“ … Without truth, justice is not served, healing cannot happen, and there can be no genuine reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada.” 1
Often these words and thoughts are not considered when contemplating the plight of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Senator Murray Sinclair, Chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (the “TRC”) has remarked that Canadians should know that Indigenous peoples have done nothing for which they must reconcile and yet they come to the table to do the work. It is true and Indigenous peoples look to Canadians to do the work as well. That work is the healing.
Many sad and horrific things happened to our Indigenous peoples in the dark times of the Indian Residential School (the “IRS”). Generations of Indigenous children were forced to attend the IRS, many forcibly taken from their homes, brought to schools where the intent was not to “teach” but to “remove the Indian from the child.”
From 1899 to 1958, children from my community of Tsleil-Waututh and our neighbor Squamish Nation attended St. Paul’s IRS and later St. Paul’s Indian Day school in North Vancouver on what is now the site of St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Those generations of IRS students suffered the following effects: loss of language and culture, low nutrition, sexual and physical abuse; essentially – they suffered trauma. The generations to follow were impacted as well since the parents that had suffered greatly raised them. This all occurred right in the midst of a large city.
These are the realities that require healing, that require bringing the truth to light. This truth-telling and healing will allow justice to occur and give our society the opportunity to reconcile. Many people are working toward reconciliation in all areas of society.
It may appear to be a daunting task. The TRC gathered all the truths that IRS survivors wanted to share and preserve. The TRC released the Calls to Action outlining what needs to be done to get Canada to that reconciliation.
The CBABC has done some remarkable work on the TRC Calls to Action. Most in the legal profession are aware that the leadership established the Truth and Reconciliation Working Group, which in turn created sub-committees and the cumulative work was the Reconciliation Action and Implementation Plan.
Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to implementation. One of the first orders of business will be to continue to make space for Indigenous leadership on both the political and legal sectors within the CBABC as well as our legal community.
In BC, we are fortunate to have Indigenous legal minds that help the legal community grapple with many issues, from Aboriginal Title to over-representation in the legal system. Those Indigenous lawyers and political leaders are always willing to aid in the development of strategies. We welcome their help and the insight they bring.
Another step is to work with the Indigenous Bar to create cultural competency among all those that participate in the justice system. All Canadians must understand Indigenous peoples and not only from the traumatic perspective. Indigenous peoples are more than what happened to them.
There are many steps to take. Let us remind ourselves that we are willing to take the steps and further, that we are taking the steps together.
1. Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future Summary of the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, June 2, 2015, at p. 12 | ↩
Leah D. George-Wilson, CBABC Truth and Reconciliation Officer.