Carolyn Bennett June 24th, 2015

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Together we can upright the canoe

Carolyn_Bennett_column

It’s only two years until we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, on July 1, 2017. We have so much to be proud of.

I fondly remember 1967 and especially Expo 67 in Montreal, where there seemed to be an explosion of creativity and talent. Canadians finally got an opportunity to see and hear themselves and feel very, very proud of their many contributions. Fifty years later, our country is still known for its warm and welcoming people, and its stunning vistas. Fifty years later, we are also known for our vibrant, safe cities and rich, diverse culture and enterprise.

On June 2, all Canadians were issued a challenge. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered its recommendations on its six years of work.

We now know the truth about seven generations of terrible Canadian policy, which is now accepted as “cultural genocide”. We learned of the irreparable damage to the lives of countless First Nation, Métis and Inuit families. It was these policies that shattered the original relationship between the First Peoples and the European settlers — to share the land fairly, based upon respect and peace and friendship.

Repairing that relationship is the unfinished business of Confederation. Repairing that relationship and achieving true reconciliation will achieve huge economic and social benefits. Reconciliation is not just the right thing to do morally, but will generate shared prosperity for everyone.

Repairing that relationship can’t be done solely by government or politicians. As we said at the time of the prime minister’s apology to the survivors of residential schools in 2008, the apology will mean nothing until all Canadians understand this dark chapter in Canadian history.

Reconciliation is a big word — six syllables. It means different things to different people. For sure, it requires an acceptance of the truth. There cannot be reconciliation while there is ongoing questioning of the facts.

On June 2, the commissioners presented us with a clear summary of those facts. We cannot un-know them now. The commissioners also presented a very clear path forward to meaningful reconciliation, which includes all of us.

No longer can we merely regret we never learned about First Nation, Métis and Inuit history, culture and rights in school. Thirty years ago, New Zealand ensured all students received Maori studies in all aspects of their curricula. Now all New Zealanders have Maori culture as part of their identity. We can do this too. Many provinces — including Premier Kathleen Wynne’s commitment here in Ontario — have already begun.

But what do we do about those of us whose school days are long behind us?

I believe CBC’s four-part documentary 8th Fire was a great beginning. Friendship Centres across Canada are providing amazing and inclusive programming to help us on the path. I am excited to see the interest being expressed by Indigo and many independent bookstores, as well as the Canadian Library Association and book clubs, to celebrate indigenous authors such as Richard Wagamese, Thomas King, Lee Maracle and Joseph Boyden, as well as allies like John Ralston Saul. My friend Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux has compiled a great reading list as a beginning! Rotary Clubs are reaching out to indigenous speakers to begin to reset the relationship. Summer camps are now more committed to doing a better job providing more authentic exposure to the teachings and attachment to the land of First Peoples.

In St. Paul’s, with the help of school trustees Shelley Laskin and Joanne Davis, we want to ask students — particularly in grades 5–10 — to suggest ideas to tackle that big word “reconciliation” in every possible way: through art, poetry, song, student exchanges and fostering positive online relationships, or even writing legislation.

So we’ve got two years to get going on this path. My wish for Canada is that every Canadian wakes up on July 1, 2017 a little closer to achieving the goal of reconciliation. This will happen only if non-indigenous Canadians decide right now to fill in the gaps in their knowledge, and make new friends who are First Nation, Inuit and Metis.

My new friends have enriched my understanding of Canada – changing my life in a very good way. I don’t think you should have to be an MP to have this kind of opportunity. We need to make it easier for all Canadians to feel truly part of the path forward to reconciliation.

I am truly optimistic. Everywhere I go, people are asking how they can help. I believe in the next two years we can do a lot more than we’ve done in the last 50. As the Gitxsan elder said, Shed Dim Amma gauu dingu Mel — “The canoe must be uprighted.”