The Importance of Reconciliation I The Effects of our Relationship I DOL 1

Origins: Canada’s True Identity

When you think of Canada, what do you think of? I think of bronze medals, ice, forest, and maple syrup. But beyond the stereotypical things we consider Canadian, I see our country as a respectful, safe, free, open, and neutral place. The words diversity, acceptance, connection, and apologies come to mind. But never would I have paired the origins of Canada with the word “cultural genocide”.

Growing up in a public school, I’ve had opportunities to meet some First Nations people and learn a bit about their ways. I’ve always known that the land we stand on was and is theirs, but I’ve never made the connection or filled in the empty history; failing to ask myself the question of how we got from just First Nations people to the diverse country we are today?

Looking at our Canadian identity and what we stand for, I believe we value truth and respect. Although most of me still believe that, reading the Truth & Reconciliation Commission made me realize that there is so much more to Canada than what meets the eye. The “dark side” of our history is something we don’t often talk about. To “fix” what we did or mend this broken relationship, we must first own up to our mistakes, and to do that, we must be open and truthful.

It is so important to not just show our “proud” moments but be open about our shameful moments too. The “dark” part our history is a part our story and stories need to be told. It is important we own up to what we have done and stop hiding from it. If the horrific parts of our history aren’t shared, how can learn and grow from them? How can we move past them? The fact of the matter is we can’t move forward without looking back, which to me, is one of the main reasons why reconciliation is so important.


Questions: The Long-Term Effects of a Broken Relationship

Big Question:

  • Why is reconciliation important?
  • How does our relationship with the First Nations people affect Canada’s identity, progress, and the people?
  • How does our relationship affect our political, economic, and social decisions currently?

Trying to wrap my head around our origins, actions, identity, and how it all connects, the big question of “why is reconciliation important” led me to more specific questions relating to the effects of our relationship with the First Nation peoples.

Starting out grade 9 TALONS with the talk on Columbus and tackling the big idea of how history is written by the winners, the “discovery” of Canada lands in a similar boat. So much happened in the 150 years of Canada, it is not only important to understand what happened and hear both sides, but see why reconciling this lost relationship is so important. It would be easy to just gloss that part of our history over and live in the “safe, respectful, and open” façade of a country we call Canada, but abandoning reconciliation changes our country’s identity as a whole. The truth of the matter is that our relationship with the First Nations people is still affecting us today, and ignoring this is not going to progress us further.

Looking at how something in the past still affects us today, I wanted to explore current issues and see…

  • how our relationship with the First Nations people affect our political, economic, and social decisions, as well as our progress
  • how this relationship affecting us right now as a country and as a people
  • how this affecting the first nations, the immigrants, the Canadians
  • how our relationship affects our Canadian identity and our values

Research: Slowed “Progression” in “our home and native land”

When I think of our country and of the First Nations people, it is interesting how we often see the First Nations community as an obstacle to “progress” our country in an economic way. Because Canada is so rich in natural resources, one of the ways we are “progressing” our country forward is to export these natural resources. Building pipelines and mining the land is one of the many ways we extract and export. A few particular projects, such as the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and Northern Gateway Pipeline, created a lot of controversy and concern.

On the one hand, creating a pipeline will strengthen our economy, but on the other hand, it has the possibility of destroying the very land we are on. Besides the environmentalists, the First Nations people, who have a very strong relationship with nature, have made claims on lands and have “slowed progression” of some of these projects.
An example of this is found in CBC news, where a “Former First Nations chief stakes claim on B.C. mining minister’s property.” Bev Sellars, the former chief of the Xat’sull First Nation at Soda Creek, made a claim to raise awareness about placer miners. Upset that it was so easy to be certified as a free miner, she wrote “I didn’t have to contact the people of the private property …  I didn’t have to prove that I had any awareness about the environment or the impacts of the industry. I didn’t have to know about the right of the local First Nations people.”

A reason why Bev Sellars is feeling so passionately about raising awareness is because back in 2014, “the Xat’sull First Nation was one of the communities affected by the breach of the tailings pond at the Mount Polley mine.”

David Haslam, the Energy and Mines Ministry spokesperson said that a placer mineral claim is “only for the purpose of conducting exploration activity” and is subject to a number of legal conditions and restrictions. “These restrictions make it extremely unlikely that any of the surface of this placer claim would actually be available for the recorded holder to conduct any form of exploration activity”, said Haslam.

Although this may be true, this doesn’t solve the issue that 1. Many people are unaware of placer mines and the destruction it can cause 2. That the people making the decisions are not listening or taking into full consideration the possible destruction it could cause, and 3. Canada’s relationship with the First Nations people has not progressed to a point where we are both understand each other. In the last part of the article, it states that “Haslam said the province is committed to collaborating with First Nations and works closely with the First Nations Energy and Mining Council so that First Nations’ perspectives on mining can be better understood.” Yes, this is great news, but it just shows us how far we have to go for, in the year 2017, we still don’t have a great understanding between the two groups.

Another rising issue is the construction of the pipelines in Canada. The Northern Gateway pipeline has had a lot of controversy. In a recent article, titled “B.C. government failed to properly consult First Nations on Northern Gateway pipeline, court rules”, it talks about how the First Nations argued how the “province wasn’t living up to its duty to consult with them.” Although there are a lot more details to this current issue, I chose to talk about it for it shows, yet again, how our relationship plays such an important role in progressing our country forward.

If we had a better relationship, then greater understanding can take place. The First Nations would greater understand the politics and economic issues and the Canadian government would greater understand the environmental concerns. We would be working together, instead of trying to find faults in each other.


Conclusion: Can’t Move Forward without Looking Back

Through my research, I have realized how far we have come and how far we still have to go in reconciling and restoring this broken relationship. Only researching two to three current environmental issues, I know I have only touched the surface on what I wanted to know. I still want to answer the big question of “why reconciliation is important” and tackling the question of “how does our relationship with the First Nations people affect Canada’s identity, progress, and the people?” and “how does our relationship affect our political, economic, and social decisions currently?” I am curious to know more about the conflicts we have and seeing if we, as a nation, are actually listening to each other?

I also want to know if reconciliation is possible. With different values, can we come together as one nation? Can we build a relationship based on respect, trust, and truth when so much destruction and hurt has occurred? I am not sure if reconciliation is truly possible but I believe that we can progress to a point where we understand each other, listen to each other, and make decisions together.

I chose to research about current events to show that our relationship with the First Nations people is still relevant and affecting us in the now, which leads me back to the main question of “why is reconciliation important?” To answer a part of that question, it is important because our relationship is causing setbacks and slowing down our “progress”. How can we truly move forward without looking back? I hope to find a greater understanding by digging deeper into these questions, finding personal relevance and meaning in the truth.

Apologies vs Actions

Somehow we are back in Social Studies, and honestly, it felt like we just finished Socials 9 yesterday.  I am particularly excited to begin Socials this year because we are taking the time to learn all about Canada.  Yes, learning about history in Europe can be interesting and is definitely important, but it doesn’t really hit close to home.  Whereas, learning about Canada, the place I actually live, feels very personally relevant.

While quite a heavy topic, residential schools and reconciliation are definitely an interesting way to start off this year’s Social Studies journey.  The topics line up very well with our interest in learning about the “dark side” of Canada.

Background

It is estimated that about 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend residential schools.

Image via CBC News

Myself, OliviaRachael, and Weijin are covering the broad question “What are the key components of reconciliation?”.  Be sure to check out their blogs to read about other topics regarding the process.

Personally, I have decided to look into the following specific question in regards to the reconciliation process:

  • What is the right balance between apologies and actions?

I was really interested in this question as I think it is one of the biggest components in the reconciliation process.  After willingness and trust is made between groups, the actual process of reconciliation begins.  The question is, what exactly needs to happen during this time?  Sure, an apology feels good, but does it really fix anything?  And yeah, it might be nice to be given some extra cash as a way to say “sorry”, but how does that help the emotional trauma?  Through my research, I want to get more insight into which apologies and actions need to take place for reconciliation to be successful.

Research

Apologies

All of the above CBC articles address the point of apologies.  Specifically, Stephen Harper’s official 2008 apology to former students of residential schools.

“The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history.

“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,”

Image via The Globe And Mail

Harper’s apology came after many people demanded a sincere, heartfelt apology by a prime minister.  Although Harper and many other officials’ apologies included depth on the issue, it’s hard not to wonder “did they just do this because they had to?”  Controversy and questions like this have come up in regards to apologies with the church.  While some churches, such as the Anglican Church of Canada, provided heartfelt apologies, others did not satisfy the Aboriginal community.  For example, CBC reported that “Pope Benedict XVI expressed his “sorrow” to a delegation from Canada’s Assembly of First Nations for the abuse and “deplorable” treatment that aboriginal students suffered at Roman Catholic Church-run residential schools.”  At the time of this statement, Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations did not accept the words as an apology.  They were more of way to just “close the book”.

This all makes me wonder “how much does an apology really mean?”.  If the Aboriginal people have been pushing for an apology for years and they finally receive one years later, how do we know if the words spoken are truly sincere?  In the Herald News’ “A Selection Of Quotes From Aboriginal Leaders, Residential School Survivors”, Helen Cromarty, a survivor, says

“There are many missing things that I can never ever get back, but having the government apologize and acknowledge the damage that has been done, I feel a little reprieve. I can live with it and I think that’s another step forward. Why not keep going?  The path is there now, follow it.”

I really like this quote because it brings up a good point.  When the government and church apologize for what they have done, there is a slight chance that they may make those who they have hurt feel a little bit better.  Although mostly, it just makes themselves feel better.  I think apologizing is more of a way to take the weight off your own shoulders, thinking that the word “sorry” is going to fix everything.  However, this is untrue.  You need to prove your apology by demonstrating the proper actions to make your apology real.

Actions

But which actions are the right actions?  I found the first two CBC articles quite interesting as they address past attempts of “reconciliation”.  A couple years back, the way that the government and church chose to show apologies was through compensation packages.  These packages provided residential school survivors money in order to repay their bad experiences.  Former students were to receive $10,000 for their first year at school and an additional $3,000 for all the further years they attended.  According to CBC News, “as of Sept. 30, 2013, $1.6 billion had been paid, representing 105,548 cases.”  This compensation package also included a promise for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was officially established in 2008.

Here’s the thing; money is great.  I’m not going to deny that.  However, for the government to use money as their first big attempt to reconcile is ridiculous.  Money is not a real apology for all that Indigenous people have endured.  Money is not going to simply fix the trauma residential school students face.  Money is not going to bring back the childhood of Aboriginal kids who were taken away.  Why could the government and church not have gotten together to initially discuss the mental well-being of former students?  Why go straight to money?  Is it because it’s the easy choice?  What was the point of wasting time distributing cash as a first action when really, it does not help fix the problem?

In the residential school situation, we really need to look to the Aboriginal people to understand what they see as reasonable actions to prove apologies.  It is their values that we need to accommodate.  The TRC Mandate goals include:

(a) Acknowledge Residential School experiences, impacts and consequences;

(b) Provide a holistic, culturally appropriate and safe setting for former students, their families and communities as they come forward to the Commission;

(c) Witness, support, promote and facilitate truth and reconciliation events at both the national and community levels;

(d) Promote awareness and public education of Canadians about the IRS system and its impacts;

(e) Identify sources and create as complete an historical record as possible of the IRS system and legacy. The record shall be preserved and made accessible to the public for future study and use;

Now, these goals are all good and swell, but how much do they mean if not everyone is partaking?  Just one person refusing to demonstrate these respectful practices will stunt the whole reconciliation process.  What the mandate is asking for is reasonable for Canadians to participate in, so why don’t we?  It is important that Canadians work together as a collective to truly make a big impact and fix all the damage done.

Conclusion

Through my findings, I believe that apologies and actions are both necessary in the process of reconciliation between groups.  While we can never really know the level of sincerity of one’s apology, from the perspective of a survivor, it is still nice to hear.  For those who have harmed, it allows them to remove a weight off their shoulders and to forgive themselves.  However, we can forgive, but we should never forget.  An apology is not the end of the issue.  We cannot let ourselves ignore the rest of a situation after a simple “sorry” is said.  We need to prove our apologies by acting on what the TRC mandate asks for.

The one big question I am still asking myself is “How do we secure mutual trust and respect between groups?”  This question is important because in order for reconciliation to initially occur, a trust has to be created between those involved.  If trust isn’t present, then nothing can begin.

So why is any of this important?  I think we need to understand the difference between apologies and actions, and we need to do each of these things appropriately and actively.  When I say “we”, I truly mean “we”.  Progress is a collective process.  As Canadians, we all need to take part in following and respecting the TRC mandate in order to reach true reconciliation.