Reflection on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation September 30, 2022

By Jose Zarate, PWRDF

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada concluded and issued its Final Report and Calls to Action in June 2015. Implementing the Calls to Action represents an incredible opportunity and responsibility for individuals, families, communities, and governments in all jurisdictions to make reconciliation real. As the TRC notes:

“Reconciliation must become a way of life. It will take many years to repair damaged trust and relationships in Aboriginal communities and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Reconciliation not only requires apologies, reparations, the relearning of Canada’s national history, and public commemoration, but also needs real social, political, and economic change.”

September 30th as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation gives us an opportunity to reflect, recognize, and commemorate the intergenerational harm that residential schools caused for Indigenous families and communities, and to honour those who have been impacted by these injustices. 

In Canada, more than 1,000 unmarked graves have been discovered on the grounds of former church-run residential schools, where an estimated 150,000 First Nations children were sent as part of a campaign of forced assimilation for more than a century.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was implemented in 2007. In 2015 it concluded that the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide and that unmarked graves would be found in the former school grounds, but the recent findings still shocked many Canadians and prompted calls for a new investigation.

Some sectors of the mainstream society still struggle to understand the consequences of Canada’s colonial history. Perhaps, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation gives us an opportunity to reflect on the reasons for this special date.

Indigenous peoples welcomed the Europeans who arrived on Turtle Island  and were willing to share  resources. Indigenous peoples did not impose their values or ideals upon the Europeans people who “discovered” the “New World” even though they lived in vibrant and healthy communities.

Opportunities were not provided for the Indigenous peoples in Canada to fully participate in the “development” of the land and its resources. Indigenous peoples were denied access to the land, which contributed to their identities, their cultures, spirituality, and languages. They were relegated to the reserve system and required to obtain permits to travel outside of the reserves.  The Indian Act prevented the people from practicing their traditional spirituality, from speaking their own languages, and their children were taken by government agents to residential schools. They were not allowed to vote in provincial or federal elections. It was only the 1960s that Indigenous peoples were given rights as Canadians to vote and in 1996 the last residential school was closed. Even after that period the conditions in Indigenous communities did not change significantly. Communities have suffered with inadequate housing, lack of access to clean drinking water, insufficient education for children, substance abuse, and lateral violence.

All the above prompted me to ask the following reflective questions:

  1. Do we understand the experience of the oppression of Indigenous peoples by a dominant “superior” culture that assumed that Indigenous peoples were “children”, or “wards of the state”, not entitled to own land or vote in Canadian elections? 
  2. Do we understand the experience of the dispossessed, and at times dislocated, Indigenous peoples who “blocking the way of progress” were removed from their traditional territories that they have occupied for thousands of years? 
  3. Do we understand the volume of natural resource extraction that has taken place in the building of Canada and how Indigenous peoples were pushed aside by “progress” and forcibly impoverished?
  4. Do we understand the number of Indigenous children who were taken to the residential schools where they lost their cultures and languages, and other social skills? 
  5. Do we understand the present predicament Indigenous peoples are in today, with issues of  access to health, education, housing, and clean water?

September 30 is a day to educate ourselves and to act towards justice for Indigenous peoples. Below are some resources to assist us in learning about the colonial project:

  1. How residential schools in Canada robbed Indigenous children of their identity and lives. The Guardian. 1 July 2021 (4:44)
  2. Namwayut: We Are All One. Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. A 2017 CBC production featuring residential school Survivor Chief Robert Joseph, a highly respected hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, on Vancouver Island. (4:21)
  3. Sept. 30 marks step toward reconciliation, says Murray Sinclair, former senator and former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. CBC Sept 2021: 1:28 minutes A 2021 CBC production with Murray Sinclair, former Senator and Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (1:28)

Further reading/resources:

  1. Government of Canada: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
  2. Government of Canada: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation September 30, 2021 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
  3. Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports
  4. Residential Schools in Canada: A Timeline. Historica Canada: Mar 2, 2020. 5:39 minutes
  5. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
  6. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  7. Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School
  8. Mbwaach’idiwag: Colonial Problems rebranded as “Indigenous Issues” Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School
  9. CBC Article on Progress Towards Calls to Action
  10. An Overview of the Indian residential schools System Booklet. Written by the Union of Ontario Indians
  11. Final Report: National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
  12. CBC Radio: Beaten for speaking Blackfoot at residential school, this Siksika woman now teaches it in the same building. A story about the experience as a residential school student of Dr. Vivian Ayoungman, Executive Director of the First Nations Adult and Higher Education Consortium (FNAHEC), a PWRDF Indigenous partner from Alberta.
  13. Calls to Action Accountability: A 2021 Status Update on Reconciliation. It has been six years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its six-volume Final Report along with the 94 Calls to Action, meant to remedy the ongoing structural legacy of Canada’s residential schools and to advance reconciliation in Canada. Framed by the recent revelations of thousands of children’s graves discovered on the grounds of several residential schools and by signs of a new resolve among Canadians to work toward reconciliation, this year’s report finds three new Calls to Action have been completed. Despite this, we also find an ongoing failure by the federal government to meaningfully enact the Calls to Action that would alter the disparate realities that Indigenous peoples experience in this country. With each passing year, Canada opts to perform reconciliation to shape a benevolent reputation rather than enact the substantial and structural changes that would rectify ongoing harms and change the course of our collective relationship.

Appendix: Additional Information  – Stories posted on PWRDF Website 

PWRDF Indigenous Partnerships

The partnership principles that guide our work with Indigenous communities have ensured a long-lasting relationship built upon mutual respect and trust. This ethical practice, supported by complete cultural awareness and sensitivity, has allowed to promote an open, transparent, and honest dialogue and relationship between Indigenous partners and PWRDF. This trust means to listen, respect, and follow their leadership in the implementation of their strategies, programs, and projects. They are the ones who have complete understanding and assessment about the needs and solutions for a healthy and prosperous communities. The consultation processes carried out in their programs and projects have ensured the inclusion of the voices from women, elders, youth, and children; everyone has been heard. See stories in links below.

This Int’l Day of the World’s Indigenous People, PWRDF celebrates midwives

Celebrating, recognizing, and honouring our Indigenous partners

What does National Indigenous Peoples Day mean for PWRDF?

I would like to close this reflection and request with a poem written in June 2021 after the revelation of over two hundred unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School. I hope we can all be “one of the Seven Generations … who foresees a new generation.”

I Am One of the Seven Generations of My Ancestors

In commemoration of the National Indigenous Peoples Day

By Jose Zarate, June 21, 2021

I’m one of the Seven Generations of My Ancestors          

the one you have heard in the media lately

the one that cries inside for the pains of many forgotten

and prays for the departed ones, whose voices, songs, and chants are alive

I’m one of the Seven Generations of My Ancestors

the one who listens to the mothers, whose daughters and sons are in jail for long because they stole some pennies for cigarettes  

the Elder who takes the school children and youth to the bush for teachings about ceremonies and culture values

the child who plays and dreams for better home, better education, better health

I’m one of the Seven Generations of My Ancestors

the one who visits Indigenous communities and listens their hopes and plans for better future

I am the one who still welcomes you with open arms to be equals and to be sisters and brothers

the one who invites you to work together to change inequality for fairness, for long-lasting harmonious relationship as partners

I’m one of the Seven Generations of My Ancestors

the one who foresees a new generation of children aware of their history and proud of their identity and language and culture

the one who works hard to see and ensure a healthy, prosperous, and happy Indigenous community.

And lastly, I am one of the Seven Generations of My Ancestors who offers prayers to The Creator for guidance and accompaniment toward our journey to the wellbeing of our Indigenous communities. 

Jose Zarate is a member of the KAIROS Indigenous Rights Circle (KIRC) and the Canadian Indigenous Communities & Latin America-Caribbean Development Program Coordinator at the Primate’s World Relief and Develolpment Agency (PWRDF)

Filed in: Indigenous Rights, Spirited Reflections

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