ITK President Terry Audla with Abigail Carleton, Charlotte Carleton and Aneeka Anderson at the unveiling of a commemorative stained glass window on Parliament Hill as a gesture of reconciliation by the Government of Canada. The window, a permanent commemoration of the legacy of Indian Residential Schools and of the historic Apology, will encourage Parliamentarians, as well as visitors to Parliament for generations to learn about the history of Indian Residential Schools and Canada’s reconciliation efforts. It was designed by Métis artist Christi Belcourt.
By Terry Audla President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
The implementation of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement began in 2007, from which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed. Then in 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons to former students, their families, and communities for Canada’s role in the operation of the residential schools. These pivotal moments have encouraged our country to strike a match and shine a light into some of the darkest corners of our not-so-distant history.
This process has been led, in part, by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and parties to the Settlement Agreement with courage and compassion. I want to commend those involved in the TRC process, most notably the three Commissioners: the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild, for the integrity and care with which they conducted their work.
As part of the mandated activities of the TRC, in 2015, the Commissioners will submit their final report to the Parties of the Agreement, chronicling their work, their findings and setting out recommendations for the future. Following the release of this report, the TRC will no longer exist.
If Canada is to experience true healing in the wake of the legacy of the Residential Schools, the end of the TRC cannot mean the end of the process of reconciliation in our country.
It will become the full responsibility of all Canadians to continue the ongoing work of reconciliation and healing and, in just a few months’ time, the TRC will pass the torch of their work to us collectively to keep the flame alive. We must all be ready to receive it, including the Parties to the Settlement agreement: National Aboriginal Organizations, Churches and the Government of Canada.
Our work is not done — not by a long shot. The transgenerational impact of reproachful policies and attitudes towards First Nations, Inuit and Metis continues to live among my generation and the generation of my children.
As a nation, we cannot turn a blind-eye to the multitude of difficult and complex challenges left in the wake of policies such as the Residential School Program. We must acknowledge the deep hurt of the loss of identity and support the great struggle of regaining our language, culture and communities in the context of today’s modern realities. We must recognize systemic racism against Aboriginal people in our neighbourhoods and actively fight it until our people are afforded the same rights and opportunities as non-Aboriginal people in Canada. We have to hold each other up, not bring each other down.
Our Inuit values instruct us that it is not just “survival of the fittest” but more so “survival among the weakest.” Inuit do not toss aside the broken, beaten or belittled; we work together to lift up each and every member of our community. Our country has to do the same when accepting the task of ongoing healing and reconciliation.
As part of honouring the winding-up of the TRC and the passing of the torch, Parties to the Settlement Agreement have been working with the Commission on a series of events to take place in Ottawa from May 31-June 3, including a Walk for Reconciliation, learning opportunities, art and cultural exhibitions and, most importantly, a chance for us all — Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians — to come together and affirm our commitment to ongoing healing and reconciliation. I invite you to participate and look forward to seeing you there. Please visit www.trc.ca for more details.