by Treena Tallow
Canada is on the path of closing a dark chapter in Canadian history with respect to its treatment of Indigenous people. A legacy plagued with trauma, hurt, and distrust is on the threshold of becoming a time of healing.
On a cold November day, I was sitting with two respected Elders: Phillis and Marcia (not their real names). We discussed politics and family life. I was so pleased to see the two catching up on old times: they hadn’t seen each other since they were children in residential school. I could see the joy and happiness they shared in that moment. The two hugged and eagerly reconnected. I observed a long standing deep connection. Then the moment came that would change my life forever: Marcia declared with a lump in her throat
“Not a day goes by that I thank the Creator that I was born an ugly child”.
I stood in disbelief. I asked myself, “Did I hear that right?”
Phillis was an elderly woman: her beauty radiated. I couldn’t imagine how beautiful she must have been as a child if she was this beautiful as an elderly woman. I always thought to myself that beauty was an asset – something that helped one get ahead in one’s life. Phillis had lovely long grey hair. However, her eyes told a story of pain and suffering. In the residential school era, beauty could make one vulnerable for abuse. Phillis struggled her entire life: she experienced profoundly lasting and damaging impacts from the sexual abuse experienced in residential school that impacted every area of her life. Even today. many Indigenous people like Phillis crave the validation and acknowledgement of the horrific abuses imposed upon them: they want closure.
Reconciliation aims to support the healing of Indigenous people from the destructive legacies of colonization and the long lasting impacts that continue on to today.
The Canadian Government (2016) adopted the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous people as an officially binding International document. What’s more, the Truth & Reconciliation commission’s calls to action acquired through residential school survivor testimony is considered “healing medicine” by many of Canada’s Indigenous people.
Lethbridge and participating organizations will be contributing to a week-long celebration in the spirit of Reconciliation September 19 to 23. Every single Canadian can contribute. As Canadians we have a sacred trust to act in support of Canada’s most vulnerable no matter their color, creed or social standing.
The statement of apologies and the TRC has begun the process of healing. The 94 TRC Calls to Action and the Lethbridge “Reconciliation Implementation Plan 2017-2027” has inspired the important work of creating an awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm, and action to create a more cohesive Canada.
The final report outline’s 94 “calls to action,” 18) which states
“We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law and constitutional law, and under the Treaties.”
Providing Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people the opportunity for dialogue on reconciliation and appropriate action is considered the Medicine that can improve the Indigenous plight. Building sacred trusts by acknowledging the past wrongs, and providing education and awareness for a better future can provide some atonement for those suffering.
Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually-respectful relationship among Indigenous and Non-Indigenous. Coming together to find local solutions to assist our most vulnerable Canadians is key.
Reconciliation can ignite Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people to transform Canadian society so that future generations can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share.
Treena Tallow is an Advisor with AHS Aboriginal Addiction and Mental Health, Indigenous Health Program in South Zone. She can be reached by e-mail: [email protected]