To the children we lost, the ones who survived, and the families who were never the same without them, today we honour and recognize your stories and your truths.
For more than 100 years, our children were taken from us. Our communities and families suffered as 150,000 little boys and girls were removed from their homes and taken to schools where their language was beat out of them, where they faced unimaginable abuse and trauma, and where many lost their lives.
Today, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes to a close we continue the work of healing our Nations, and recognizing the truth of Canada’s history of assimilation and annihilation of our peoples. We must remember that despite the horrific genocide practiced through the residential school system, our peoples and our Nations are still here. With every breath of our Nations’ survival, we continue to reclaim our languages, cultures and land, and in this way we honour each and every one of those children.
Residential schools had one singular purpose – to solve Canada’s “Indian problem.” Canada could not build itself out of nothing – the fledging settler state required unfettered access to lands and resources to establish as a county. In this respect, our peoples – our children – were seen as an obstacle to be overcome and put down.
Rather than honour the terms of the Treaties, through which our Indigenous Nations generously shared our resources with the newcomers, Canada instead chose the path of establishing its Nationhood through genocide.
To this day, it amazes me how few Canadians know about residential schools or the fact that the last school wasn’t shut down until 1996. We are not talking about a chapter of history that is generations behind us, but a practice that came to a close less than 20 years ago – the same year that brought us eBay.
There are 94 recommendations in the Commission’s report which cover a broad scope of changes in areas such as justice and education. Specifically within policing, it is encouraging to see one recommendation point to the need for independence within the RCMP. While this reaffirmed independence would give the RCMP greater oversight to investigate crimes free of governmental interests, it recognizes the history of police abuse throughout the era of residential schools on behalf of the government. Throughout the commission we’ve heard stories of police removing children from their homes in the middle of the night, refusing to investigate schools known for abuse, and acting largely in the government’s best interest.
While each recommendation is critical in its own way, perhaps one of the most hopeful is the call for curriculum reform. Indigenous and Canadian children would be able to learn together about residential schools, the true history of Canada, and Indigenous cultures. When we are all working from the same history, with the same understanding of Treaty responsibilities, we can move away from apologies and begin to rebuild our relationships in a good way.
The report also harkens back to the 1996 Royal Commission, which was largely ignored after its release. Canada cannot allow these recommendations to collect dust as was seen with the 1996 commission. This as a second chance to make things right, and Canada must seize it.
Through renewed relationships, both Canada and Indigenous Nations can grow and thrive on our respective paths, living in mutual friendship, peace and harmony – as our Treaties always intended.