Reconciliation begins with humility
From a simple reality stems many complicated realities: there were people living on the land we now call Canada, long before there was a Colony of France (first) and Colony of Great Britain (predominant later).
The history of how colonial powers treated the original inhabitants is not unlike that of any other colonized country around the globe at the time. The bizarre rules of the day allowed for claiming of lands and resources, and many a colonizer was an explicit or implicit agent of harm to those who lived here before they arrived. To read “Clearing the Plains” by James Daschuk is to know the horror of living in a country that took advantage of both food access and disease as a means of controlling the state’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. Then subsequent political decisions – residential schools, banning of potlatches, etc. – added fuel to an already flaming fire of cultural destruction.
Fast forward to the big question of today: What are we, people many generations removed from direct culpability, to think and do?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission gave us a significant gift in that regard; although it doesn’t always tell us “how,” it certainly tells us “why.” And it requires us to acknowledge that current generations of First peoples continue to be experiencing harm, inequality and disadvantage, while generations of colonizers and immigrants to this country continue to experience opportunities either not available or at direct cost to First peoples.
One of the hardest parts of the “Truth” component of Truth and Reconciliation in our country, is that lawyers, judges and police have been complicit in the harm that has been, and continues to be, imposed on Indigenous peoples. Laws that were passed and enforced early in our history have only engendered distrust and hostility to those holding the same positions now. And here we face one of the very real conundrums for members of the legal profession. We are both the solution AND the problem. Time does not change what happened, and so for many the past is now. We are the same “lawyer,” “judge,” “lawmaker” and “police” in the minds of Indigenous peoples. So how do we move forward and make a difference?
I have discovered that when you come to know that you have a part to play in Reconciliation (even if you don’t understand it yet), the single biggest requirement is humility. I have many different venues where I have status; in the realm of seeking understanding about how I can respond to the TRC Calls to Action, I have no status whatsoever. I can only be a humble questioner and learner. I think that with very few exceptions, this is likely true for all of us.
In June, the CBABC Table Officers and Aboriginal Lawyers Representative and I met with the Aboriginal Justice Council Executive. The pain of the outrageous numbers of Indigenous women and men in prison, and Indigenous children in state care, was clear. Their challenge to us was simple: How can we, as a society, allow these numbers? What will we, as a profession, do to correct this ongoing harm?
I am proud of the work that the CBABC Truth and Reconciliation Working Group has done to tackle these issues. I am also extremely proud that our Provincial Council has financially supported the creation of a position for our first Truth and Reconciliation Officer, Leah George-Wilson, to help our entire organization more fully embody the true meaning of Reconciliation within everything the CBABC does.