In the spring of 2008, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) released From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools. It was released to coincide with “Remembering the Children: An Aboriginal and Church Leaders’ Tour to Prepare for Truth and Reconciliation.”1 This initiative, led by the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and, along with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the spiritual leaders of the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United churches, sought to promote the work of the upcoming Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In announcing the tour, organizers said the following:
We believe it is essential that Canadians pay close attention to this process of truth telling?… This is the opportunity for all of us to hear the voices of the children who attended residential schools, to listen to their stories, and to learn, maybe for the first time, of the impact that residential schools have had on Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.2
The release goes on to say that the Aboriginal and church leaders hope the tour would raise awareness about the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and help to educate both church members and other Canadians about the legacy of residential schools and the impacts of colonization on Aboriginal people and their communities. “We see this tour as an opportunity to model what a new and positive relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people might look like.”3
The tour and the AHF’s publication From Truth to Reconciliation were neither conceived together nor designed for the other’s benefit. They were coincidentally conceived and came about through processes germane to the respective parties involved. From Truth to Reconciliation began in the summer of 2007 as an AHF Research initiative designed to address the AHF’s stated commitments to reconciliation:
We see our role as facilitators in the healing process by helping Aboriginal people help themselves, by providing resources for healing initiatives, by promoting awareness of healing issues and needs, and by nurturing a supportive public environment. We also work to engage Canadians in this healing process by encouraging them to walk with us on the path of reconciliation.
Ours is a holistic approach. Our goal is to help create, reinforce and sustain conditions conducive to healing, reconciliation and self determination?…
We emphasize approaches that address the needs of Aboriginal individuals, families and the broader community. We view prevention of future abuse, and the process of reconciliation between victims and offenders, and between Aboriginal people and Canadians as vital elements in building healthy, sustainable communities.4
As the editors of From Truth to Reconciliation pointed out in their introduction to the volume, the AHF “has encountered many gifted individuals whose life and work have been dedicated to promoting justice and reconciliation in individual, community, and societal relationships here in Canada and abroad.”5 A compelling cross-section of such individuals were invited to offer their personal perspectives on truth and reconciliation as the many interested parties awaited with anticipation the final approval of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which would include what many considered to be its flagship component, the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
As copy rolled in that summer and fall, the editorial committee noted the significant, but expected, passing of these key milestones, notably 17 September 2007, the day the Agreement came into effect and the Government of Canada began receiving applications for the common experience payment, another core component of the Agreement. But there was one surprise in store.
In her Speech from the Throne on 16 October 2007, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, the Governor General of Canada, said, “Our Government recently concluded a final settlement on Indian Residential Schools and will launch a commission for truth and reconciliation. The Prime Minister, on behalf of our Government, will use this occasion to make a statement of apology to close this sad chapter in our history.”6
The editorial committee had certainly expected contributors to tackle the subject of apologies, discuss the nature of?“this sad chapter,” and offer opinions on what appropriate action would be required to address the legacy of residential schools. Contributors to the first volume did not disappoint. Several articles detail the power, possibilities, challenges, and failings of apologies specific to residential schools in Canada—notably those proffered by the churches and the Government of Canada’s 1998 Statement of Reconciliation—and to others more generally.
With the Governor General’s words, the emotional tenor in communities across Canada seemed to rise, even in an already charged atmosphere. This was exacerbated by the fact that no further details were offered in the speech or in the media buzz that followed. There was a clamouring for details, even for insights into basic procedural matters, and a sense that people wanted to begin to debate the big issues of apology and forgiveness. Instead, the conversation—in the form, primarily, of media coverage—was focused on past efforts at government apology and statements made by the government about the relationship between apology and the work of the TRC, with the need for that process to play out first and foremost.
Then, on 13 February 2008, Canadians watched as Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology for past wrongs committed by successive Australian governments against its Indigenous population. Prime Minister Rudd apologized in Parliament to all Aborigines for laws and policies that “inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss.”7 He singled out the Stolen Generations of thousands of children forcibly removed from their families. Canadians watched as Australia’s Aboriginal peoples responded, some with mixed reaction. Absent, these detractors noted, was any commitment to compensation.
In Canada, meanwhile, compensation was being administered in the form of the common experience payment, and information was circulating about the subsequent individual compensation component, the independent assessment process for physical and sexual abuse claims. To some, though, there was a void. There were varying degrees of awareness of the Agreement and its components. Many felt the TRC, in particular, had a low profile outside of the parties to the Agreement and partner organizations involved in related issues, through no fault of the TRC itself, which was only just beginning to staff an office in preparation for the incoming chair and two commissioners. The organizers of the “Remembering the Children” initiative stepped into this void and, while From Truth to Reconciliation was well along in its development, the editorial committee did note the synergistic possibilities of these recent developments. In short order, the tour, an initiative independent from the government and TRC, welcomed the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s contribution to the truth and reconciliation discourse and included the volume as part of its multi-city tour. And so, on Sunday, 2 March 2008, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation launched From Truth to Reconciliation.
There are numerous ways one may read that title. One titular concept—a sense of movement from truth (or from more than one truth) to and through reconciliation—was nicely articulated in Jennifer Llewellyn’s article, “Bridging the Gap between Truth and Reconciliation: Restorative Justice and the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” which highlighted a key challenge faced by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, one likely to be replicated in Canada: “As the TRC begins its journey, it must figure out how to navigate the complex and difficult road of?‘truth’ and map a course toward reconciliation. In doing so, it will face the substantial challenge that others who have travelled this path before have encountered: bridging the gap between truth and reconciliation.”8 To date, over 10,000 copies of From Truth to Reconciliation in both official languages have been distributed across Canada and internationally, and response to the volume has been overwhelmingly positive.
Issues related to the TRC and its mandate continued to percolate, and perceptions continued to be varied as all parties awaited the major milestones of the TRC launch and delivery of the apology. Eventually, an announcement was made that the Government of Canada’s official apology would be made on 11 June 2008, but details, again, were scarce. Would the Prime Minister deliver the apology in the House of Commons? What role would residential school Survivors, their families, communities, friends, and supporters play in the development, delivery, and reception of the apology? How would Canadians receive and perceive the apology?
That auspicious occasion answered many of those questions, but as one may well have expected, of course, it was now open season on response and opinion. So, in the summer of 2008, the AHF decided to commission a second set of articles from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal individuals in Canada and abroad to continue to promote the truth and reconciliation discourse, particularly the many challenging issues being raised given the significant developments in the few short months between the release of the first volume and the decision to embark on a new round of commentary. The first volume was intended as an opportunity to float some big ideas concerning truth and reconciliation, targeted, in part, at incoming commissioners, who would doubtlessly be bogged down, at least for a short while, with the practicalities of leading a new commission. Others, meanwhile, concentrated on promoting the TRC itself and the work it was expected to do.
This second volume was initially seen as an opportunity for new authors to continue to probe, promote, or put forth big ideas about truth and reconciliation and to respond to those ideas already out there; yet again, unexpected developments occurred. On 20 October 2008, mere months after the TRC was launched and its leaders appointed with great fanfare, Justice Harry LaForme resigned as chair of the TRC, followed shortly thereafter by commissioners Jane Brewin Morley and Claudette Dumont-Smith. Subsequently, the TRC entered what may be called a holding pattern. A new void was, to some, palpable. Many noted that some Survivors have passed on from this world in the months since the launch of the TRC on 1 June 2008, the government apology that followed ten days later, and these announcements. This new void also forced communities to wait, yet again, for answers to questions large and small, philosophical and practical.
This void, like others before it, was pierced by action. As with the “Remembering the Children” initiative—itself a response to questions about how, when, and where the TRC would begin to act—there have been grassroots truth and reconciliation initiatives. Gregory Younging, a member of the editorial committee for this volume, was part of the University of British Columbia Okanagan and Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society’s 20 March 2009 “Reconciliation: History and Future in Our Midst” event. Like other events that have been held during the months since the TRC was announced, the community was inspired to begin the truth and reconciliation discourse in its own backyard with friends and neighbours—with or without a formal connection to the TRC. Several of the authors featured in this volume have been similarly involved in their communities at the community level, sometimes promoting, sometimes challenging the work ahead of all parties to reconciliation. That commitment to identifying the issues, sharing ideas, making recommendations, meeting challenges, and challenging the status quo is evident throughout this volume.
And here we are, yet again, putting forth a volume into an arena of waiting hands and, hopefully, open minds. We hope to reach many—those involved in the discourse already and those coming to concepts of truth and reconciliation in this historic Canadian context for the first time. The incoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair and commissioners, whose appointments are expected to be announced as we go to print, will meet similar circumstances but with vastly heightened expectations. This context is important; but it is the ideas like those expressed in the following pages that should carry the most weight with the newly constituted TRC. As with the first volume, we see movement and momentum, possibilities and potential, but also challenges. As such, we have titled this volume Response, Responsibility, and Renewal: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Journey.
This volume, like the first, presents with each paper a short biography of the author. The editorial committee has edited with a light hand, as our intent was to offer authors an opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions. The articles are grouped thematically within three sections; however, we acknowledge and, in fact, delight in the way many of these pieces overlap and intersect with others. To that end, the section titles reflect these possibilities, and we invite readers to journey through yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s challenges and achievements.
Section 1: History in Our Midst has a strong historical component with an emphasis on its place within our lives today. Jose Kusugak offers a vividly descriptive account of his and his brother’s residential school experiences, of being “taken” and of returning home, and concludes with a thoughtful take on the good times and bad times. In the wake of the 2008 apology, Rene Dussault reminds the reader that “it remains just as urgent that Canada re-examine the very foundations of its relationship with Aboriginal peoples” and revisits the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) and the detailed 20-year strategy it proposed to restore the social, economic, and political health of Aboriginal peoples in redefining their relationship with the rest of Canada.
Sophie Pierre tells the story of the St. Eugene Mission Resort and a community’s determination to change the legacy of residential schools, at least one school in particular, into something positive that would benefit the community for generations to come. James Igloliorte tells the story of Labrador Inuit and a different, less well-known apology, and he places their experiences within the larger reconciliation discourse.
Susan Crean writes about the need to take ownership of our history to truly participate in reconciliation efforts. She highlights her friendship with Métis writer Howard Adams and her own Anglo-Canadian identity and connection to the Northwest Rebellion when her great-uncle went to fight against Louis Riel at Duck Lake. She does this to underscore the personal-within history. Rita Flamand writes about growing up Michif by recounting her day school experience, highlighting the important similarities and distinctions between the Métis experience with residential schools and church and government influences. She calls for a telling of the “true history of Métis people.”
Ian MacKenzie writes “Now is the time to heal” from his position as a founding member of the Centre for Indian Scholars, promoting the interface of Christianity and First Nations traditional religions. For Drew Hayden Taylor, satire is good medicine. He takes a humourous approach to the Prime Minister’s apology, but asks us to consider some complex questions about apologies and forgiveness and where we all go from here. Mick Dodson offers an Aboriginal Australian perspective on that country’s experience with apology. He, too, asks where one goes next—post-apology—noting that not only was it “a marginally transformative experience for Australia,” but “a fundamental step in building a respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens.” He highlights the need to address unfinished business and closes with a most recent development that may well be yet another fundamental step forward.
Readers will notice that the title of the following section—Section 2: Reconciliation, Restitution, Rhetoric—bears at least an alliterative resemblance to the volume’s title, with its three Rs. As with Response, Responsibility, and Renewal, there is a sense of promise in recent words and deeds. There are also processes and problems to consider.
Heather Igloliorte writes about Inuit art and artists and the “power of visual art to speak across linguistic, cultural, and generational divides.” She claims that this presents “an opportunity for artists to tell these stories to a broad audience and to support the continued strengthening and revitalization of the national reconciliation process.” Richard Wagamese writes about his experience with the child welfare system and the intergenerational effects of residential schools. He stresses the importance of personal reconciliation, the experiences of “people who fought against the resentment, hatred, and anger and found a sense of peace,” and the need for the Commission to hear these truths.
Peter Harrison writes about the major challenge facing the TRC, which is coping with ignorance at its most basic levels by dispelling myths about both the history of the policies and the present landscape of settlement agreements and compensation. Scott Serson, like Dussault in Section 1, revisits the RCAP report, but focuses on Canada’s response, Gathering Strength—Canada’s Aboriginal Action Plan, highlighting its four objectives: renewing partnerships; strengthening governance; developing a new fiscal relationship; and supporting strong communities, people, and economies. He asks the reader to first consider Canada’s words and actions since 1998 and then to consider reconciliation and fiscal fairness.
Taiaiake Alfred pulls no punches, calling reconciliation “an emasculating concept, weak-kneed and easily accepting of half-hearted measures of a notion of justice that does nothing to help Indigenous peoples regain their dignity and strength,” and argues for a restitution discourse to address the crime of colonialism. Waziyatawin, too, places residential schools within the larger colonial project and calls for bigger solutions. She offers practical steps for addressing “the crimes of land theft, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and colonization” in the Dakota homeland of Minisota Makoce.
David Hollinsworth looks critically at Australia’s apology and calls for Australia to act to ensure genuine reparations and healing for all those damaged by past policies and practices. Roland Chrisjohn and Tanya Wasacase tackle the rhetoric of Canada’s apology and of the TRC mandate, arguing that “truth and reconciliation are not justice, and the Commission will not produce justice even if successful in its mandate.”
Section 3: Tomorrow’s History opens with the remarks made by the Most Reverend Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario, on 2 March 2008 during “Remembering the Children: An Aboriginal and Church Leaders’ Tour to Prepare for Truth and Reconciliation,” saying “As churches we have so much for which to be so sorry” and pledging to live the words of apology.
Valerie Galley argues that a commitment to reconciliation must include a commitment to revitalize and protect Aboriginal languages. Mari Tanaka presents her perspective as a new immigrant to Canada and writes of learning about residential schools and the impact it had on her as she sought to develop her own identity as both Canadian and Japanese.
Erin Wolski offers the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s culturally relevant gender-based analysis framework as a tool the TRC should consider and use as it seeks to serve the needs of Aboriginal women and to represent their unique experiences. Natalie A. Chambers reflects on her experiences as an immigrant woman living on-reserve. She urges other settler peoples to engage in critical self-examination as a first step in the process of working through their roles as colonizers in the past so that all may imagine a better future for generations.
John Ralston Saul writes, “Reconciliation can only begin when the people of Canada collectively wish it.” He details the optimism he has encountered across the country, building towards a “new consensus,” but identifies four barriers that still stand in the way. Finally, Gregory Younging describes his own intergenerational experience with residential schools and his connection to this experience through his mother and her work as well as his own academic and activist work.
The conclusion by the editorial team, without attempting to summarize or reiterate the insights, recommendations, and personal experiences so ably articulated by the authors, considers the concept of history that is past, present, and future in light of the very particular context of recent events.
- See the website: Remembering the Children: An Aboriginal and Church Leaders’ Tour to Prepare for Truth and Reconciliation. Retrieved 21 April 2009 from: www.rememberingthechildren.ca ↩
- David MacDonald cited in “Remembering the Children: An Aboriginal and Church Leaders’ Tour to prepare for Truth and Reconciliation,” press release, Toronto, ON. Retrieved 21 April 2009 from: http://www.rememberingthechildren.ca/press/2008-02-15.htm ↩
- Cited in Remembering the Children: An Aboriginal and Church Leaders’ Tour to Prepare for Truth and Reconciliation, see note #2. ↩
- Aboriginal Healing Foundation (2001:9). Aboriginal Healing Foundation Program Handbook, Third Edition. Ottawa, ON: Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The vision, mission, and values can also be found on the AHF website at: http://www.ahf.ca/about-us/mission ↩
- Castellano, Marlene Brant, Linda Archibald, and Mike DeGagné (2008:4). “Introduction.” In Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald, and Mike DeGagné (eds.), From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools. Ottawa, ON: Aboriginal Healing Foundation:1–8. ↩
- ean, The Honourable Michaëlle (2007). Governor General’s Speech from the Throne to open the second session, thirty-ninth Parliament of Canada on 16 October 2007. Retrieved 21 April 2009 from: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Documents/ThroneSpeech/39-2-e.html ↩
- Rudd, The Honourable Kevin (2008). Prime Minister of Australia Speech – Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples. House of Representatives, Parliament House, 13 February 2008. Canberra, AU: Prime Minister of Australia. Retrieved 21 August 2008 from: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Speech/2008/speech_0073.cfm ↩
- Llewellyn, Jennifer (2008:186). Bridging the Gap Between Truth and Reconciliation: Restorative Justice and the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald, and Mike DeGagné (eds.), From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools. Ottawa, ON: Aboriginal Healing Foundation: 183–201. ↩