By Emily Rafuse
Accessibility and Human Rights Intern, 4th year English Major
*As a settler, I cannot write this article without acknowledging the fact that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I am privileged to need to learn about the history of residential schools and truth and reconciliation rather than having experienced it myself or having had a family member experience any of it. If you are reading this as someone who is not Indigenous or First Nations, then so are you. *
What is truth and reconciliation?
Why do they matter?
Isn’t this just another day off?
These are all questions that I’ve heard lately with the new designation of September 30th, Truth and Reconciliation Day as a statutory holiday in Nova Scotia and across most of the country.
However, this isn’t just another day off in our busy schedules. This is a day we should care about. We do not exist in a bubble. Our actions affect those around us. The words that we use, our behaviours, and our attitudes all have the power to hurt or help others. This is not about being a good or bad person, this is about acknowledging the power we have as individuals and using that power to make the world into a better place than the one we have inherited.
Truth and reconciliation are words that we have all heard, whether in grade school, university, or even just this past summer. But what do they mean?
In this context, when we say “truth,” we mean acknowledging the atrocities committed in the so-called “schools.” On September 24th, 2021, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops officially apologized for their role in the residential school system This is a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. Recognizing and acknowledging the harm done is the first step towards reconciliation. Honouring the truth is the first step.
However, this day is not only about recognizing residential schools, but also about the greater genocide attempted by the Canadian government and settler communities, as well as the 60s scoop that saw government welfare agencies taking Indigenous children away from their families in order to further eradicate Indigenous culture and language.
Reconciliation will follow truth and understanding, because we must accept the reality that has faced Indigenous communities since the 1800’s (and continue to this day) before we can begin to rebuild the relationship between Indigenous communities and settler communities.
Reconciliation is about a relationship of mutual trust and respect, and until we have the truth, and until we dismantle the obstacles and barriers facing Indigenous communities, we cannot have reconciliation. Here is the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which defines reconciliation as the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation defines it. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation database that provides other reports will be linked below, labeled “all reports from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.”
This past summer the bodies of children who attended the 139 residential schools across the country have finally been discovered. Discoveries are ongoing, though with less media coverage. As of September 21st, 2021, over 6000 bodies have been found at the sites of various “schools.” This tells us that the body count of the residential schools is a lot higher than what “we” (white settlers) wanted to believe and were taught in school, according to this article by The Guardian.
As Canadians, it is important to be aware of our history and not to fall into apathy because “we didn’t do it,” or because it “happened before we were born.” The last residential school closed in 1997, three years before anyone born in 2000 was born (fourth years), six years before anyone born in 2003 was born (first years).
This is not ancient history, and it is necessary and important that no matter where we were born, we learn about and acknowledge not only the residential schools and the horrors that occurred there, but also to recognize the trauma that is ongoing in the lives of those who survived the schools.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared that the residential school system was a cultural genocide of Indigenous People throughout Canada. The government has pledged to help with searching residential school grounds. This is a start, but what can we do as individuals?
These are events that are going on online and in Wolfville for Truth and Reconciliation Day:
Juksutui Learning Challenge on Acorn:
We challenge you to take up a learning opportunity before or on the first-ever National Day of Truth and Reconciliation across Canada on September 30th, 2021.
We’re inviting you to learn the basics about Indigenous peoples in Canada, including very short videos filmed with Mi’kmaw community members this summer.
Click here to dive into this learning opportunity, called Jiksutui (Mi’kmaw for ‘listen to me’).
You can access the challenge through the link here!
***Art in this newsletter: https://www.urbaniskwew.com/coloring-pages
Hawlii Pichette of Urban Iskwew is a Mushkego Cree iskwew artist and illustrator from Peetabeck Treaty 9 territory who currently resides in London ON. Born and raised off reserve in the small community of Cochrane, located in northeastern Ontario. Her work is deeply influenced by her culture, upbringing, and reflects the beautiful integral interconnections of the natural world.
Books that talk about Truth and Reconciliation:
Resources for Students:
Polly Leonard - Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer
Polly Leonard, MSW RSW (she/her/hers)
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer
Bancroft House, Room 103
Wolfville, NS, B4P 2R6