Participants took part in a circle dance on Yonge and Dundas Streets in Toronto May 31 to mark the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's inquiry on residential schools in Canada. Photo by Michael Swan

Time for reconciliation

  • June 4, 2015

The truth has been well and tragically documented. Now comes the real work — reconciliation.

That work must start in earnest now that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has published a report that details a century of degradation and despair caused by a partnership between churches and government to culturally re-engineer First Nations, Inuit and Metis children. The program to take children from their homes and forcibly make them “Canadian” saw rampant emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Up to 6,000 aboriginal children may have died at these schools.

The summary report makes 94 calls to action. Most are more reasonable than an ill-conceived demand that Pope Francis come here within a year to apologize for Catholic involvement in these schools. In 2009, Pope Benedict made that exact apology to native leaders in Rome when he admitted Church failures and expressed sorrow for the “deplorable conduct” of some priests and nuns.

It would be heaping tragedy upon tragedy if the TRC fails to become the impetus for genuine healing. Reconciliation must rise out of the tearful truths. The objective must be a society that invites aboriginal peoples to share fully in the quality of life of all Canadians.

The residential school system was a spectacularly destructive policy born out of 1870s’ colonial prejudices. But that doesn’t absolve 21st-century Canadians of moral responsibility to right these shameful wrongs. We are duty bound to forge a new relationship with aboriginal Canada. This relationship must be founded on repentance, dignity and justice. It must invite aboriginal people to share equally and totally in Canadian society.

Reconciliation requires sincere contrition. Then actions are needed to reverse attitudes that have created an unconscionable socio-economic disparity. True reconciliation is impossible without ending tragically high rates of poverty, suicide, abuse, addiction and crime that ravage aboriginal communities. That won’t be easy.

First, the outdated Indian Act regulating government-First Nations relations must be overhauled to remove impediments to reconciliation. That will require genuine consultation between aboriginal peoples and a sincerely remorseful government willing to commit to a truly restorative outcome.

Second, Canada must give native culture and residential school history a prominent place in the curriculum of schools and at other public forums. No one should grow up in ignorance of this shameful episode.

Third, people must pray. As Ottawa Archbishop Terrance Prendergast wrote, Catholics are morally obligated to repent and seek forgiveness for the Church’s complicity in this tragedy. Then people must pray for reconciliation and the onset of a “shared community of mutual respect.”

The truth has been told. Reconciliation must follow.

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