This Thursday will be Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
It presents an opportunity to reflect on the history of Indigenous peoples living in Canada, consider how we might repair the incomprehensible damage done, and begin to foster a respectful relationship between settler and Indigenous communities.
Many of us seem not to have realized what has been going on. Maybe we just weren’t paying attention. Somehow, we missed the news reports about missing and murdered women, about endless boil water advisories and sub-standard housing, about the uprooting and relocation of communities. We seem not to have heard the final words Joyce Echaquan recorded as she was dying in a Quebec hospital.
When Indigenous communities have tried to get our attention through civil disobedience, with barricades to prevent the appropriation of their sacred lands, with blockades on train routes and highways, with hunger strikes and Idle No More marches, we have tended to find it a nuisance and failed to hear their pleas for some level of understanding, fairness, justice or even kindness, much less heed their demands that their rights be recognized, something nobody should have to ask for.
Centuries of ignorance and indifference on our part have been met by remarkable strength, resilience and patience on theirs. But with the recent discovery of hundreds of actual graves of real children who died while at residential schools across this country, there is undeniable evidence that now prevents us from looking away.
We have lowered the flags on Parliament Hill and other government institutions that embody the very system of colonial oppression that must now be dismantled. Taken alone, such symbolic gestures are not only insufficient, but risk inflicting an additional injury of dishonesty and empty promises.
We must be honest about our history of pushing aside Indigenous nations to clear a path for industries hungry for resources to convert into wealth, complicit with churches hungry for humans to convert into Christians. Anyone serious about building reconciliation in the future must start with knowing the truth about the past.
The truth can be found in the policies of our first prime minister, the architect of the residential school system, and of every federal government since. It can be found in the graves of victims discovered to date, and the estimated thousands more yet to be discovered. It is in the trauma that haunts generation after generation. It is in the disregard for land treaties. It is in the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in Canadian prisons. It can be seen in the faces of aged survivors who wept as they shared their memories with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and it is in the Commission’s finding that Canada committed cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples.
This is an indictment that puts the lie to our self-image as a country dedicated to human rights, principles of justice and just plain decency. It forms a central part of a bleak history that continues to this day and has every prospect of continuing to cast a dark shadow over this country for many years to come.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission creates an opening for anyone interested in changing the course of history to learn the truth and to act on it. To that end, the TRC has done a lot of work, including the elaboration of 94 Calls for Action that present a path toward reconciliation.
We need to take them to heart. You will find a poster containing the full text of the Calls to Action at the centre of this newspaper.
We commend them to anyone interested in playing a part in correcting the wrongs and creating a brighter future for Indigenous people and for all of us living in this country.
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