The director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation looks ahead to Canada’s bicentennial
Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
IIn an opinion piece published by the CBC in December 2016, Ry Moran wrote that he hoped Canada’s 150th year would mark a turning point in the country’s relationship with its Indigenous Peoples. As director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, Moran has a challenging mandate: ensure that both Indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada can access the often painful truth of our shared history, so that we can move forward in mutual respect and understanding. Here, as the sesquicentennial celebrations draw to a close and Canada looks ahead to its next 50 years, Moran reflects on the progress we’ve made — and how far we’ve yet to go.
On the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in Canada 150
There have been strong efforts made to include Indigenous voices in the conversation about our history this year. I went to the opening of the new Canadian History Hall at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, and Indigenous Peoples and perspectives are now much more prevalent. That exhibition also covers things such as residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, which is really positive. But there was a lot of other stuff happening that was not fully reflective of the much longer history Indigenous Peoples have on this land. I think we need to look at 2017 as a starting point on this journey of reconciliation.
On coming to terms with the truth
When we talk about truth and reconciliation, we’re talking about providing a voice to Indigenous people who have been marginalized. Change is inherently uncomfortable, but I think that as a country, we need to become much more comfortable with discomfort. We need to find a degree of peace hearing messages that perhaps we don’t want to hear or don’t understand. And we need to try to create the spaces within ourselves, within our society, within our organizations and institutions, within public discourse, for these uncomfortable truths to emerge.
On the debate surrounding the removal of monuments and renaming of public buildings
We have to remember that what we’re trying to do with reconciliation is create safe places. Indigenous Peoples’ safety has been affected by this colonial experiment that we’ve called Canada, and we have to think about what those historical figures represent now that this truth is coming out. How does it feel for an Indigenous child who walks into a school that’s named for Sir John A. Macdonald — somebody who oversaw the destruction of his or her ancestors’ culture, identity and livelihood, whose intent was to eliminate Indigenous Peoples from this country? It’s a sign of the process of maturation that we’re going through as a country that we’re able to have a much
deeper conversation about these figures and decide whether these are the types of people that we actually want representing us.
On the need for an Indigenous geography of Canada
It’s interesting how many places in Canada recall or evoke really specifically British memories and realities. We have to remember that is a very recent layer that has been imposed upon this land. It’s not like once upon a time people went around naming mountains and rivers after individuals; there were meaningful descriptors embedded within the names that helped to give shape and identity to where we live and to our relationship to the land. We’ve got this kind of national narrative that people
“discovered” this place, and we pretend for a second that all of these mountains and all of these lakes didn’t already have names, that the land was devoid of people and connections. But the reality is there’s a much deeper, much older narrative. On his hopes for Canada in 2067
I hope we’ll have seen a fundamental shift in the level of understanding of Indigenous Peoples and their histories and perspectives. I also hope that society will have really recognized the harmful effects of colonization and the traumas that have been wrought upon Indigenous Peoples, and that we will have taken serious steps to heal those traumas. For Indigenous Peoples themselves, I’m hopeful that we’ll have seen enough of the right kind of support provided to communities, nations and individuals so that healing work is really able to occur.
Ry Moran at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
The bentwood box, which held offerings commemorating personal journeys toward reconciliation during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s mandate.