Truth and Reconciliation: A Reflection by Connor Sarazin
What is the meaning behind Truth and Reconciliation? It is all about discovering and revealing governments’ past wrongdoings. With the truth revealed, repairing and establishing a respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada can move forward.
The legacy of the Indian Residential Schools lives on for Indigenous Peoples. In 1870, the Canadian government partnered with numerous churches to assimilate, civilize and make everyone live a European lifestyle. For the First Nations people, this meant giving up their traditions, beliefs, and complete way of life that didn’t align with the new settlers.
Many people say that it wasn’t them, their children or their parents who were responsible for the Residential Schools so why are they being made to feel guilty about it? I believe the point is being completely missed. It isn’t about blame or guilt it is all about shedding light on the truth. The truth of what the Canadian government in partnership with the churches did to an entire nation of people. It is education for newcomers and settlers alike. So they can better understand and empathize with a group of people who struggled for generations, and continue to struggle, to simply be who they are, find their true selves and the balance between living true to the authentic traditions of their culture and living in today’s society.
So many people are completely unaware of what happened. Unaware that these so-called schools only taught up to grade 5. It was claimed that the practical training of cleaning, farming and maintenance gave necessary life skills but in actuality it was simply free child labour. Many children, once they turned 18 were merely sent away from the school with a grade 5 education.
There is a lasting impact from my great grandparents and grandparents who attended residential schools. My grandparents fled their home, the safety of their community and all that was familiar to save their children from being forcefully taken. To save their children from the atrocities of the abuse, violence and neglect they themselves endured, they lived their lives hidden from society. Little did my grandparents know, all they sacrificed wouldn’t be enough to save their own children. The shame of being “Indian”, the abuse they would inflict on their own children for being who they are, the substance abuse, emotional, mental and physical abuse would be carried on from their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren. The legacy of the Residential Schools lives on and is thriving to this day.
It wasn’t until 1960 that “Indians” were recognized under Canadian Law as people. My dad was in his late teens. I don’t imagine life was easy growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s. I couldn’t imagine growing up knowing that the world I live in doesn’t recognize me as even being a person. For my grandfather, I can only imagine what his thoughts were being called to serve during World War II knowing he was not recognized as a person to the people he fought for.
Some days I wonder if the world has really changed all that much. I don’t hear “The only good Indian is a dead one!” as I did growing up. The comments are said more under breath now. Yet our health care system is mandated to notify Social Services if an Indigenous woman is there to give birth. The threat remains as real for our children to be removed now as when they were placed in Residential Schools. There are more Indigenous children removed from their homes and placed in the system today, than at the height of the Residential Schools.
How can we reconcile if you deem me to be less-than because of my nationality? Why do you perceive me to be less competent, less educated and less deserving to have all that life has to offer simply because I am First Nations?
The ‘truth’ in “Truth and Reconciliation” to me, really means that I can stand up in front of the settlers and newcomers and decide what is best for me. It is not for you to remove my choice and decide as the government does, what is best for the Indigenous people. Everything that the Residential Schools took from generations of my people stripped them of their culture, way of living and in a lot of cases their dignity. They never managed to “kill the Indian” inside. We are a resilient people and are asking that you stand aside and support our efforts to regain who we once were as a nation. Hold a mirror up and take a good look at who you are and ask yourself, “How am I contributing to the problem instead of being a part of the solution?”
The ‘truth’ in Truth and Reconciliation” is there for all of us to be aware of our truth and the truth of others. Stop allowing the systems that hold the Indigenous people down and keep them there. Stand beside or behind the Indigenous people to support the recovery of all they have lost: spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. Stop standing in front and saying “I am sick of hearing about this, why don’t they get over it already, I had nothing to do with it?” You are a part of the problem.
The Indigenous people are asking for equity and respect. To be an equal doesn’t mean you have to lose something. This is a Canadian issue. Take responsibility and action to repair the damage done. “Truth and Reconciliation” is Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples walking together towards an equitable, fair and just country that we all can be proud to call home.
Fr. Kevin Bettens