UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Cree students attend the Anglican-run Lac la Ronge Mission School in La Ronge, Sask. in 1949. Photo by Bud Glunz/National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada

Truth, reconciliation and remembrance

We may think that we know our history. But most of us still don't.

By Dennis Gruending

On June 2, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will release its report on the legacy of residential schools. The TRC was appointed by the federal government to examine the legacy of the schools back in 2008. It's documented what happened there and held events at which survivors came forward to tell their stories. Also in 2008, Prime Minister Harper and churches, which operated the schools on the government’s behalf, apologized to former residential school students, who have since received financial compensation.

We may think that we know our history. But, unfortunately, most of us do not. Perhaps my own life experience may serve to illustrate. I grew up in rural Saskatchewan, where Treaty Six — between the Crown and nations of the Plains Cree — was negotiated and signed in 1876. About 20 years later, my grandparents and others arrived as agricultural settlers. Our village was about 80 kilometres from Batoche, where the Metis made their last stand against the soldiers and militia of the Canadian government.

Amazingly, I grew up knowing nothing about the treaties or Batoche until I took a Grade 12 Canadian history course. In prairie communities, it was as though the First Nations people who preceded the Europeans never existed. History, it seemed, had begun only when the settlers arrived, and, invariably, comments about indigenous people in our community were negative.

There's no longer any excuse for prejudice or ignorance, if ever there was one. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People in 1991 described the history of oppression across Canada in exhaustive detail. There were a variety of instruments used in what's now seen as aggressive assimilation, including the Indian Act. But perhaps, residential schools were the cruelest manifestation. Beginning in the 1880s and continuing well into the 20th century, an estimated 150,000 Indian, Inuit and Metis children were removed — often forcibly — from their homes and placed in schools. They were punished for speaking their languages, lived in substandard conditions and endured physical, emotional and, in some cases, sexual abuse (I mourn as a parent when I think of that experience). Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC, says that the residential school system constituted genocide. And there's no harsher indictment for a nation.

Of course, many Canadians may believe that we've put this all behind us and that we should move on. We know, however, from United Nations studies, media reports, the stories of survivors and from our own experience that indigenous people in Canada are still being left behind. We need altered political, regulatory and economic arrangements, not to mention a change of heart if we're ever to move forward together.   

Ecumenical group KAIROS aims at just that. During the months of May and June, it's holding TRC-related events in Ottawa and across the country.

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image