A fresh and hope-filled wind is blowing across the land. It is called Reconciliation. Spearheaded primarily by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), this wind emerges from a wider Indigenous-led movement demanding restored relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. It beckons all Canadians to join a journey that promises to be difficult but also beautiful and life-giving.
A sign of this reconciling wind took place in Winnipeg on December 18, 2015 when six universities, three colleges and the Manitoba School Boards Association came together in unprecedented collaboration to sign a historic agreement called the Indigenous Education Blueprint. Canadian Mennonite University was one of the signatories.
The ground-breaking document commits the institutions to work respectfully with Indigenous leaders to advance reconciliation through education, research and skill development. It binds them to “concrete practices in order to respect, celebrate, and support Indigenous peoples, knowledge, and success.”
The agreement builds directly on Call to Action #62 of the 94 distinct Calls to Action issued by the TRC when it issued its complete and final report in December. Action #62 calls for the residential school legacy, Treaties, and past and present Indigenous contributions to this country to be a mandatory part of the curriculum in each province and territory.
In referring to the tragic legacy of the Indian Residential Schools, Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, head commissioner for the TRC, has said, “Education is what got us here and education is what will get us out.” In his view, and the view of many Indigenous people, lack of awareness about the residential school system – indeed, about Indigenous people and their contribution to Canada – is a key factor in the broken relationship between Indigenous and settler peoples across the country.
Stephen Kakfwi said recently that Call to Action #62 is the single most important of the 94 Calls to Action. “Ignorance and lack of awareness is the basis of racism and indifference and apathy,” he insists. “Ignorance dehumanizes us as Indigenous people; it dehumanizes all people.” Kakfwi is a residential school survivor who has served as president of the Dene Nation and premier of the Northwest Territories, and is currently president and CEO of Canadians for a New Partnership. He insists that Action #62 could be a game changer for Canada. “Canadians will no longer be able to say ‘we didn’t know.’”
Katsitsakwas Ellen Gabriel, Mohawk activist and artist, says, “We cannot continue to invest in the societal ignorance of such a huge part of our history. . . . Every single minister of education must be implementing the real history of Canada’s colonization.”
KAIROS is actively promoting Action #62 as part of a campaign called Winds of Change and encouraging Canadians to sign a petition that presses each provincial and territorial government to work with Indigneous leaders to implement the mandatory curriculum called for by the TRC. KAIROS is a coalition of 11 national churches and church organizations actively promoting reconciliation and encouraging Canadians to embrace the winds of change and to take action for reconciliation. KAIROS has developed a report card, identifying a baseline of where each province and territory currently stands in teaching about residential schools and Indigenous peoples; it will update this report card as changes are implemented.
Please circulate the petition and sign it! It is small but exceedingly important thing that we all can do to foster reconciliation and to build a better future for all Canadians.
The hope-filled wind of reconciliation is blowing across the land. It beckons those of us who are settlers to learn that which we have not learned about Indigenous people – and also to un-learn the destructive myths, stereotypes and untruths that have held us captive for so long. As the TRC has stated over and over, reconciliation promises to be a long and challenging journey, but it also envisions a beautiful future of justice, healing and respectful relationships. How can we not welcome and embrace wind?
by Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator, MCC Ottawa Office