Reconciliation: From Truth to Action

A distinct challenge was put to delegates at today’s plenary session on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While the Commission’s work is coming to its end, the work of reconciliation is just beginning, and local governments have a central role to play in that ongoing journey.

Commissioner Dr. Marie Wilson discussed the origins and findings of the Commission, and how local governments can advance the process of reconciliation at the local level.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was historic, she said, not just in Canada, but in the world, as it was the victims of harm that took action by taking the federal government and the four national churches who ran the residential schools program to court in the largest class action in Canadian history. The TRC was subsequently established by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement in 2007.

Dr. Wilson described the voices and deep emotion of the people who shared their stories with the TRC. They visited 77 communities, organized seven national days, held 240 days of hearings, and received more than 7,000 statements, two-thirds of which were made public.

The Commission heard an unprecedented outpouring from Canada’s indigenous citizens and its TRC Findings, including the Survivors Speak document, is a devastating testament of an appalling regime of discrimination, violence and degradation. “We know of at least 3,200 children that never returned from the schools,” she said. This number is conservative and very carefully documented, she said.

Dr. Wilson described the “connective tissue” that binds the devastating impact of the residential school era to today’s poor social economic outcomes among indigenous peoples. Its legacy will be with us for a long time.

Much is yet to be done to address the gaps that persist in indigenous and non-native experiences in our country, including the disproportionate victimization of aboriginal women and girls, including the missing and murdered. There are more First Nations children in care today than there was at the peak the residential school program.

She reminded the plenary that the challenge and opportunity for relationship building is huge in B.C., with over 200 First Nation bands. How is it, she asked, that we can live together for almost 150 years and we are only now getting to know each other?

A major effort remains to educate the Canadian people and inspire the ongoing process of reconciliation, involving survivors, intergenerational survivors, members of religious orders and all Canadians citizens.

“Reconciliation is a beautiful word, it connects images of aspiration, of expectation and hope for a positive outcome.  It is all about creating something new, while fully recognizing the past.  Both parties need to address the situation in truth and understand its profound impact, learn lessons and then rebuild.” - Honourable David C. Onley, TRC Honorary Witness

Dr. Wilson directed delegates to the specific Calls to Action pertaining to local governments. The TRC’s document is comprised of 94 recommendations, detailing a number of specific actions for local and all orders of government to take, such as using the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework in the development of policy, indigenous cultural competency training for public servants, and memorializing missing and lost children through naming ceremonies and documents.

“We are all in this together was our opening message,” said Dr. Wilson. “Reconciliation will require leadership and the continuous and sustained efforts of all levels of government, indigenous and public leaders working together.”

The UBCM Assembly will consider a resolution in response the TRC’s Calls to Action later this week (resolution B106).

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