In preparing for our blog’s brief holiday season hiatus, the Team decided to revisit our first few months of coverage, review the TRC’s Calls to Action, and reflect on some of our own ideas for reconcili-action in these areas.
Residential Schools and the IRSSA: A Recap
Beginning with the early days of residential schools in Canada, we first introduced the deplorable motivations behind the system’s creation. Next, we considered Alberta’s specific experience through the lens of a child’s letter to his parents, written and sent from a residential school in Edmonton in 1962. Moving into a conversation about intergenerational trauma, we examined how this phenomenon pervades many Indigenous communities to this day. Finally, we considered the legacy of the schools, especially the losses of language and culture, and the effects these losses continue to have for students and their families.
Our next section explored the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) and problematized the application of tort principles to the residential school experience. We traced the path to the IRSSA from class actions through to the failed Alternative Dispute Resolution Process. Then, we dove into the specifics of the Common Experience Payment and the Independent Assessment Process, noting that while this response was imperfect, at least it was a step in the right direction. Our last post of the section considered the statistics and we ended with the question of whether financial compensation can ever be enough to address the damage done by the residential school system.
Relevant TRC Calls to Action
Emphasizing themes of education, cultural revitalization, and health, Calls to Action #62, #10, #14, and #18 are especially relevant to discussions of residential schools. We invite you to consider the following:
62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:
i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.
ii. Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.
iii. Provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.
10. We call on the federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal peoples. The new legislation would include a commitment to sufficient funding and would incorporate the following principles:
i. Providing sufficient funding to close identified educational achievement gaps within one generation.
ii. Improving education attainment levels and success rates.
iii. Developing culturally appropriate curricula.
iv. Protecting the right to Aboriginal languages, including the teaching of Aboriginal languages as credit courses.
14. We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act that incorporates the following principles:
i. Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.
ii. Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.
iii. The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.
iv. The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.
v. Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.
18. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties.
One question resonates in every post from this section: that is, how do we move forward from residential schools in the right way? Knowing what is right is easier said than done. Ethics, compassion, justice, healing… all of these terms are easy to say, but hard to do. What does it mean to educate ethically? How do we commission empathy without crossing the line - can anyone ever really understand what these children went through? Will understanding even make a difference? Even if the language of healing is so fraught, is justice possible without it?
In line with the TRC Calls to Action listed above, we can imagine how things might be different if Indigenous peoples had a say in the curriculum and delivery of public education. Or, if elementary schools no longer used picture books that made Indigenous peoples out to be disappearing, or disappeared. What if high school social studies textbooks taught the reality of Indigenous peoples’ resistance to colonization, instead of the myth of Indigenous acquiescence? What if every university student participated in a Blanket Exercise at the beginning of the academic year? What would the future look like if we focused less on intergenerational trauma and more on intergenerational injustice, or if government efforts were directed at preventing future harm instead of always just applying a band-aid? And what if reconciliatory work stopped asking more from Indigenous peoples than it does from settlers?
The truth is, we don’t yet have the answers. What we do know is that moving forward in the right way entails more than resource-dependent, large-scale, social, cultural, political, and economic changes. It also includes the hundreds of micro decisions that each of us make every single day. It starts with the relationships we have with our teammates, classmates, colleagues, and friends. One thing the Team has learned is that while reconcili-action won’t always be easy, it is certainly possible. When the going gets tough (and trust, us, it will), don't give up or walk away. We challenge you to keep going - even the smallest step can make a difference!
Until next time,
Team ReconciliAction YEG
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 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Calls to Action (Winnipeg, 2015), online: https://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf.
 See Kiera L. Ladner & Myra J. Tait, eds., “Introduction” in Surviving Canada: Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayal (Winnipeg: ARP Books (Arbeiter Ring Publishing), 2017.
 Matthew Wildcat asks this question in an exclusive article that we will be posting next term - stay tuned!
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