I’m sure you know what the two words mean separately from one another, but when they’re paired together in reference to Canada’s Indigenous history, they hold a different meaning. This phrase means “We are all one,” and it is used in reference to the history that Indigenous people share. This history is rich with culture, tradition, and meaning, but there are parts of our history that aren’t so positive - and a big part of the dark areas of our history has to do with residential schools.
In Canada, over 150,000 young Indigenous children went through the trauma of attending residential schools. If you can believe it, the last school (located in Saskatchewan) didn’t shut its doors until 1996. That wasn’t even 30 years ago. The mistreatment of Indigenous people is far from being ancient history.
There’s a trend with Indigenous history - the sad parts, the traumatic parts, and the all-around awful parts tend to get erased by Western culture. Many schools, even universities, don’t share the knowledge of residential schools and what went on inside them. This is a section of history that gets completely ignored, and that essentially tells Indigenous people that our trauma doesn’t matter
And that is far from the truth.
Canadians are only JUST starting to realize the painful history that Indigenous people have had to survive through. That’s where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes in. In this article, I’m going to share three questions (and answers) that surround this Commission so you can become a bit more familiar with the ways that Canada is trying to move towards an equitable, honorable future.
Let’s get started with the three questions that surround Truth and Reconciliation.
#1 What is Truth and Reconciliation?
This is the simplest question - and it’s also the most important answer to know. If you aren’t familiar with what Truth and Reconciliation is at its base, you can’t go much further.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was created by the Residential Schools Survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives, and those who were responsible for the implementation and creation of the residential schools (AKA the federal government in Canada and some churches).
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a mandate that requires all Canadians to be informed of what happened to the children that attended residential schools. No longer would our painful history get swept under the rug - or, even worse, painted over and denied completely.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is centered around truth. It documents the experiences of people who were actually there - the experiences of survivors and their families, along with communities and anyone who was personally affected by the residential schools of Canada.
The people affected include First Nations, Inuit and Métis former residential school students, their families, communities, the churches, former school employees, government officials and other Canadians.
In order to make sure the information was all-encompassing, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission carried out in-depth research that involved hearing firsthand from Residential Survivors, along with their families, members of their communities, and former staff members of residential schools.
Although this Commission was only a five-year mandate, the information is kept safe within the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as a resource for all Canadians.
It’s no longer a secret.
#2 Why is it relevant? Or… why should we care?
As many of you probably already know, the main way that Indigenous people share their history and pass it down through generations is through word of mouth. Information passed this way is invaluable - and many would suffer if it was kept hidden from people who could benefit from knowing the information. Even if the information is hard to hear.
Keeping the history of residential schools hidden away like a dirty secret kept Canada from moving forward in a progressive way that benefits people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and cultures. As a nation, we could not move into the future as we continued to pretend that we have a flawless past.
The only way to make sure that history never repeats itself is to make it well known to everyone - not just a chosen few.
You should care about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because it was a major step in Canada’s history towards owning up to the nation’s wrongdoings.
You should care about this Commission because it is a way for Canada to apologize for something that the nation as a whole can never take back. But while Canada can’t erase history - as the title would suggest, it can come close to reconciling it.
Canadians can take pride in the fact that we are the only Western country who has taken part in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. No other countries on this side of the world, no matter how badly they may need it, have stepped up and done the same.
#3 How do you begin to learn about what it is, or what it entails?
The biggest aspect of learning about Truth and Reconciliation is simple: All you need to do is care. If you’re a Canadian who wants to learn more and dig deeper than the whitewashed history that many of us have been spoon-fed throughout our lives, Truth and Reconciliation is a great place to start.
Learning the truth plays a major role in respecting the history of Indigenous people and making sure that such atrocities never happen again in Canada. With a Commission like this, we are taking away the fear and stigma over mentioning something that harmed so many people.
By creating a safe space for people to share what trauma happened to them (there are still ways to share your story through the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation), then you’re taking away the power from the people who put this sick abuse of power into motion in the first place.
By caring about the Indigenous experience and knowing the truth surrounding this Commission and the painful history of many Indigenous people, we can move forward to a place where we celebrate each other and a future that’s equitable and prosperous for people of every nationality.