Ever since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its report in 2015 Canadians had no excuse for not learning the truth. I know few people read it. That is unfortunate. The ugly truth was there.
I was fortunate in that I heard the Honourable Murray Sinclair, the Chair person of the Commission deliver to us a peak at the impending report of the Truth and Reconciliation report or at least some of the things that were in it, during a speech many years ago to Manitoba lawyers at the Manitoba Bar Association. It was shocking. Until then I had erroneously believed that the problems in residential schools were mainly “a few bad apples” in the churches. Until then I erroneously believed that the government of Canada was not responsible since it had contracted with churches to administer an educational program for indigenous children in Canada. It was all the fault of the churches I thought.I was pitifully ignorant and naïve. The start of my education began that day I heard Judge Sinclair speak.
Recently, there have been many indications that a major result of that report, trying to move Canada forward towards reconciliation is gaining strength. So far the steps are modest. But baby steps are better than no steps.
On the National Day of Reconciliation for Canada this year I was confined to my home trying to recover from a cold and avoid spreading it to others. As a result I watched a lot of television shows on indigenous issues and reconciliation. As well, I watched the Winnipeg Blue Bomber football team give a firm rebuke to their arch rivals the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the 3rd time this year. It was sweet.
But some things were even sweeter. First, the Bombers wore orange practice shirts, in honour of Orange Shirt Day (the alternative name for this memorable day). Then a referee announced penalties in both English and Ojibway. The half time show featured indigenous entertainment such as dancing. There was also a specific section in which indigenous people from around Manitoba were given a specific section. But the sweetest moment was when Blue Bomber receiver Nic Demski caught a football in the Saskatchewan endzone for a touchdown and then threw the football into the endzone section filled with indigenous people who were wildly enthusiastic by the throw.
It really felt great. It was great. These things would not have happened to this extent only few years ago. These were indications of progress. You could see it on the faces of the people. One of the chiefs who was interviewed at half time said, “We are seeing reconciliation in action.”
All of that is good, but we must remember gestures, even good gestures, are not enough. As Niigaan Sinclair a professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Manitoba echoed the words of his father Murray Sinclair when he said, “Canada has to spend as much of an effort at reconciliation as it did in destroying Indigenous communities.” That is the nub. Gestures are not enough. We must take the next step. And that can’t be less than the baby steps we have taken. It took generations to inflict the pain on indigenous people. We must take generations to repair the damage and restore those communities to the positions they would have been in had those harms not occurred.
I hope these steps we have seen so far are not merely ornamental, but real. Baby steps must lead to real steps.