National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – a Reflection
Members of NAME are well aware that the Indigenous peoples of the US and Canada are the first and continuing stewards of the freshwater and marine ecosystems that are the focus of NAME’S educational efforts. Members of the British Columbia chapter of NAME are also aware that September 30, 2023 is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, which occurs annually as established by the Canadian government in 2021. The purpose of this day is to acknowledge the trauma inflicted upon first nation’s children by Residential Schools in Canada, to reflect upon the harmful intergenerational legacy of those schools, and to explore ways to remediate the harm and to promote a healthy, balanced, and mutually respectful relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Until more recently, it was not well known that during much of the last century, the Government of Canada legally mandated the forcible removal of all First Nations children from their families and communities. They were placed within ‘schools’ where they were forbidden to speak their native language or engage in native cultural practices. The goal was to “remove the Indian from the child.” In fact, the schools removed the humanity from the child*, because children were subjected to physical, emotional, and often sexual abuse.
Non-indigenous ignorance about the abominations committed in residential schools dramatically ended with the ‘Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, held between 2009 and 2015 and chaired by Justice Murray Sinclair. The Commission held hundreds of hearings throughout Canada during which 6000 heartbreaking statements from survivors of Residential Schools were recorded. It ultimately produced 94 Calls to Action aimed at remediating the intergenerational harm done by Residential Schools. In the words of Murray Sinclair, “Reconciliation is not an Indigenous problem. It is a Canadian one.” It is necessary to find common ground between indigenous and non-indigenous people as a starting point for the process of building a mutually respectful relationship fostering dignity for both.
At last, the pendulum is swinging up, and we are witness to a great resurgence of the language and culture of our many Indigenous peoples. As the 2023 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches, members of NAME might consider that the aquatic and marine ecosystems of North America and their animal and plant inhabitants are a common ground to begin a journey with our First Nations neighbours. This can help us understand the many children who were not only ripped away from their parents, but also from their natural relationship with the land and the land knowledge that would have been provided by Elders and Knowledge Keepers within their communities. By getting to know some of this history and the people who lived it, we can better understand different ways of knowing and appreciating the world around us. We can also recognize the value of all beings, both living and non-living, as teachers – a way of learning that was taken from indigenous children in Canada and from which all of us can benefit.
*Quoted from the 2022 film “Bones of Crows,” written and directed by Canadian Métis playwright Marie Clements.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) also hosts a wide range of films, documentaries & podcasts. To learn more, visit Truth and Reconciliation in action: docs that highlight the experiences of Indigenous people in Canada | CBC Documentaries
~by Louise Page, BC