Truth and reconciliation comes with duty to self-educate
“It is due to the courage and determination of former students—the Survivors of Canada’s residential school system—that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established. They worked for decades to place the issue of the abusive treatment that students were subjected to at residential schools on the national agenda. Their perseverance led to the reaching of the historic Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement,” states the commission’s What we have learned: Principles of truth and reconciliation (2015). “All Canadians must now demonstrate the same level of courage and determination, as we commit to an ongoing process of reconciliation. By establishing a new and respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, we will restore what must be restored, repair what must be repaired, and return what must be returned.”
Proclaiming a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was one of the 94 Calls to Action identified by the commission. Its observance on Sept. 30 has felt monumental and has been successful in that it has made a space for residential schools survivors and the wider community to tell their stories, and be heard.
Even before the world was rocked by the confirmation of ‘the 215’ unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in June, it felt like there was a bit of a shift in our social consciousness, a shift that had readied Canadians to hear the truth.
This truth is particularly hard to hear and Survivors have said that it is hard to share, as they themselves are at different points in their healing journeys, sometimes afraid of what opening doors to certain memories would do to a person who has already spent many decades haunted by their experiences at residential schools.
The commission has published lengthy reports that are very much worth reading, especially for those who are wondering what all the fuss is about. The publications include Survivor accounts and photos gathered during a six-year process, travelling to all parts of Canada and hearing from more than 6,500 witnesses.
Many of us never learned anything about the genocide that was happening in Canada when we were in school, so we owe it to the Survivors, the churches involved, former politicians and all our neighbours to educate ourselves on exactly what went on in this country.
National Day of Truth and Reconciliation should not be framed as a celebration but we can hold up and celebrate Indigenous people who, despite every attempt to abolish and assimilate, continue to share, foster, reclaim and preserve their languages, arts and culture. It is up to the rest of us to learn and remove obstacles to truth and reconciliation. All the resources can be found at nctr.ca/records/reports/#trc-reports.