A panel of five speakers looked at ways to inspire reconciliation during a late-afternoon discussion June 1 as part of the four-days of events marking the close of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa.
The speakers found common ground in the belief that reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people won’t come easy but progress can come on a day-to-day basis through education and a deeper understanding.
“I know that all of us are not at a place where we can say ‘I welcome reconciliation,’ ” said Chief Robert Joseph, currently the Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and a member of the National Assembly of First Nations Elders Council. “Some are still struggling for justice or for compensation. We’re all at different levels, just like the non-Aboriginal people here, too.”
But regardless of their position, people have an “absolute right” to be a part of this (Truth and Reconciliation) process, he said. “Whether you agree or disagree, we have to know what keeps us apart before we can begin
Joseph, who is the former executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, said he has met residential school survivors across Canada who are beginning to “gain hope,” little by little. “So to all of the survivors who are not yet ready, I think that every survivor in this room can still gain hope,” he said. “We don’t have to change the world-we change ourselves first of all.”
Jessica Bolduc, project co-ordinator for the 4Rs Youth Movement, is an Anishinaabe kwe from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Batchewana First Nation and the national youth representative for the Congress of Aboriginal People. She explained how the 4Rs Youth Movement, a collaboration of 14 national organizations, is working with youth to rebuild Canada by creating opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people to come together
and through dialogue and learning.
The name “4Rs” stands for respect, reconciliation, reciprocity and relevance. “Aboriginal young people are one of the fastest growing populations in Canada,” she told the gathering. “We are not the future-we are the present, and we’re ready to take Canada to a new way forward.”
Todd Khozein is a pioneer in systems innovation based on biological models and a partner at SecondMuse, an innovation and collaboration agency. He said assumptions are often wrong and that a new way of thinking may be needed. “Do we believe children are an empty vessel and we need to put something in them or do we believe children are a mine, full of gems of inestimable value and we need to help them mine it?” he asked. He suggested that learning what is right might involve taking pieces of “our mental models that are wrong and getting rid of them.”
The importance of education shouldn’t be underestimated, said Robert (Bob) Watts, an adjunct professor at Queen’s University and an expert in Aboriginal policy, negotiations and conflict resolution. “There’s been a consistent theme in this country that we’ve seen from the debris of residential school era-a lack of funding for education,” he said. Seven years ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in his apology on behalf of all Canadians for the Indian residential school system, told survivors and their families that “the burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long,” said Watts. “My sense is that there’s a lot of work to be done on that end, in terms of how the government can lift the burden off the shoulders of residential school survivors and their families and their communities.” Increasing funding for the education of Aboriginal children is one thing that could be done to help lift the burden, he said. “In fact, that would be a signal to us that folks are serious about reconciliation.”
After hearing what other panelists said, Mary Simon, former leader of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), set aside her prepared text and spoke “from the heart.” She was national president of ITK when the prime minister issued the apology. Aboriginal leaders were asked to respond within minutes of the apology without having an opportunity to speak to their people, she said. “So without really knowing what my people were thinking, I accepted the apology and I said there’s a lot of work that needed to be done. We had to move in a way that would have tangible results from that apology so that it would make a difference.” Because of the magnitude of the apology and the request for forgiveness by the prime minister, “I thought it would be measured in the future actions of government,” said Simon. “So much of our past relationship with government has been really diminished by unfulfilled promises.”?