Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Truth needs talking about

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Today is the last day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's national event being held at The Forks, but it doesn't mean everything is over. It's a new beginning for all of us.

Now it's up to all Canadians to take the opportunity to understand a sad era in our history, as well as see the resilience that now exists in the aboriginal community.

The TRC events aren't just about residential school students and staff sharing their stories, or a chance to enjoy cultural activities. It's also about moving forward together and building a relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people by acknowledging what was once never discussed.

For those who are doubtful or not familiar with it, the United Nations defines genocide "as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, and e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

These things happened at residential schools.

For more than 100 years, a cultural genocide was waged against First Nations children and its aftermath continues to send shockwaves through our communities today. Just read the newspaper, take a ride down Main Street, look at our Child and Family Services agencies, our jails, or pay a visit to the local youth centre and you'll see the damage is far-reaching.

Healing doesn't happen overnight. But there is hope. Many began healing years ago, but it may take generations to erase the damage that's been done to us, as well as the damage we've inflicted on each other.

The TRC events weren't without criticism from the aboriginal community either. Some groups felt it was a whitewashing of the crimes that occurred at those schools, and that the perpetrators of those crimes should be held criminally responsible.

One of the more important things to come out of the event was students talking about the children that never went home; who died at residential schools and were buried -- often in unmarked graves -- near the schools. They could number in the thousands and deserve further investigation.

Still others felt the TRC event was a waste of money that would be better spent on residential school healing programs that are now running out of cash.

And not all survivors had the same experience or are willing to share their memories, but that's alright. Some survivors weren't able to come because of financial or health issues.

All these points are valid, yet the TRC cannot possibly satisfy them all. Many of those points are similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was held in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. The TRC cannot solve everything.

The brunt of the work must be done by all of us. The discussion has begun and we must continue to talk about it. This is why other TRC events -- six more nationally -- will be held over the next few years.

Maybe with increased awareness, further funding for healing initiatives can be found, especially for remote communities.

Hearing those voices before they are gone forever is of the utmost importance.

We cannot stop now, or ever go back to that dark place where we once considered a race of people to be inferior to another. We must learn from the past for the good of all.

Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2010 A16

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