In Recognition of National Truth & Reconciliation Day
Tomorrow is National Truth & Reconciliation Day. To mark this important date, TIABC is dedicating this edition of our weekly newsletter to honour the children who never returned home and the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities. TIABC understands that public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.
We open with an updated re-post from TIABC Director Brenda Baptiste and her poignant editorial from last year’s inaugural National Truth & Reconciliation Day. Also included is a “Member Spotlight” on St. Eugene Golf, Resort and Casino and features content relating to the Indigenous people and communities in our province.
A Message from TIABC Board Director Brenda Baptiste on Truth & Reconciliation
September 30th is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a national holiday to honour the survivors of Canadian residential institutions and those who never made it home.
This day is a time for reflection that Canada is responsible for the deaths and suffering of Indigenous children at residential institutions across the nation. A time to face the truth of a dark side of Canadian history that is not taught in schools or spoken about.
What does reconciliation really mean? This is a very complicated and personal question that will take each of us on a journey of reflection and exploration of our lived experience, personal history, and will make each of us examine our very own identity. It is a process that will be uncomfortable, shocking and sometimes heartbreaking. This is journey is not for the weak and will require courage, empathy and a desire to diligently seek truth – no matter what. However, the outcome will be profound and life-changing, and will be transformative for each of us both individually and collectively.
As an Syilx (Okanagan) woman, I have spent much time in the past few months contemplating this question and reflecting on the meaning of the word, the context of how it’s used and how this fits within my cultural values and beliefs.
According to the Oxford dictionary Reconciliation means:
- The restoration of friendly relations.
- The action of making one view or belief compatible with another.
Within my traditional language, we have no word that means “I’m Sorry”, and when I asked my grandmother about this, she taught that the Okanagan-Syilx language did not need a word for sorry because first, we must do our best to not hurt or harm anyone or anything in this world; however, if we inadvertently did then it is our responsibility to make things right. Reconciliation is about action not words. We show that we care enough to actively seek to create the harmony and caring that are part of the core principles of the Okanagan-Sylix people. We may not always be successful as some things such as historical wrongs and trauma cannot be undone. Lands taken will never be given back. Language and culture taken cannot be fully brought back. It is reality.
I have come to understand that reconciliation is a reciprocal relationship and responsibility. In order to begin the process of healing and reconciliation requires a commitment on both sides to actively seek understanding, awareness, learning, creating a safe place for dialogue and most importantly, creating a a space of silence so that we can truly listen and hear the other’s perspective.
My mother was a residential school survivor, and I was impacted by the inter-generational trauma, as were my children and grandchildren. Aside from stating that she went to St. Mary’s Residential school, she rarely went into the details of her experience if something triggered her trauma. However, she did say that children would go missing and no one ever knew what happened to them. She witnessed the violence and deprivation, but was always warned against talking to anyone about it or she would suffer the same fate. So she kept the secret, and even as an adult she feared retribution is she ever told. As her only daughter, it was often hard to understand her lack of knowledge about family life and parenting decisions, and her reluctance to teach us our language and culture as she was one of the few remaining fluent speakers of Okanagan.
As an adult, I realized that she didn’t understand family relationships or parenting because she had never experienced it. She was taken forcibly from her family at age 5, so her family model was that of an institution, church and the clergy. At 5, she could only speak and understand Okanagan, and was beaten for speaking her language so she couldn’t even ask basic questions about her surroundings or the expectations for behaviour. She learned that there are things you do that are correct because you don’t get beaten, and when you make a mistake – you got beaten.
She and my father chose to not teach us our language because they feared that we would be harmed, taken away or the knowledge would be used to hold us back from becoming successful adults. The hard thing about this is that all of our cultural values, beliefs, principles and teaching stories are embedded within our language. Many teachings and ceremonies have been lost, we have an oral history that can never be reclaimed, and the Okanagan Sylix people have very few fluent speakers left. The loss has been devastating and can never truly be restored.
When she was in her 60’s, she asked me to take her to Cranbrook for “unfinished business”, as she was sick and felt that she didn’t have much time to do this work. My role was to take care of her, but to also stand as her witness for the “work” so that I can pass the story on to my children and grandchildren. During this 4 day trip, she told me all that she had experienced – the trauma, pain, loneliness, and helplessness. Plus the everyday living conditions at the school.
Not all of the stories were bad, she also told me how she had made life-long friends and created a secret family within the school without the staff knowing. She told me funny stories of how they would sneak food out for the younger ones, and at rare times could pull the wool over the staff’s eyes for stolen moments or treats. She also visited the unmarked gravesite, which the children all knew was there and said her goodbyes to those that would never come home again. Although I was truly honoured and blessed to have this time with her, and hear the truth, it came at an emotional cost that has changed my life in many ways. It was painful, however truth often is the heart of pain, and it led to a deeper, richer understanding of my mother and who she was. Her resilience, her courage, her strength and her determination that this would never happen to her children and grandchildren have formed part of who I am as a person and I am grateful. She was daunting as an activist and advocated for the rights of Indigenous people until the day she passed.
What can we do? How can we help?
Using the day and every day to reflect on the true history of Canada, and how they have treated Indigenous people then; and how some of this continues today. Many Indigenous communities still do not have adequate drinking water, housing, food security and other basic needs that all Canadians should have. Realistically looking a historical truths the true and come to terms with the dark side of Canadian history.
Seek truth and start dialogue with courage, and a willingness to create safe places for dialogue and understanding.
Observe ORANGE SHIRT DAY and attend in person or virtually events and learning opportunities.
Find out whose traditional territory that you live, work and visit. Then explore and get to know their people, culture and lands in a respectful and appropriate way. Indigenous culture is founded on hosting guests, so be a respectful and grateful guest in their community and territory.
Reconciliation requires actions – not apologies.
Think about what your CALL TO ACTION is. Whether you are an individual, business owner, parent – what are you doing to increase awareness and support healing during this process?
Educate yourself and pass this knowledge on to others. There are many resources available within Indigenous, government and public organizations. Seek knowledge actively.
Donate, shop, and support Indigenous people in communities to build strong economies. This helps to fight the financial inequities, and provide the resources to begin restoring cultural programming. Purchase Indigenous art.
Eat at Indigenous restaurants. Tour with Indigenous guides. Stay at Indigenous accommodations. Invest in Indigenous.
As an organization, TIABC must ensure that there is an Indigenous voice at all policy and sector tables. And remain true to the principles of UNDRIP and commitment to Reconciliation in all things. TIABC must be an advocate for these principles in all areas, including building a network of strong, collaborative relationships with Indigenous people in the province.