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Truth and Reconciliation: What Does It Mean for the Bow Valley?

TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION:
WHAT DOES IT MEAN
FOR THE BOW VALLEY?

by Meghan J. Ward

On October 29, 2016, 250 Bow Valley residents joined thought leaders from across the nation, Indigenous leaders, and those involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada to explore our roles in repairing Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal peoples. And while many of us were left with more questions than answers, the event sparked an important dialogue and one that deserves to continue here in our mountain communities.


 

Photo by Don Lee, courtesy of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

Photo by Don Lee, courtesy of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

“Reconciliation is not simply about doing new things; it’s about doing all things in new ways, with new attitudes on all sides, new relationships in the making and new participants in the decision-making rooms of our country.”

– Dr. Marie Wilson, 
Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission

If I learned anything at the Truth and Reconciliation Summit hosted at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in October, it’s that it’s OK not to know exactly what reconciliation looks like. The point is that we faced the truth, engaged in conversation, sparked ideas and now have returned to our own communities, relationships, and workplaces with a new perspective on reconciliation. We read the 94 Calls to Action and let them guide us in our own journey towards repairing Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal peoples.

And while it’s OK not to know, I think we still need to try. We need to try to find a sense of direction even though we may be left with a loss for words. We need to operate in a realm of hope, where we can envisage a future of equality and justice. We need to seek to understand the perspective of those who have been harmed by Indian Residential Schools and the injustices that preceded and followed them.

THE IMPACT OF RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS

Kathleen Mahoney, Chief Negotiator for the Assembly of First Nations settlement agreement with Canada for reparations and Truth and Reconciliation Process, provided an overview of what transpired in the Indian Residential Schools:

Over 150,000 children attended the Residential Schools, which were established across the country to force the assimilation of Indigenous people and strip them of spiritual and cultural practices. The Residential Schools forced the separation of young children from family and community, forbade the children to speak their native languages, and provided inferior education. Children in the schools were vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse (37,951 abuse claims were filed during the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement) and were subjects of deplorable experiments, including vaccination experiments, the denial of vitamins and some food, and deprival of adequate clothing. More than 3,000 children died in the what has now been famously labelled by the Chief Justice as “cultural genocide.” The last of these schools closed in 1996.

Canmore resident and Principal, Tsuu T’ina Nation High School, Jeff Horvath, shared the stories of his mother's experience in the residential school system, and that "education is where we believe that reconciliation will happen." Photo by Don Lee, courtesy of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

Canmore resident and Principal, Tsuu T’ina Nation High School, Jeff Horvath, shared the stories of his mother’s experience in the residential school system, and that “education is where we believe that reconciliation will happen.” Photo by Don Lee, courtesy of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

But the trauma did not end there. The children from this system eventually grew up, and as adults have struggled to come to terms with what transpired. In 1991, Phil Fontaine became the first Indigenous leader to speak publicly about the abuses he experienced in the Residential School system. But it would take nearly two more decades for the Government of Canada to give a formal apology to Residential School survivors, which finally occurred on June 10, 2008. This apology was one of many stepping stones towards reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples, but our work continues.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was put in place to provide a forum for truth-telling and a way forward. The TRC’s reports reveal countless stories of heartache, intense fear and trauma; of abuses that led to substance abuse and more; of post-traumatic stress that continues in a seemingly inescapable cycle. This is the “truth” part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s efforts. The “reconciliation” aspect is embodied by the 94 Calls to Action that offer an open call to all Canadians to find ways to take action in their own lives.

WHAT DOES RECONCILIATION LOOK LIKE
HERE IN THE MOUNTAINS?

On October 29, 2016, I joined 250 Bow Valley residents at the Truth and Reconciliation Summit to listen and learn. Together we heard the stories. Together we discussed ideas and heard from others how they are working towards reconciliation.

Bow Valley residents share their "sparks" and ideas from an afternoon of discussion. Photo by Don Lee, courtesy of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

Bow Valley residents share their “sparks” and ideas from an afternoon of discussion. Photo by Don Lee, courtesy of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

The Bow Valley, which is Treaty 7 Territory, was once home to Indigenous peoples, including the Stoneys, Tsuu T’ina, Kainai, Peigans, Kootenay, and Siksika. In fact, archaeological discoveries date the presence of human activity in the Bow Valley back over 10,000 years. And while some peaks and other mountain features retain their Aboriginal names and have helped to preserve this history, in most regards we are left without this cultural presence. In a short time in the human history of the Bow Valley, we have lost our connection to the original mountain dwellers. In their place, we like to tell the stories of the ‘first to discover’ now famous locations. We forget that we have a wonderful connection to that Indigenous heritage living amongst us and just a few minutes down Highway 1.

Participants gather in the Max Bell Auditorum at the Truth and Reconciliation Summit. Photo by Don Lee, courtesy of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

Participants gather in the Max Bell Auditorum at the Truth and Reconciliation Summit. Photo by Don Lee, courtesy of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

Sometimes the challenges of reconciliation seem insurmountable. But I look to some of the connections being made both publicly and under the surface; to the work of individuals and organizations, such as Banff Centre, seeking to establish a shared vision; to the efforts being made for two-way learning, for cultural exchange, and supporting the work of Indigenous artists, leaders, teachers and other community members.

There is hope in even the smallest steps. Our job is to embody the 94 Calls to Action in our own lives. Personally, I want to tap into the wisdom and knowledge of Indigenous people to gain a deeper understanding of our mountain environment. I want to join forces with people doing work in our communities to celebrate the culture and improve the wellbeing of Aboriginal peoples. I want to provide a platform for storytelling and the exchange of information. It will be a work in progress, but I am committed to it.

WHAT WILL YOU DO?

We’ve opened up our Comments down below for you to share. Please be kind, constructive and respectful with your feedback.

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Meghan J. Ward is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief at Crowfoot Media/Canadian Rockies Annual.

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