Healing takes time


Last updated 5/25/2014 at 2:17pm

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) established by the Canadian government has completed its mandate with the last of seven national gatherings in Edmonton, Alberta. Now the commission has the task of organizing over 8,000 interviews and writing their report which will reveal through testimony, research, and relevant documents, the history of Canada’s Residential Schools.

The commission has reached a historic milestone and Canadians ought to eagerly await the results of their work.

Over the last couple of years, a few of our readers have been concerned about the number of articles Indian Life has published about Residential Schools. Some have felt that we have concentrated on this topic a bit too much.

Since 1998, this newspaper has published no more than 12 articles dealing with residential schools and the stories of some former students.

Recently, the chairman of the TRC, Justice Murray Sinclair, addressed members of the Mennonite Church of Canada at their annual “Partnership Circles” and the general public. Justice Sinclair stated that the TRC’s mandate included an obligation “to educate the public about the schools.” But he said that “revealing the truth has its challenges and it can be painful.”

He spoke of how some people don’t like to talk about this period and some will say that the experiences of many were positive. We do not deny that not all students suffered in these schools. However, we ask, was not having to live apart from one’s family and being unable to speak one’s mother tongue painful and terrible enough?

According to the justice, those who say their experience was good may have said so out of fear.

Think of this: Most residential school students never graduated, so they could not go on to post-secondary schools.

Contrary to what some may think, every person in Canada and many in the United States have been affected in one way or another by residential or boarding schools.

Justice Sinclair revealed that seven generations of Aboriginal families have been affected by the Residential School system. This means that over 150 years, Native children grew up without the nurturing of their parents nor learning the parenting skills necessary for raising their own children.

Today, a large number of grandchildren and great grandchildren are being raised by their grandparents or by foster parents. This may well continue for years to come.

“We may be through with the past,” stated Murray. “But is the past ever finished with us?”

The commissioner commended the churches for their part in the reconciliation process. But he also challenged them to continue their supportive role and to make a statement of respect.

“That which has been lost, find. That which was damaged, fix. What was destroyed, rebuild. That which was taken, return. Things that can’t be returned need to be restored.”

The judge cautioned the government that having made an apology “is not a green light to continue assimilation.”

A most powerful illustration was the answer a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide gave when he was asked, “how can you forgive those who killed your entire family?” “Every morning I have to forgive all over again. Reconciliation is a constant battle, like sobriety.”

To those who still question why forgiveness and reconciliation are so important in bridging the gap between the past and present, remember that what happened to the youth of the First Citizens of North America took a long time. It’s going to take a long time to heal.

I’m witness to that fact. Fifty-five years ago, I spent three years in a foster home where I was sexually abused. I also spent four years in a boarding school far from home. I’m still dealing with the consequences of those years.

Healing takes time.


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