rituals, tending his trap line with him, tanning hides and smoking meat.
    We lived in a dome shaped abode, covered with skins he’d tanned. Many nights spent by a low campfire, listening to him talk of the Middle Road and how all is equal in the eyes of the Great Spirit. He guided me through sweat lodges and other ceremonies, as I opened my senses, to the great ” inward and outward ” world, we all experience to variable degrees, as my respect grew for all creation. I came to understand with everything that is me, that no difference exists between the Micro and Macrocosm, that in fact all that exists is the creation of the Great Spirit and Mother Earth, of which we are all part in this Infinite, and sacred Web.

    Why did I choose to share this with You?
    Well all you wrote hit home like a blast, and over 40 years later I find myself doing Aid Work in Syria and Lebanon. The atrocities I witness here, are much the same, it’s a repetitive and painful circle.

    N amount of money, or of government issued ‘Apologies” will change much of our situation, until Mankind, as a collective, changes it’s Heart.

    The unthinkable Genocides, repeat themselves, and all we can do, is clean up the mess, bring Love and solace to the physically and emotionally wounded.

    You mentioned in your article a “pandora’s box”, and indeed you have opened one here. I Loved reading your work.

    Now let’s hope, that those who have ears hear, and those who have eyes yet are blind from within, finally see.
    I totally enjoyed your writing, thank you for fighting the good fight

    Your Brother

    1. Emily Post author

      thank you Joseph! Your story was touching as I am from Quebec originally and I can imagine well how your experience was. What a great experience to have. It seems like you learned to embody the “we are all related”, the Mitakuye Oyasin. The living off the land, being thankful for Mother Earth and the Creator. You learned the traditional values and ways of life. And to me, there is nothing better than those.
      I really do hope the message gets shared and is spread. Across Canada, to our neighbors in the south, to Australia and everywhere else where Indigenous people suffered. Your mission at the moment seems fascinating and very much in line with the message I am trying to put out there too. So thank you Joseph for doing what yo do. All my Relations

  4. Shivanii

    OMG! How profoundly tragic, yet celebration in the midst. Congratulations, Canada! Now, can we PLEASE have the same in Australia for those of the stolen generation??? (which is still continuing today, by the way!)
    Thank you so much, Emily, for your beautiful website that is serving such an important role!!

    1. Emily Post author

      thank you for visiting Shivanii! It is so good indeed that Canada has started talking about it. It’s about time after so many years. I really wish it could also be done for the Indigenous people of Australia too who have a very similar story

  5. Demi

    Loved reading this article. But at the same time it is tragic to know about this. Surprised to learn that genocides happens these days!

  6. mark

    Hi Emily – Wow very powerful post about native healing. History is littered with injustices being perpetrated. Its frightening to think that these things went on in the past. You only have to look at what happened in Europe during WWII.
    We can’t change what happened we can only learn for it and make sure it never happens again.
    Thanks for sharing

    1. Emily Post author

      Absolutely Mark, we cannot change the past but we can become aware of it so things change. Some the same trauma is not repeated over and over.

  7. Eoinmc

    As I live in Ireland my knowledge of Canadian history is limited.
    This is a fantastic piece and you deal with it so well. I think the concept of truth and reconciliation may have originated in Mandela’s South Africa. After the oppressed and abused majority came to power, rather than seek revenge, which would have been the natural inclination they were allowed to address their abusers through a similar process.
    In the case of South Africa it worked very well.
    Something similar has happened in Ireland where we also had a problem with abuse in residential institutions and the abused have since been allowed to tell their stories in special hearings.
    Historically, the native Irish were oppressed in a similar fashion by the British Empire who seemed to have specialised in this sort of thing across their Empire – hence the Canadian approach. The same happened in New Zealand and Australia, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), just to mention a few. How many have we not heard about?
    I’m fascinated though that what happened in Canada was so recent.
    Unfortunately, this sort of thing is still going on in some parts of the world.
    Maybe it would be useful if religions and races stopped promoting themselves as being ‘superior’.
    I believe these truth and reconciliation commissions are extremely powerful ways of expressing the hurt of the abused and of demonstrating that we are all equal and that a one’s race or religion should not imply superiority or inferiority. Respect for all.
    Any chance we could have a truth and reconciliation commission for Gaza? I don’t think that would be allowed somehow.

    1. Emily Post author

      thank you Eoin
      thank you so much for sharing a piece of Ireland’s history. Unfortunately, it is a story that is repeated around the world with varying circumstances but still. There are truth and reconciliation commissions across the globe as you mention. it is sad that they have to exist but their mandate is so important. Their results in Canada were highly anticipated and life changing in a sense. As you point out, however, I doubt that a TRC would happen for Gaza but you never know..

  8. Todd

    Great article Emily. I lived in Canada for a year or so, and barely heard anything about this kind of thing going on. I guess sometimes history is written to suit what people prefer to hear sometimes…

    1. Emily Post author

      absolutely Todd. This is not a part of history that most Canadians knew about. The TRC report opened the Pandora box and I hope awareness has increased

  9. edy

    I live far away from the incident took place, but the story about truth and reconciliation commission is interesting. There are so many abusive acts toward native people, in Asain itself has that same story when someone practicing their own beliefs get punished or even killed. The history was a lesson to us, but I believe it will heal itself as time goes on.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Edy
      absolutely, the same practices were and maybe still are present in Asia. I really do hope that healing will take place. I can feel it beginning in Canada, I hope it does too in Asia

  10. Cathy

    This is a very insightful post about the power of native healing. Yap.We cannot change what had already happened in the past. But we will certainly learn from it to make sure that it never ever happens again.

    Thanks for the share Emily.

    Blessings to you!


  11. Patrick

    As a fellow Canadian and a father,, I am absolutely appalled at the way in which our government has mistreated and outright abused our aboriginal cousins, and even more so at the way children were treated like worthless animals. I can’t believe that in 2015 this issue still has not been dealt with, that amends have not been made, and that the plight of the First Nations people in this beautiful country remain abhorrent at best. We need to do more. We need to do what’s right, as human beings. Enough with the politics. My heart goes out to all those affected.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Patrick!
      I agree 100%. It is so appalling and incredible that this issue is still on the table. However, reparation will take time, healing will take time. I feel the TRC report and recommendations (if respected) will lead on the right path

  12. Brian

    Emily love you enthusiasm with the holistic native american spiritual healing rituals. I am a huge fan of natural healing and really glad i stumbled upon your site. Your so awesome and this site is amazing. Ill be back soon.

  13. Nnamdi

    Hello Emily,
    This is really interesting to read and to also know that the First Nation People were suppressed and made to forget their culture and language. In other words, they were being taken to be groomed to become someone else by the Canadian Govt., someone they prefer he/she becomes instead of being a Red Indian. I think that is another way of slavery, just as the blacks were treated even with more inhumane approach. Fortunately, they are becoming aware of these mistreatment and trying to make amends just like the Canadian Govt. decided to apologize at some point, hence the formation of TRC.

    1. Emily Post author

      you are right Nnamdi
      there are similarities with slavery. A suppression of culture, traditions, language. There is more awareness now but there is also a long way to go unfortunately.

      1. Nnamdi

        That’s right, because I can relate what is going on in America today. How the blacks are stereotyped to be the bad guys. They are being killed by the slightest provocation and excessive force were mostly used to arrest them. I think, in this day and age, we should have gone past this type of racism. However, I think this is found in a small proportion of whites, because there are still many of them that have good heart.

        1. Emily Post author

          Absolutely, I want to say that the situation of Black people in the USA is similar in a sense to the situation of the Native people in Canada. In terms of stereotyping and over-representation in jail for example. However, there is still a lot of injustice for the Native people in the USA too. You are right, you would think that in this day and age we would be past that. But we are not yet

    1. Emily Post author

      It is devastating indeed that so many women were forgotten. When in fact they matter, they should be acknowledged and celebrated.


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