Panel dis­cusses Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion re­port find­ings

“In­com­plete­ness” of re­port poses chal­lenges to im­ple­men­ta­tion

The McGill Daily - - News - So­nia Ionescu The Mcgill Daily

On March 30, the New­man In­sti­tute of Catholic Stud­ies hosted a panel at Moot Court in Chan­cel­lor Day Hall to dis­cuss the find­ings of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) of Canada, and the unique chal­lenges these find­ings present to uni­ver­si­ties.

The panelists were for­mer prime min­is­ter Paul Martin, Michael Loft, an aca­demic as­so­ciate at Mcgill and mem­ber of the Mo­hawk com­mu­nity, TRC Com­mis­sioner Marie Wil­son, and Ron­ald Niezen, a pro­fes­sor of law at Mcgill.

Speak­ing to The Daily, sev­eral stu­dents re­marked on the fact that there was only one Indige­nous speaker on the panel. Two au­di­ence mem­bers who spoke at the panel also iden­ti­fied them­selves as Indige­nous and spoke about their ex­pe­ri­ences.

Legacy of res­i­den­tial schools

Es­tab­lished in 2008, the TRC aims to doc­u­ment con­di­tions in the Cana­dian res­i­den­tial school sys­tem, and the ex­pe­ri­ences of the sur­vivors, fam­i­lies, and com­mu­ni­ties af­fected. Indige­nous chil­dren were forcibly re­moved from their fam­i­lies and placed into res­i­den­tial schools, where they ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal, sex­ual, and emo­tional abuse at the hands of their care­tak­ers. The con­clu­sion of the TRC re­port con­tains 94 rec­om­men­da­tions to help non-indige­nous Cana­di­ans and Indige­nous peo­ples move toward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Speak­ing to the im­pact of res­i­den­tial schools, Martin said, “Those chil­dren go­ing into of­fre­serve com­mu­ni­ties, los­ing their abil­ity to have their cul­ture, los­ing their par­ents, los­ing their lan­guage, is prob­a­bly the sin­gle great­est tragedy and the sin­gle great­est black mark that this coun­try has faced.”

Wil­son fo­cused largely on the TRC’S man­date of in­form­ing Cana­di­ans about the truth be­hind res­i­den­tial schools. She noted the im­por­tance of Cana­dian lead­ers who are “well rounded in our no­tions of coun­try and no­tions of re­la­tion­ship to the other and a truth­ful un­der­stand­ing of our na­tional his­tory.”

Niezen called for cau­tion about what truth is dis­cussed, and whose truth it is. Ac­cord­ing to Niezen, the TRC has an overly lim­ited def­i­ni­tion for res­i­den­tial schools. “We see this fo­cus on fed­eral, fed­er­ally funded, fed­er­ally man­dated In­dian res­i­den­tial schools in the sub­ject mat­ter of the TRC. Last I looked, there were about 1,500 in­sti­tu­tions that were claimed un­suc­cess­fully as In­dian res­i­den­tial schools. The ma­jor­ity of these were In­dian day schools,” Niezen said.

This lim­ited def­i­ni­tion, and the “in­com­plete­ness of the TRC,” Niezen ex­plained, poses a chal­lenge to uni­ver­si­ties hop­ing to im­ple­ment the TRC’S calls to ac­tion, which in­clude, for ex­am­ple, re­quir­ing med­i­cal and nurs­ing stu­dents in Canada to take a course con­cern­ing Abo­rig­i­nal health is­sues, in­clud­ing the his­tory and legacy of res­i­den­tial schools.

Indige­nous nar­ra­tives on cam­pus

Ac­cord­ing to the panelists, an­other chal­lenge faced by uni­ver­si­ties stems from the lack of space given to Indige­nous nar­ra­tives on cam­puses.

Loft con­ceded that there has been some progress made in Indige­nous vis­i­bil­ity at Mcgill, such as the cre­ation of the First Peo­ples’ House and the mi­nor in Indige­nous Stud­ies; how­ever, he also ar­gued that there was room for im­prove­ment.

Loft said, “For me, it’s about what’s miss­ing – signs that are able to con­nect Indige­nous peo­ple to the prom­ise of ed­u­ca­tion at this in­sti­tu­tion. [...] For ex­am­ple, when walk­ing up from Sher­brooke, we see on the right the James Mcgill statue. We go a lit­tle fur­ther and we see the Que­bec flag and Canada flag. We see the clas­sic Greek col­umns of the Arts Build­ing, and on the top, of course, the mart­let flag. That’s it.”

Loft con­tin­ued, “Yes, we have the Hochelaga rock, but the prob­lem with that is that no one knows about it. [...] It’s been star­ing at every­one since 1925, right by Rod­dick Gates. It’s im­pos­si­ble to see.”

Jimmy Gut­man, a Mcgill stu­dent in at­ten­dance at the panel, spoke to The Daily about the small num­ber of Indige­nous stu­dents in uni­ver­si­ties, which Gut­man be­lieves stems from Indige­nous stu­dents get­ting less fund­ing for pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion per stu­dent.

“In gen­eral, if you live in an up­per mid­dle class neigh­bor­hood, you get more than if you live in a poor neigh­bour­hood, and you get even less if you live on a reser­va­tion. So there’s a big dis­crep­ancy in what Indige­nous peo­ple have his­tor­i­cally re­ceived,” Gut­man said.

Mov­ing for­ward

Au­di­ence mem­bers and panelists alike dis­cussed the ne­ces­sity of in­clud­ing Indige­nous voices in ma­te­ri­als taught, as well as en­cour­ag­ing di­ver­sity on cam­pus.

Loft pro­posed “a mi­cro-ap­proach,” for Mcgill, which would con­sist of two steps: mov­ing the Hochelaga Rock to a more vis­i­ble space, and rais­ing the Hi­awatha Belt flag on the Arts Build­ing on June 21, Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Day. “It’s nice to talk about big ideas, but we’ve got to get the ball rolling,” he ex­plained.

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