Truth and Reconciliation with Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples

By Joe Gunn

“You shall be called the repairer of the breach…”

– Isaiah 58:12

In over 20 situations across the planet, truth commissions of various sorts have attempted to overcome past injustices. Most often, the process begins with telling a fuller story of what really happened (the truth), as histories are often written by the winners in dominant societal groups. Then apologies for past wrongs are often offered. The most difficult and long-term step (reconciliation) follows: trying to re-establish right relationships.

In many cases, truth and reconciliation processes arose as the result of violence or major social breakdowns and only after intense political struggle brought about great change. This has not been the case to date in the Canadian truth and reconciliation process with Aboriginal peoples, especially with those who suffered in residential schools. There has been a Residential Schools Settlement Agreement since 2008, covering the federal government, Aboriginal peoples, and the four Christian churches that ran residential schools (Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, and Presbyterian). Engaging in this agreement process continues to offer valuable opportunities for the journey of reconciliation to continue and deepen.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is hosting their seventh and final Truth and Reconciliation National Event in Edmonton from March 27-30, 2014. CPJ, as an affiliate member of the Canadian Council of Churches, added our support to an expression of reconciliation that was presented at this meeting. The document, signed by Edmontonian and CPJ Board chair Mark Huyser-Wierenga, expresses our organization’s strong support for the involvement of all Canadians in the process of reconciliation with Aboriginal people, as something we must do as “treaty people.”

Cindy Blackstock, Gitxsan activist for child welfare and Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, defined reconciliation as “not saying sorry twice.” For CPJ, in very concrete terms, reconciliation has to be an integral element of public justice with concrete actions and not mere words. Without attention to Aboriginal concerns around poverty, care for creation in Aboriginal territories and meaningful recognition of Aboriginal rights we will never reverse the centuries of discrimination and exploitation that have diminished us all.

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