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In Our View: Truth comes before reconciliation

Understanding harms done has to come first to make real change
A woman holds an eagle feather and red dress as she listens to speakers during National Day of Truth and Reconciliation ceremonies on Parliament Hill, Thursday, September 30, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The road to reconciliation between Canada’s Indigenous and settler communities is going to be a long one.

And honestly, we’re barely even at the starting line. Before reconciliation, we have to get to truth, and plenty of people are having trouble with that part of the equation.

There are still people who, in the face of testimony from thousands of survivors of residential schools, insist that the schools weren’t so bad, or had some “bright side,” or “did some good.” This is not as rare a viewpoint as we’d like it to be – until last year, it was publicly put forward by at least one member of the Canadian Senate.

In recent years, a lot more non-Indigenous Canadians have come to see that our history books had skimmed over a lot of injustices done to this land’s First Nations. The discovery of large, unmarked graveyards at residential schools has a lot to do with this.

Canada’s second official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation takes place Friday, Sept. 30. It specifically recognizes the harm of the residential school system, but it’s also a chance to remember the long legacy of institutional racism that Indigenous Canadians have faced from early colonial days, right up to the modern era.

Who among us has not heard, at one time or another, some snide joke about Indigenous people? Unfortunately these attitudes are not the legacy of some distant past. They exist right now.

A real reconciliation is going to be difficult, and we don’t know exactly what it will look like. That’s going to be an ongoing process that will take time.

But it starts with the truth – that a lot of non-Indigenous Canadians were personally or institutionally racist, and that caused a massive amount of harm over multiple generations.

Once we get to the truth, we can work towards a lasting reconciliation.

– M.C.