National Truth and Reconciliation Day has been far too long in coming, but it’s finally here.
Far more needs to be done before we can sincerely say Canada is committed to making good of its past evils. But a day of remembrance puts the lessons of Canada’s genocide on the people of Turtle Island at the same level of national importance as ‘Lest We Forget’ — which is absolutely where it should be.
This day is the beginning of what will be a long and difficult journey.
It may not be what people who have been waiting far too long for this want to hear, but now the most important thing we must all do is stay patient. We need to be patient with the process, with the speed of committees, funding and programs. We need to be patient with ourselves as we navigate these emotionally charged issues. Above all, we need to be patient with each other as we grow and learn from the past.
Remember that no civilization in history has ever tried this before. The traditional attitude of conquerors is “assimilate or die” and we see this mentality at work in much of the horrific news of oppression we read from around the planet. There is no historical precedent for what we are attempting here in Canada — we’re in completely new territory.
But patience cannot be infinite and this day has to be about more than just wearing orange. While there is a desire to make progress and in some cases the lives of Indigenous people in Canada are moving in the right direction, there is a lot more to do. Since 2015 the federal government has managed to improve water quality on enough reserves to lift 101 long-term boil water advisories, but missed its own deadline and 58 still remain. Eliminating laws that restrict traditional ways of life is ongoing, but still conflicts are erupting in Nova Scotia between Mi’kmaq and commercial fishers. Provincial governments in Alberta and B.C. continue their efforts to build pipelines and dams their supporters don’t want in their own back yards on unceded territory. Funding from Jordan’s Principle has opened up a huge amount of opportunities for Indigenous youth, but bands continue to be strapped for cash and unable to provide needed services for adults. Work is underway to preserve the many wonderful Indigenous languages and dialects of our country, but to date none are considered official languages in Ottawa.
This is a very small handful of the issues that we will need to resolve to achieve real reconciliation. The commission has spelled out the bare minimum colonists need to do to show we truly regret what was done in the past. The way forward will require diligence and determination. It’s taken us generations to do this damage, it will undoubtedly take as long to repair it.
Our road to reconciliation will be a very long one, with lots of forks, detours, dead ends and wrong turns. We are drawing the map as we make the journey. For those of us descended from colonists every step of the way will be uncomfortable — and downright traumatic for survivors.
But while we still don’t know how to get there, we know we want to.
Make no mistake about it, we’re going.