Monday, April 16, 2012

Truth & Reconciliation... in Canada?

This past weekend, some friends and I attended a regional event put on by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Victoria, BC.

The phrase "Truth and Reconciliation" often brings to mind race-based conflicts in places like South Africa, Rwanda, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  Due to the absence of a high-profile genocide or civil war, many Canadians are surprised to discover that Canada is also currently in the middle of a nation-wide Truth and Reconciliation process. 

Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission addresses the 130 Indian Residential Schools that operated in this country from the 1840s until the last one closed in 1996 (!).  About 150 000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children attended these government-funded, church-run schools, which intended to "kill the Indian in the child."  About half of these former students are still alive today.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls them "survivors," and often refers to their children and grandchildren as "intergenerational survivors," since they, too, experienced the negative impacts of the schools, especially in the difficult family dynamics that ensued.

Over the last couple of decades, several residential school survivors have filed claims against the government for the abuse they suffered at these schools.  In 2007, a settlement was reached, which allocated funds to survivors and to healing centers, and mandated the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  This was followed soon after by the (in)famous apology by Stephen Harper to survivors and their families.

The purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to do research, collect statements from survivors, and make a permanent archive establishing the truth of what happened while the schools were in operation.  They also seek to educate Canadians about the schools, their legacy and impacts, and to encourage and suggest steps toward reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.

This Truth and Reconciliation process is unique in a lot of ways.  It is the first court-ordered commission.  It is the first one to study such a long period in history (150 years).  It is one of the first Truth & Reconciliation commissions in a First World country.  Of particular interest to me, it is the first commission examining a situation where the oppressed parties were primarily children, and where one of the main oppressors was the Church.


I have never written a series of blogs before, but I feel like my experience at this Truth and Reconciliation event in Victoria merits more than one blog entry.  I hope to publish four blogs to summarize my experience and my reflections:

- Being a Witness
- Listening to Survivors
- How (not) to Apologize
- Forgiveness and Reconciliation

I look forward to sharing more with you over the next couple weeks.  But I also recognize that there's no substitute for attending these events yourselves. 

So please get out your calendars. 

If you are a friend of mine living in Saskatoon, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be hosting a National Event there in just a couple months, June 21-24, which they hope will attract over 20 000 survivors, and even more guests.  It's free to attend.  Check the website for more details as plans come together.  Don't miss this chance!

If you are a friend of mine living in Vancouver, you have to wait a little longer... the Commission won't be here for another year and a half.  It will come to Vancouver September 18-21, 2013.  But it will be big... rumours from the planning committee include a 50,000-person march to kick it all off.  Expect to participate!

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