On June 2nd, 2015, Canada produced the long-awaited Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, a document that includes 94 recommendations as well as an in-depth description of the history of the residential school as it applies to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people in Canada.
The delivery and creation of the report was primarily anticipated and contributed to by the survivors of the residential school system and their families. While undoubtedly an important step towards intercultural healing, the incredible weight and specificity of the subject matter leaves some Canadians confused as to the relevance such an inquiry could have to our everyday lives as non-aboriginal citizens.
While still a political, cultural, and generational hot topic, the abuse and neglect endured by those enrolled in the residential school system should matter to the average Canadian for a very simple reason: everyone deserves the chance to have their voice heard and to share their story. That’s all. It is naïve to imagine that each and every one of us will have the time, energy, and desire to invest in a thorough perusal and analysis of the entire report. I strongly suggest you do read it, but in all likelihood, average Canadians will look at the recommendations with a vague sense of discomfort and, perhaps, a mental note to check their own bias and stereotypes towards FNMI people.
Instead of focusing on the politics, it would be much more beneficial to all of those involved if we would concede that we don’t know everything about Canadian history and allow the stories of a group of marginalized Canadians to be told.
It is a matter of pride as Canadians that we are kind and polite, and our responsibility as human beings to look after one another. And while there is no way that you or I can make right the things that happened in the past, we can take the time to hear the stories of those who share our land. Empathy goes a long way in this world and respect is never a bad thing. The average Canadian can contribute to the healing of those who feel broken and mistreated just by listening. There are countless avenues available to us to watch, read, or hear their history.
Instead of trying to wrap our brains around the colossal misdeeds and shocking numbers that make up the cultural genocide of the residential school programs, let’s take each individual as they cross our paths and open ourselves up to the possibility to listen. Perhaps in this small way we can help to change societal views and eliminate prejudice on a personal level. After all, the goal of the Commission report is to facilitate improved relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. What better way to foster those positive relationships for the future than by building our own understanding of the past?