The history of colonialism in Canada is not a pretty picture. The past cannot be changed, but it can be acknowledged, the consequences understood. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has been looking into the impact of one particularly painful part of that history, the effects of removing children from their families with the express intent of dismantling cultural ties. The commission was required by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of 2007.
When he released the report on June 2, 2015, Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the commission summed up the findings by saying, “What took place in residential schools amounts to nothing short of cultural genocide, but as the survivors have shown us, they have survived.”
Survivors are justifiably skeptical that anything will change as a result of the TRC’s investigation. But change can and must happen, both for the country’s First Nations people and for the broader population. Canadians have a vision of themselves as basically decent people, who believe in social justice. Reconciliation offers an opportunity to live up to that vision. It will not be a smooth path, but here are some reasons for hope:
- First Nations authors are publishing books that deepen insight into Canada’s history and point the way to a better tomorrow. Here are a few that every Canadian should read: The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America and A Short History Of Indians In Canada by Thomas King, One Native Life and One Story, One Song by Richard Wagamese, They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School by Bev Sellars, and The Orenda
by Joseph Boydon.
- John Ralston Saul’s book, The Comeback: How Aboriginals Are Reclaiming Power And Influence
shows the strength and vitality of modern Aboriginal life in Canada.
- Though published in 2001, “Challenging the Deficit Paradigm: Grounds for Optimism among First Nations in Canada” is still a good alternative to the almost consistently negative views found in media accounts.
- John Kiedrowski’s article for the National Post tracks the progress First Nations police are making in reducing crime on reserves.
- Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada shares dozens of First Nations success stories on its site.
- First Nations University of Canada is providing models of learning based on values that can benefit all of Canadian society.
Canada’s First Nations people are not problems to be solved. They are resilient survivors with a great deal to share and teach. Their languages, teachings and spirituality are a legacy that can benefit all of society.
Moving forward on the recommendations made by the TRC, the federal government should act to bring about a more unified, just and supportive country for all Canadians. But individual Canadians do not have to wait for government to act. Social change happens when individuals insist on it in numbers large enough for the halls of power to take notice. Reconciliation comes about when we understand the brokenness of our history, look at each other as equals, acknowledge our part in maintaining an unhealthy status quo, and agree to move forward in a spirit of acceptance and healing.
We can do this.