Today, 3 June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada will come to an end. The purpose of the TRC is to educate the public on the history and the effect of the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) that many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis were forced to attend from 1828-1996 (see list here and here). The children were taken from their families, forced not to speak their ancestral languages, and deprived of learning their cultures. Essentially, this was cultural genocide. As a result, at least 3,000 students died, mostly from malnutrition and disease. Today, so many are still suffering from being in the IRS (and/or being raised by parents who had attended the IRS).
The Commission also collected stories (all forms – written and oral) from Survivors during the last five years (it was supposed to end in 2014 but received an extension until 2015).
There are still many stories to be told and many wounds that need to be healed. In my opinion, Canadians must not forget this dark past; instead, we must work to eliminate the prejudice that exists in Canada and around the world, and to allow time for the healing process. More action must be taken. Here are 94 Recommendations that touches on all aspects, from child welfare to welcoming newcomers to Canada.
I wanted to publish this after Vancouver’s Walk for Reconciliation event but I got carried away and this draft collected e-dust for nearly two years.
Sunday, 22 September 2013
It’s a very rare thing for me to be willing to wake up very early to attend the first service at church. However, this year, our church decided to participate in the Walk for Reconciliation so there was to be one combined service at 8:45am. I was so glad and very proud that we could do this together so I forced myself to rise early for the occasion (by the way, this meant waking up around 7:30, and leaving by 8am).
It was a shame that not everyone could rise so early for the service for I noticed that it was mostly those who attended the 9am service, with a handful of 11am service attendees in the sanctuary. This was our most unusual service and in many ways, I much preferred it to our regular services. The entire service was around 50 min. long. We started with praise & worship and after the offering, we were introduced to Chiefs Dion and Littlechild, both of whom were donned in their eagle headdress. For the next 15 min. or so, our pastor conducted an interview with Chief Littlechild, who is a survivor of Canada’s residential schools. It was to be an emotional interview, with Chief Littlechild confirming all the abuse he had suffered and yet, all the while, praising the Creator for helping him retain his native tongue despite all the obstacles. As I listened to him, I likened his story to the Holocaust. I know many Canadians will argue that I am too extreme, but perhaps being part German and having grown up internationally, I see Canada’s residential school history as our own Holocaust. It is our dark past that, if we don’t continue to work on reconciliation, we shall always cause our victims to suffer. The truth is, every country has a dark past but it takes a brave country to acknowledge its shortcomings and wrongdoings and to ask for forgiveness. Quite sadly, there is still a lot of prejudice towards the First Nations in our country. I blame ignorance, pride, and jealousy.
The interview concluded with our pastor (who, by the way, only recently became a Canadian citizen and is originally from the States) asking for forgiveness on behalf of our church (though this church nor any of our members were directly involved) for the great pain inflicted on the First Nations for decades. One member in front of me shook with sobs and it pained me that I did not have any tissues to offer her. There were actually a few more in the congregation who were sobbing though I did not scan the sanctuary to see how many. The apology was accepted – goodness, how difficult the act of reconciliation is! – and before the service concluded, Chief Dion presented our pastor with an eagle feather.
My draft ends there. Receiving the eagle feather, by the way, is the highest honour. The feather symbolises truth, power, freedom, and balance.
After the service, the congregation headed down to West Georgia St, where the Vancouver Public Library – Central Branch is. Despite the downpour, tens of thousands joined the walk around Vancouver’s Downtown and False Creek. Throughout the walk, elders (so I assume) raised their arms towards heaven but also towards us in tears (much like the Welcome Figures at the YVR Airport). It was a very touching and moving gesture. For me, it symbolised the feeling of being welcomed, and also the receiving of blessings.
At the end of the walk, everyone received a small wooden tile, decorated by school children with a name of a residential school. So, just as we say for Remembrance Day, let us also say this: Lest We Forget.
I hope one day, there will be a statutory holiday to honour our Native Canadians. Who knows, maybe it will be 21 June, which is our National Aboriginal Day.
- Why We Walk (Reconciliation Canada)
- Truth and Reconciliation: nearly 4 years of hearings wrap (CBC)
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission urges Canada to confront ‘cultural genocide’ of residential schools (CBC)
- Truth Seeker: Murray Sinclair’s relentless quest for the facts about residential schools (Ottawa Citizen)
- Wab Kinew: Aboriginal success is the best form of reconciliation (National Post)