November 2010

Contents Related Letters

Re: “Truth vs. Reconciliation?,” by William Schabas

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has a difficult job before it. It must balance the needs and aspirations of the community to seek out “truth” about what occurred in the tragedies inflicted during the residential school era, and move us toward reconciliation” for those tragedies. It may be impossible to do both.

Many in the aboriginal community wonder what new truths can be told about this sad chapter in Canadian history. Vast communication efforts have made most Canadians aware of the residential school era and much ink has been spilled exploring the depths of the crimes committed. I am not arguing that increased awareness is not important. Clearly it is. However, Canada will only have this one opportunity to truly put in place the framework to set it right. I am just not fully convinced that more truth telling is critical to accomplish this.

What is critical is how to get to true reconciliation. If this commission is to be effective for the very communities that the residential school process sought to destroy, then just as much effort must be placed on real, measurable acts of reconciliation. What would these acts be? Acts that lead to healthy communities for starters. Establishing education systems that will graduate our youth and allow our nations to live as strong and independent peoples. We need to reconstitute the First Nations of this country that were so badly damaged in pursuit of assimilation.

This requires political will on the part of the federal government, which sadly seems to be lacking. In the meanwhile a well-meaning commission with dedicated commissioners is doing its best to hear from Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, about residential school abuses and their collective thoughts on how we should respond. It would have been interesting to read what Professor Schabas has observed in other communities that generates true reconciliation, and how that experience could enrich us all. We have one opportunity to get this right; let’s call upon all of our collective wisdom to do so.

Peter Dinsdale
National Association of Friendship Centres
Ottawa, Ontario

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