What is Truth? What is Reconciliation?

  • April 01, 2016
  • Caroline Nevin

The reality of being Canadian

I will say at the outset that I am an immigrant to Canada. I have always felt some emotional distance from the abuses that Canadian First Nations people describe as being perpetrated upon them by people who came many generations before me to this country. And yet, I have come to know in my heart and soul that my future here requires that I understand what happened to those who lived here before me.

My life in this adopted country will be forever tied with the experience and history of those who loved their families and lived as communities long before there was such a concept as “Canada” that I later came to join. I have heard first-hand what the colonization experience has meant many generations later. The impact has been staggeringly negative. And so I strive to learn more.

I have read the Truth and Reconciliation report. If you haven’t yet, you must. It is required reading for any current or incoming citizen of this great country. Not because it seeks to shame; rather, it is a genuine history that rightfully – and in first-person accounts – corrects all tellings of Canadian history before it.

Life wasn't necessarily perfect before colonization. We are all human, with conflicts both large and small, no matter how idyllic the societal structure. There were disputes, violence and abuse before us. But no-one could argue with the very real TRC stories of people who grew up close to nature and family in this beautiful land, and no-one could honestly think that “civilization” and “assimilation” produced better results for those who were here before us.

As Canadians, we say with great pride, if not smugness, that we are a multicultural quilt rather than the American melting pot. We hold up all of the food, dances, costumes and crafts of those who have come from other places, through our multi-cultural events in schools and communities. But what about the cultures that were here before any of those were imported and imposed? We may not wish to shoulder the blame of those who acted wrongly before us, but in celebrating our immigrant stories can we not also acknowledge that they came at a cost to those we displaced? Not just in land, but in family strength, a sense of community, and in places of leadership and government.

We are at a turning point. Our courts, our leaders and our own sense of what is right is shifting – for all of us. This is a land that we share as both indigenous people and as immigrant people. I have faith that we will learn a new way to govern our society together in a way that involves us all.

History is important, and the TRC is a real gift in that sense, but what is even more important is how we choose to move forward. My advice to my children is the same advice I will share with you: Learn more. Ask questions. Think about how you can contribute, and do it. And question everything you take for granted about your own sense of privilege and entitlement, whether you are among the first or late in generations of living in this land.

Our future as a country depends on acknowledgement and forgiveness on many levels. Reconciliation is really about a collective choice to meet as equals and loved ones, with full acknowledgment of the past and a genuine desire to make a better future. I have faith that we will get there.

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Caroline Nevin
cnevin@cbabc.org