Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s First National Event on Indian Residential Schools
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Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s First National
Event on Indian Residential Schools
Winnipeg, Saturday, June 19, 2010
It is an honour and such a great privilege to be here with you as your honorary witness to mark this first step in the long journey towards truth and reconciliation, when we are taking the time to face parts of our collective history, parts of our collective memory so as to better move forward together.
We are taking a journey that concerns all of us, whether we are Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, whether our roots in this country are very deep or still very young.
As I said at the Commission’s opening ceremony last October—which brought together in the Rideau Hall Ballroom survivors, elders, youth and children, officials, spiritual leaders and citizens from all walks of life, under the auspices of the Thunderbird, represented in the painting by Ojibway artist Norval Morrisseau—we have all been deprived.
In one way or another, we have all been dispossessed.
Aboriginal peoples have been dispossessed of their languages, their cultures and their dignity, dispossessed of the precious bonds between generations, dispossessed of the handing down of ancestral knowledge, dispossessed of an ancient heritage.
Non-Aboriginal peoples have been dispossessed of a priceless opportunity to learn through contact with these Aboriginal ancestral cultures and of a priceless opportunity to appreciate and share the spirit, the beauty and sound of these languages, dispossessed of a deep understanding of the land and of a timeless experience.
I sincerely believe that this Commission will only succeed if we all get involved.
This very place we have gathered is itself an invitation for us all to go meet one another, in a spirit of reciprocity.
A “fork,” in reference to a path, is a crossroads, a meeting place.
So it is not surprising that this magnificent place we have gathered is called “The Forks,” the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, a traditional rallying point for Aboriginal peoples, the focus of the first permanent European settlement in Canada’s West and a welcoming place for so many immigrants.
The presentations and exchanges of the last few days have taken place in a spirit of sharing and dialogue.
And I would like to sincerely thank all those who have had the courage to share their story.
Because, it is important to remember, telling the story is reliving it.
Reliving deeply buried pain that has been awakened by memories.
Returning to the place where the suffering took place, where it hurts the most.
And trying to communicate this suffering to people who are unfamiliar with this pain. People who did not experience it. People who did not know about it.
We cannot underestimate the inner strength it takes for you to share these experiences with us.
Because, although memory is a duty, it must also be accompanied by work.
The work of listening to, feeling and taking in the pain of others, the work of trying to know and attempting to understand, of reflecting and of taking action to break down the solitudes that separate us from one another, and there are a number of solitudes in our country.
And all this work must be done with the full knowledge that, although we cannot rewrite history, we can take action, we can learn from it and thus avoid making the same mistakes we made in the past.
As the discussion and sharing circles in which we took part so rightly reminded us—circles that are the foundation of Aboriginal spiritual life—healing starts with words.
Because words are freeing, they are healing.
Words will allow the truth to come out, to overcome the disregard and ignorance of one of the most tragic episodes in our collective history.
Disregard and ignorance that are particularly shocking when we think that for over a century, children were torn from their families, subjected to massive deportations to residential schools, subjected to various forms of abuse and forced assimilation measures all in silence, with complete indifference, general approval, even.
It is through words—the power of words to name, to tell—that both sides will arrive at awareness and acknowledgement of the facts, the pain and the losses.
This awareness and acknowledgement are absolutely necessary to rise above the outrage and for all of us to work together to move forward.
And it is through words that we will arrive at true reconciliation, if they are received with compassion, respect and responsibility.
We have decided to focus on the brilliant promise of truth.
And I will say it again: it is an act of courage. On all sides.
In doing so, our eyes, our hearts and our spirits will be open to new possibilities.
We must embrace the possibilities before us to make this country, this vast and generous land we all share, an example for all those around the world who, like us, have taken the path towards truth and reconciliation after years of oppression.
Let us create space between us for expressions of friendship, solidarity and hope.
We have been given the opportunity to be reborn after an overwhelming chapter in our history and to imagine how we want to live together.
This is also an opportunity to pass down a memory to our children that they can be proud of.
I remember my first encounter with a Canadian Aboriginal community as governor general of Canada.
It was a visit to the Children of the Earth High School, not far from here, a school that is the complete opposite of the residential schools so many of you knew.
The school’s mission is to maintain the traditions, cultures, languages and experiences in which identity is rooted in order to restore our youth’ pride in themselves and in their heritage.
It is also a school that is inclusive of others, of diversity.
A school with convincing academic results, as evidenced by its success rate.
A school that is a sign of hope.
A sign of hope for all of us, but especially for all future generations.
Yes, we can change the course of history and create a future that brings us together and reflects who we are.
This is our greatest responsibility.
Thank you. Thank you for welcoming me so warmly.
Thank you for sharing your stories and your life experiences with me and so many others, experiences that are a part of our collective journey.
Life is a long and flowing river.