TRC Reflection Day 1- Wisdom
By Elyse Brazel and Jesse Root
On Wednesday afternoon at volunteer training we were told that the theme for this gathering was wisdom, one of the 7 grandfather teachings. Throughout the session our coordinator, Viola, who was responsible for giving us a brief introduction to the history of the TRC, used the phrase “share their truths” in reference to the many ways in which people (survivors, clergy, staff) who attended and worked at residential schools had the opportunity to share their testimony throughout the event. What really got us thinking though, was the concept of having multiple truths, not only one. Truth was used in the plural with a purpose: to highlight the contributions of each individual’s story to create understanding of the diverse experiences of people around residential schools.
This theme was echoed again through the KAIROS pre-event held in partnership with Action for Healthy Communities, which was a dialogue with Indigenous and migrant communities in Edmonton. KAIROS presented The Blanket Exercise, which seeks to educate about Indigenous peoples’ histories on Turtle Island through experiential learning. Hearing participants’ reflections afterwards, many people said they did not have previous knowledge of these stories. This got us thinking about who has the power to create and share their truth, and whose stories are simply discarded because they are seen as less valuable. Furthermore, the panelists described residential schools as a way for Europeans to ensure that their ideas appeared as the ultimate truth, whereas the ideas, values, and traditions of Indigenous peoples were seen as invalid or false.
We’re not going to try through this reflection to say who has the truth, or even if “the truth” as a concept exists. However, we think that being willing to consider that there is more than one way of understanding things is a helpful challenge in the process of decolonization. Colonization was a process of occupying Indigenous lands over a period of a few hundred years. Colonialism, on the other hand, is a persistent ideology that occupies hearts and minds and that serves to legitimize the domination of one group over another. Decolonization then will be a process that will take time. It will begin when we choose to listen to other peoples’ stories and let them transform us; change the way we think and act and be in relationship with each other.
Acknowledging the wisdom in Indigenous knowledge resists the colonial notion of one single truth. Sharing wisdom is important to reconciliation, or the process of building good relationships, because it resists shallow and empty narratives of one history to include the diversity of peoples needed to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and self-determination. This to us is exactly what the TRC is meant to accomplish.