Truth & Reconciliation

  • National Day for Truth and Reconciliation- Sept. 30, 2022 by Jan Beaver

What is Reconciliation when it comes to Canada’s relationship with Indigenous People?

It is a relationship of balance and mutual respect so we can all live together in ways that foster strong healthy sustainable indigenous nations within a strong Canada. It is also acknowledging the cruel atrocity that was the Indian Residential School system which has traumatized Indigenous peoples all across Canada. The reliving of these memories for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission re-traumatized survivors in significant ways. After the TRC ended there was no funding for healing supports for those retraumatized by this process. There will be no reconciliation as long as the government continues to think of it as benevolence rather than human rights. We need to go beyond benevolence and acknowledgment to action, supporting the healing journeys of Indigenous peoples affected by this horror.

How did we get here in this place of Truth and Reconciliation?

As early as 1907, a report by Dr. Peter Bryce outlined overcrowded schools with poor ventilation in 35 Indian Residential Schools investigated in western Canada. Such conditions led to very high rates of contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis. Death rates for Indigenous children ranged from 25 to 69% in those schools. This report was submitted to the bureaucrats of the Department of Indian Affairs led by Duncan Campbell Scott. The report was deliberately ignored and none of the recommendations were implemented. 

Between 1867 and 1886, the Canadian state abducted more than 150,000 Indigenous children from their families, forcing them into Indian Residential Schools in a campaign of forced assimilation. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission {TRC) was formed in 2008 after a $2 Billion class action settlement to survivors of Indian Residential Schools. Dec. 2015 published it 6 volume report on Truth and Reconciliation containing 94 Calls to Action (CTA) covering Children and Youth, Language and Culture, Health, Justice in the legal system, History and Commemoration and Reconciliation.

One of the results of those CTA was the introduction of Bill C-29 in June of 2022, which called for the establishment of a Nation Council for Reconciliation to monitor progress towards reconciliation in all sectors of Canadian society and by all governments in Canada and the implementation of the CTA.

As of April of 2022, the Federal Government is directly or jointly accountable for 78 of the 94 Calls to Action. Depending on who you ask anywhere from 7 (CBC, Yellowhead Institute, and Indigenous Watchdog) to 17 (Federal Government) of those CTA have been addressed.

CTA 1-42 are referred to as Legacy CTA addressing history and atrocities of IRS.

CTA 43-94 are referred to as the Reconciliation CTA calling for dismantling of systemic racism, improved living conditions for IP, and thorough honest education to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

My Family’s Story

You might not think that Canada is a country based on systemic racism but it most certainly is, for example, in foster care, 62.2% of the children are Indigenous buey are only 7.7% of the general population of Canada. In federal prisons 32% of inmates are Indigenous but they are only 5% of the general population. 

In 1847,  Rev. Dr. Egerton Ryerson recommended the establishment of manual training or industrial school to promote the moral social and intellectual improvement of Indian. As a result, in 1848 an Industrial School was built on Alderville under the supervision of Methodist missionaries. Having this school at Alderville still didn’t prevent children from being taken away from Alderville. 

In 1920 under the Indian Act, it became mandatory for every Indigenous child to attend a residential school and it became illegal for them to attend any other educational institution. Loss of language and cultural genocide intensified during this terrible time. 

My Mom told me that in her family, her Mom and Dad would stop speaking Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwa) whenever the children came in house because children who spoke Anishinaabemowin were very likely to be taken away from Alderville. Men would come onto our reserve to take the children far away to residential school in Munsee near London. Once my Grandma Bertie Beaver faced those men with my Grandpa Ross’ shotgun. She said she had a gun and she knew how to use  it. The men quickly left. 

Our family was also negatively impacted by a process in the Indian Act called Compulsory Enfrachisement. Our family  lost all of their rights as Status Indians due to compulsory enfranchisement because my father enlisted to serve in the Royal Air Force in World War II. It is estimated that 7000 First Nation people enlisted in WWI, WII, and the Korean War so they were all subjected to compulsory enfranchisement. In addition, Indigenous soldiers did not receive any of the compensation that other soldiers received when they returned home to help them get back on their feet at home. Those veterans (and spouses) still alive  were not compensated until 2003.

Indian Act changed in 1985 with Bill C31 and our family got our rights back. We have the United Nations Human Rights Committee and Indigenous female activists like Mary Two-Axe Earley, Yvonne Bédard, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell and Sandra Lovelace Nicholas for their work to shine  the light of truth on the discrimination in the Indian Act back in those days to get things changed.  

Why do we have a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

This day gives everyone, Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, a time to learn the true history of Canada with regard to IRS and reflect on all of the ways in which we can build mutually respectful relationships. It gives time for Canadians to hear from IPs about their experiences with the IRS system and its impact on subsequent generations.

As a result of CTA 72 which recommended the creation of a death register and a public-facing memorial register, it has been determined that as of Sept 29, 2021, National Centre for T&R has documented 4118 children who died at IRS…and that is after going through only about 1/5 of the records held by the NCT&R.

Ground penetrating radar has been launched at 17 residential school sites and 9 have been completed documenting 1300 potential unmarked burials. As of May 2022, 2207 unmarked graves have been discovered outside of IRS since the 1970s. It is important to note that IPs have been calling for these investigations at IRs sites to be treated as crime scenes.

What can we do to embrace Reconciliation?

We can listen to the stories of survivors of the Indian Residential Schools.

We need to understand that the families of the thousands of children who died at IRS are still dealing with the crushing effects of this trauma. Put yourselves in their place for this moment. Think about your own children and how you would feel if they were taken away in this cruel inhuman manner, never to be seen alive again.

We need to commit to change attitudes, behaviors and thinking about IPs. There must also be changes in education, power structures, laws, authorities and control of money to educate Canadians and deepen their understanding of the history, culture and inherent rights of Indigenous people in order to make life more equitable for them.

We must speak up when we see things happen that are not fair, just or respectful to IPs.

As Murray Sinclair has said, It has taken us all 7 generations to get into this mess and it will take us 7 generations to correct it IF there is the will to do it.

Jan Beaver

Yellow Cloud Woman

Bear Clan

Alderville First Nation

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