It’s sure to be a solemn time for many of those people taking part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission today and tomorrow in Victoria.
The trauma inflicted by the 150-year legacy of Indian residential schools has shaped Canadian society as we know it. First Nations continue to have an uneasy relationship with the country they are born into. That won’t change after this weekend, or even once the commission finishes hearing from the 150,000 or so people expected to tell their stories across the country.
We might ask if it’s worth the pain to reopen old wounds and whether we’d all be better off by simply forgetting what happened.
In the 21st century it seems beyond the pale for people to treat each other the way earlier generations did. We are a society that prides itself on our tolerance, but the fact is, we are not that far removed from our past. The idea of forcing hegemony was a popular notion among many Canadians throughout our history.
Almost every ethnic group that was somehow alien to the mainstream has stories of attempted assimilation. In almost every case the process was a profound failure.
But it is the residential schools – their thoroughness and persistence – that has left the largest legacy of damage to a population that really should be at the core of who we are as a nation.
We can argue that many First Nations children benefited by the educational opportunities that our government and churches provided. They were given a chance at an industrial quality of life that their culture often eschewed.
As many as 3,000 people are expected to add their voices to the commission at the Victoria Conference Centre. Some will recall the kindness of teachers and others who really believed they were doing what was best for the children in their care. Others will reveal a depth of evil that provokes emotions that should be harder to stir from events that happened so long ago.
It’s time for Canadians to open ourselves to doing what will correct past mistakes. We need to celebrate cultures authorities once tried to destroy.
And we must be willing to put our money where our mouth is, whether that’s in treaty negotiations or respecting the rights of First Nations to have a stronger say on how their traditional lands are used.