We can start to reconcile now


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Two weeks have passed since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its findings, since I had the honour of being packed into the ballroom of the Delta hotel in downtown Ottawa for the momentous occasion.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/06/2015 (2846 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two weeks have passed since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its findings, since I had the honour of being packed into the ballroom of the Delta hotel in downtown Ottawa for the momentous occasion.

I lucked out and got to sit tucked on the floor at the feet of residential school survivor and self-described victor Ted Fontaine, one of many indigenous leaders from Manitoba in the room.

I cannot shake the feeling of that event, nor do I want to.

To me, the feeling was one of great possibility — possibility mixed with the deep sadness and pain that led to the TRC in the first place.

Survivors did not merely survive: they created the TRC through their strength and determination to have their experiences of residential schools acknowledged and remembered. Dare we hope that their legacy will be the transformation of our society?

During his remarks in Ottawa, commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair used all the words necessary to put the residential school system into the context in which it makes sense: colonialism, imperialism, racism, genocide. Justice Sinclair also said it will take all of us to build relationships of mutual respect between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in this land. Others have echoed his points, and we have seen calls in this newspaper and others for Canadians to step up and continue the work started by survivors and the TRC.

But what specifically can we Winnipeggers do right now?

Justice Sinclair once said: “the road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts. When it comes to truth and reconciliation, we are all forced to go the distance.”

Many indigenous people in Winnipeg have been travelling this road for years, and are helping the rest of us along it.

We might think of the photos in KC Adams’s series Perception that challenge racist stereotypes of indigenous people; Katherena Vermette’s beautiful poems about the North End; the walk to honour Tina Fontaine; the effort initiated by Bernadette Smith to Drag the Red; and the Round Dances in Polo Park and at Portage and Main.

There may not be shortcuts on the road to reconciliation, but neither is there a shortage of strong indigenous community members leading the way through art, education and action.

For those not yet on that road, the TRC’s findings provide the necessary fuel to get going. And the commission’s calls to action give us a destination: meaningful reconciliation, which includes restitution.

But for those thinking about what they could do now, here are three suggestions:

1) Read the TRC findings. There are a number of clearly written and helpful reports available to download free through the TRC website (trc.ca). No matter how much you already know, you will learn something here. If you would rather watch than read, go to Youtube and search “read the report” with any one of these names: Chelsea Vowel, Zoe Todd, Erica Violet Lee or Joseph Murdoch-Flowers.

2) Challenge colonial thinking. If you find yourself thinking, saying or hearing sentences that begin with “we are like this…” or “they are like this…” simply stop, and reread the TRC reports. They will teach you, or remind you, that our educational system, including but not limited to residential schools, made colonial thinking appear to make common sense. We can undo the training that taught us about “them” and “us,” of aboriginal inferiority and settler superiority. That training was damaging, and also just plain wrong.

3) Listen to the indigenous leaders, including survivors, who speak regularly in our community, for example through the Treaty Relations Commission and at Neechi Commons. It is an incredible testament to the strength of indigenous communities that lived through a system designed to destroy their cultures through the removal of their children failed. It is a gift that people are willing to speak about their experiences, to share their knowledge and ideas for how we might live well together. We would be foolish not to accept it.

We might have different ideas about what reconciliation looks like, and that is why the road is as important as the destination. By listening and learning, by beginning to travel that road, we can work together to make the changes our society desperately needs.

Jocelyn Thorpe is an assistant professor in women’s and gender studies at the University of Manitoba. She researches the history and legacies of colonialism in the Canadian context.

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