The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Arnaud Meyer

Are you moved by the horrible conditions in which the natives used to live when they were attending Residential Schools? Do you have something to say and would you like to testify to what happened during those years? If so, you may be interested in the website Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that comes as a submission about the Indian Canadian Residential School system. The point of view used to format that website is pertinent in the sense that, on one hand, it takes us back to the past when it deals with collecting some testimonies of people who want to help the webmaster to complete his project, and, on the other hand, it makes us keep our feet on the ground and think about the present when the attempt at Reconciliation is presented to us. Also, we might give credibility to it since people can choose if they wish their statement to be either public or private and are respectfully invited to share only what they feel comfortable to talk about.

The Indian residential schools period started with the Indian Act of 1876 and lasted until the middle of the 20th century. That is a significant lapse of time, all the more so because we are aware of the unbearable situation of the natives who were humiliated and reduced to a position that could be compared to slavery; that might be the reason why those who went over it are now called "Honorary Witnesses". An entire section of the website is dedicated to them and it emphasizes the idea that we need to keep the native history so that we will never forget an event of such a historic significance. Former students of the Indian Residential Schools are invited to share their truth, but to give their campaign much more extent, the webmaster also invites anyone who thinks he has been, in some way, impacted by the Residential Schools consequences, to join the movement by writing about their own experience. The articles on the website have a simple motto: truth. When sharing statements about the Residential Schools, the witnesses have to speak authentically, as a duty of remembrance. Those statements were made publicly in Sharing Panels and Sharing Circles so that the whole world can be aware of that depressing part of history and that people won't do the same mistake twice.

Bygones are bygones, and what we need to focus on now is Reconciliation. We know that the scars of the past cannot be erased but it seems like people feel concerned with that cause. We respectfully suggest it thanks to the "It Matters to Me" Twibbon campaign, which consists in a work of truth-gathering and tries to open the discussion on reconciliation. Native children have been taken and their parents have been left behind but they are asked to work on themselves and try to forgive what they endured in the past. The "It Matters to Me" Twibbon campaign aims at highlighting that more and more people, natives or not, want to become involved in the reconciliation movement. If you want to join the movement, you can pick one the few options that the website proposes such as organizing workshops or training programs dealing with Reconciliation, sponsoring the Truth and Reconciliation Project in the case you would be part of a firm, doing voluntary activities such as organizing a book club with a truth and reconciliation theme or joining a lobby.

Such a sensitive topic is to be treated with care, and in that sense, the website Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is very free with the liberty of expression but tries at the same time to protect the native voices. People who want to share something on the website are told that they are free to discuss anything, taking into account that their words could be used for communications purposes. If they disagree with that idea, they only have to mention it when sending their statements and the webmaster will respect this choice. The only single case in which they could go over the protection of privacy would be if someone told them that a child is in need of protection. In that case, a child is physically, sexually or emotionally in danger, which means that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission may be obligated to report this information to the appropriate authorities. One last case in which the Commission would not protect your privacy would be if you state clearly that you are going to harm someone or to harm yourself.

To me, that website has many dimensions in the sense that it is more than a history lesson. Basically, we do not learn about the Natives story, we need to be aware of the conditions they had before going to the website so that we can feel involved in their cause. I am not unsympathetic to their particular needs and their particular concerns, and that made me think about my own behavior towards them. It is actually hard to think I felt involved in that cause since I am not native, and more than that, not even Canadian, but the organization of the website makes it deeply sincere and will not give you impervious to its charms. If you want to learn more about that movement, you may want to watch a video you will find on the website, called Michaëlle Jean Welcomes Honorary Witnesses, in which Michaëlle Jean speaks with no tricks about the reason why she acts for Reconciliation. I will leave you with the beautiful opening sentence she uses to welcome her hosts : "Dear friends, I see the truth in Reconciliation Commission as a journey that we Canadians, aboriginals and non-aboriginals must embark upon with courage and humility…"

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