LETTER: Truth must come before Reconciliation

Speakers at Sunday’s vigil in front of Macdonald Holding Court on Picton Main Street for the 215 children whose bodies were discovered in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops BC insisted that “The Truth must be accepted before Reconciliation becomes possible.”

Political leadership is badly needed for us to move forward on accepting the Truth in the County.

Take just one example. During Council’s deliberations on the future of Holding Court in November 2020, a Councillor who promotes himself as an especially close friend of Indigenous People, made this series of claims: “If you are saying, that the legacy of Canada, or the legacy of Canada regarding Canada, is a country that would fund a six year, $70 million study, called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and that, in the end, that Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be a pretty brutal assessment of the past, and then apologize for that past, and begin a compensation program to address survivor issues, I think that’s pretty remarkable. And if that is the legacy of Macdonald as our country, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a product of that legacy, and the Chair of that Commission, Senator Sinclair, has a very definite position that we’ll hear regarding statues, then I tend to agree with you.” [See video-recording of Special Council Meeting, November 17, 2020, at approx. 24:56].

Now, Senator Sinclair does have a very definite position regarding both the legacy of John A. Macdonald and the Canadian government’s part in the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but it’s definitely not this Councillor’s and not what this Councillor suggests: “Our Commission wasn’t established by government. Our Commission was actually established as a result of a Court Order. A lot of people don’t know that. A lot of people don’t understand that. They think that we’re a government-created Commission. In fact, many Survivors think we’re a government-created Commission. I think it’s probably because the government has been very quick to take credit for the appointment of the Commissioners to the Commission. But I’m very assertive about pointing out both to the government, to the public, and to the Survivors, that this is not a government-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We are not accountable to the government. We do not report to the government. The reason is because everything goes back to the lawsuits. You may remember, that beginning in the 1990s, a number of Survivors took action against the government and some of the Churches for things that had happened to them while they were students in the Residential Schools in Canada…. Under the [Indian Residential Schools] Settlement Agreement, the Survivors agreed that $60 million out of that $2 billion fund would be set aside for purposes of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And so, that’s why I say, that our Truth and Reconciliation Commission is not established by government-order. Our Commission is established because of the Residential Schools litigation.” [See video-recording of Murray Sinclair, Is there a traditional perspective of Truth and Reconciliation? (April 11, 2011), at approx. 12:30 and 46:59].

I’m making this point now for three reasons.

First, that we must still work to establish the Truth of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself is a measure of just how far we have to go yet as Canadians.

Second, the Truth is, not only did the Canadian government not establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a spirit of benevolence bestowed upon us by Macdonald, but it actively thwarted – and continues to this day to thwart – the efforts of the Commission and others to uncover the Truth.

Finally, the Canadian government’s perfidy extends to withholding documents that could help identify and bring home the remains of hundreds of dead and missing children who did not survive Canada’s residential school system.

And so, First Nations are left walk these school grounds grasping heavy machinery, praying to catch the faintest echoes of their ancestors’ cries.

Paul Allen