Reconciliation is about who we are; we can’t deny or unknow the harm of residential schools. These words rang through the People’s Hall at the Legislative Assembly on November 10th. That’s when Yellowknifer Marie Wilson presented her reflections as a commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Wilson was unstinting in describing the harm of residential schools, from discussing the 4,000 “lost” children who died at the schools to the systematic policy of assimilation Ottawa pursued for seven generations. She was also inspiring in talking about decisions individual survivors have made to “forgive and live,” despite the harm done.
It is time for a new relationship between indigenous people and the rest of Canadian society. Whether this new relationship is captured in a rewritten Royal Proclamation, as Wilson suggests, or informally, I agree that it’s time to create a new, inclusive relationship with the original Canadians. This relationship can be achieved in all kinds of ways. For example, it’s important to teach about the residential school experience in school curriculum (which happens in the NWT and for which GNWT is a leader in Canada).
The calls to action in the final TRC report released in June ask all of us to close the gap between the experience of indigenous people and that of the rest of Canada. Whether we are talking about access to clean drinking water, health, wealth, education or housing, the needs of indigenous people have never been adequately met. It’s our job to ask our leaders to work actively on reconciliation, where we can know one another as equals. Thank you, Marie Wilson, for the important work you helped to do to bring this issue to the forefront of Canadian life.