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This article was published 1/6/2015 (2172 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Reconciling will be difficult as long as indigenous people are mired in poverty, illness and violence, said the First Nations elder who kicked off Winnipeg’s Truth and Reconciliation events.
Margaret Lavalee, a residential school survivor herself, said she was speaking with elders yesterday in her home reserve of Sagkeeng First Nation and they questioned whether it’s up to First Nations, who welcomed colonial settlers to Canada with friendship, to now reconcile.
Speaking to about 150 people gathered on the lawn of the University of Winnipeg, Lavalee pointed to "never-ending" poverty among indigenous people, a child welfare system that removes kids from home, health problems such as diabetes, and seemingly endless cases of missing or murdered women.
"So how do we reconcile with the government, when nothing is being done to help support our children?" asked Lavalee.
Lavalee, the U of W’s elder, kicked off the gathering at the University of Winnipeg this morning to watch a live-feed of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation’s final report in Ottawa. Commission Chair Murray Sinclair, a Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench justice, is expected to lay out a series of recommendations that touch on education, the broken state of relations between Canada and indigenous people and ways to foster reconciliation.
Speaking to more than 200 people gathered in the U of W’s cafeteria, Premier Greg Selinger said the report reveals an important truth about Canada’s history.
"When I used to teach and brought it up, it was "couldn’t have happened." Complete denial. And that was less than two decades ago," said Selinger. "We have a solemn obligation to go back on that journey of reconciliation."
Mayor Brian Bowman said his thanks to the survivors for speaking out doesn’t seem quite enough.
"I cannot imagine the darkness many of you have had to revisit," he said. Bowman said the courage survivors have shown is invaluable to the nation, and to the next generation.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak delivered tougher remarks, saying many wonder how reconciliation is possible with so many missing women and so many indigenous children in state care.
"I’m going to tell you right now it’s going to take a long time to deconstruct these institution that have been galvanized by systemic racism," said Nepinak, who heads the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. "The atrocities of yesterday are happening right now…. The colonial patterns are still there."
Nepinak called on Canada to use the TRC’s recommendations to "make changes within this lifetime," so another TRC isn’t needed in a few decades.
Residential school survivor and teacher Caroline Ouskun said she agreed with the TRC’s recommendation to reform the child welfare system. She said many aboriginal children in care suffer the same trauma as residential school survivors.
And, she agreed with the TRC’s commissioners that residential schools amounted to a cultural genocide.
"You can’t call it anything else," said Ouskun, who is from Split Lake First Nation. "Talk to the survivors and you’ll know."
Ouskun was one of a handful of survivors who stood to be acknowledged during Tuesday’s gathering. Using a walker, she needed the help of her nephew, Travis Spence, who also greeted her when she nervously walked in the packed U of W cafeteria.
Ouskun, who has five children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, said she was also struck by the words of TRC commissioner Wilton Littlechild, who said seven words could help heal families and reconcile Canadians.
"I’m sorry. I love you. Thank you," repeated Ouskun. "We still have a hard time saying those words... Hugs, kisses. Birthdays. Thank you for putting up with me as a survivor."
After survivors and their supporters watch the report’s release, they will walk from the university to Thunderbird House, though rain is expected. Thunderbird House is hosting a feast starting at about 1 p.m.