Reflections on the TRC
By now everyone on campus has heard about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, even if only in the capacity of “we got a day off for it”. For those who did not attend, the week incorporated many different events focusing on the effects of Residential Schools on Canada’s First Nations with a general celebration of West Coast First Nations culture. It was powerful.
I watched a man, confident and assured of himself, break down onstage as he shared his story of being unable to express love to his children and his wish for a second chance. For many survivors, this was the first time they had told their stories. I watched the children of Residential School survivors tell their stories of longing for their parents’ love, of their anger at the wounds of their parents, and of their paths to healing. Other minorities who have been oppressed stood and expressed their solidarity with First Nations.
My experience of being visibly First Nations in Canada has not been devoid of racism. I’ve been personally harmed and wounded as a result of Residential Schools, though I never attended one. I see the effects of multi-generational family breakdowns every time I go home. This isn’t academic to me; this is my reality. I go through periods of anger at the church and at Canada for putting my family and I through this. To hear the stories of others voiced in a public arena, to hear the apologies of the church and their acknowledgement of the hurt they have caused, was validating and cathartic. Reconciliation isn’t an abstract idea. It’s forgiveness and healing.
At the end of the week, Reconciliation Canada hosted a walk through the downtown area of Vancouver to express commitment to a new way forward: collaboration over antagonism. As the event got underway, Bernice King, daughter of American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech to the thousands gathered. She inherited her father’s ability to move a crowd along with his commitment to long term progress, and that moment would have been the emotional high of the day for me, had not the actual walk occurred.
The event organizers planned the route to double back on itself over two bridges near the BC Place Stadium. This allowed the people on one bridge to see the people walking in the opposite direction on the other bridge. Walking towards the middle of the crowd, I was able to see both ends of the crowd. The number of people was staggering. Conservative estimates put the total number at around 10, 000. People held signs above their umbrellas: “Japanese Canadians stand with you.”
In that moment, the detractors and the hecklers (easily found with a cursory search of First Nations news articles) were all put in their place. Thousands of people sacrificed their time, warmth, and dry feet to march in the rain in support of reconciliation; no internet forum can compare.
The overall attitude of the Truth and Reconciliation events was realistic optimism. There was acknowledgement both that things are changing and that there is so much more yet to be done. The personal and communal wounds were aired and recorded, but so were expressions of moving forward as Canada becomes a society that is both just and successful. That is what true reconciliation looks like, both for myself and for Canada as a whole.