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Canadian TRC

June 14, 2015

The Truth and Reconcilliation Commision just released the executive summary of their final report.  This summary is almost 400 pages, but it’s worth reading.  The abuse of Canadian Indians in residential schools is well documented there.  Theodore (Ted) Fontaine’s book Broken Circle describes his residential school experiences in more detail.

I’ve been comparing the Canadian Truth and Reconcilliation Commision with what I know of the South African body of the same name.  The two have some history in common.  The policy to deprive native people of their language, culture, and religion seems to have been the main one.  This may be abhorrent today, but it was the approach taken by all colonial governments in the recent past.

In the South African case, it was the native African majority that was abused by the Boer and British minorities.  After the African National Congress took power, and Nelson Mandela became president, the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission was formed to investigate this abuse.  At the time, it was still a recent memory for all people involved.  The commission had a broad scope, providing a platform for reconcilliation.  It heard from both victims and perpetrators of abuse.  Many of their stories were painful just to listen to.  Their commission did much to bring the two sides together.

The Canadian case was different.  In Canada, the native people were a minority.  European immigrants and settlers, and their descendants were the majority.  These people, to a large extent, also formed the government.  Most of the abuse happened 50 or 100 years ago.  Memories are fading, even when they are passed along to younger generations.  The Truth and Reconcilliation Commision had a narrow scope, mostly focusing on residential schools.  Most of the people who told their stories to the commision are victims of residential school policies.  The people who devised these policies are all dead now.  The commission’s report is really a plea for reconcilliation, along with a series of actions that need to be taken to achieve this.  It will be interesting to see if the government will follow the path mapped out in the report.

No doubt there will be many detractors of this report and its recommendations.  The more extreme of them will say that it’s just another waste of money.  They’ll say that they are not responsible, because it all happened in the past.  They’ll say that Indians don’t deserve a better life, because it’s their fault.  No doubt they’ll say the same thing about any poor people.  They certainly won’t be interested in reconcilliation.

As far as I can see, the only thing the two commissions have in common is the name.  The Canadian one brings hope for the future, along with a plea for reconcilliation.  I wish I were more optimistic, but I only see lots of talk with little action coming up.  At least the report points the way to reconcilliation.

 

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