2020 Reflections – The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report was released in the week just before the start of the Indigenous focus cohort 3 in June and I was both profoundly moved and disturbed by the findings. I was also anxious. The TRC report was a call to action, but how could we respond, and what did we need to be mindful of and do within Leadership 2020 – and with the upcoming Indigenous focus cohort – to honour the TRC’s work and most importantly, the testimony of the thousands of survivors who told their stories? What does reconciliation look like and what could I/we do to live into this spirit? These are questions I invite our Leadership 2020 community to explore and discuss.
The opening paragraphs of the report reflected my anxiety and questions: “Now that we know about residential schools and their legacy, what do we do about it?

“Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. It requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of the residential school system be rejected as the basis for an ongoing relationship. Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed. It also requires an understanding that the most harmful impacts of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people, and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours.Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered” (italics added, p. vi).

The TRC calls for us to become more aware, as a start, “Too many Canadians know little or nothing about the deep historical roots of these conflicts. This lack of historical knowledge has serious consequences for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and for Canada as a whole. In government circles, it makes for poor public policy decisions. In the public realm, it reinforces racist attitudes and fuels civic distrust between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. Too many Canadians do not know the history of Aboriginal peoples’ contributions to Canada, or understand that by virtue of the historical and modern Treaties negotiated by our government, we are all Treaty people. History plays an important role in reconciliation; to build for the future, Canadians must look to, and learn from, the past” (Italics added, p. 8). 

The TRC report is a heart- and gut-wrenching read – but I believe that it should be required reading for any of us working in this sector. The truth-telling of the 100-year story of the IRS and the resulting cultural genocide, as well as the ‘sixties scoop’, helps us become more historically and culturally aware. It positions us to better understand the diverse contemporary experiences of Indigenous people and communities. It is also a humbling and significant call to action. The recommended actions in the section on Child Welfare (pp. 137-144) are of particular importance, although the child welfare interests cannot be separated from health, education, justice, and culture.

The TRC also suggests that “reconciliation as an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships. A critical part of this process involves repairing damaged trust by making apologies, providing individual and collective reparations, and following through with concrete actions that demonstrate real societal change” (p. 16).

So now what? Certainly the different levels of government have work to do, but so do we as individuals and as leaders in this field. As we prepared to welcome the Indigenous focus cohort to Bowen Island in June, the hosting team spent a number of hours talking about the TRC report, what it meant to us, what was being called for now and how we would ‘show up’ for the participants and for each other. Through this dialogue and intention, I gained a different level of presence and mindfulness and am grateful to Wedlidi, Caitlin, Chris and Annemarie for the dialogue. I have a long way to go on my journey from cultural awareness, to understanding, to competency, to humility, and to cultural agility and wise action, but it is clear that it cannot be a solitary journey.

In the Fall we would like to host some online dialogue circles on reconciliation and invite your ideas. What questions are you carrying? What do you need to learn, discuss, or practice in order to live into the spirit of reconciliation?