By PSAC North REVP Lorraine Rousseau
Pope Francis visit captured national and international headlines. Like many, across this land, Canada, I watched live updates… and listened to the long-awaited apology. The Pope started his visit with apology and ended it in Iqaluit with apology. Throughout what was described as “penitential pilgrimage,” a journey of healing and reconciliation, the Pope apologized and asked for forgiveness.
There is no doubt that the long-awaited apology brought some peace to survivors, their families and all those affected. At the same time, this reopened wounds that are not healed yet and brought memories that are traumatizing and painful.
With apology comes forgiveness… but forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetfulness or indifference. Is it time to close this chapter and move on? The apology is an important step on the path of reconciliation. However, the journey is far from over. Now is the time to ensure that words are always followed by action.
It’s a genocide
On his way back to Rome, Pope Francis mentioned that everything he said about residential schools and forced assimilation amounts to “genocide”:
“I asked for forgiveness for what has been done, which was genocide, and I did condemn this… To take away children, to change the culture, their mindset, their traditions — to change a race, an entire culture … yes I (do) use the word genocide.”
United Nations defines genocide as a number of acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Such acts include:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Let’s go through the above check list and identify acts committed following, and during, colonization of this land. I have put a check mark on most of the list, if not all. We can’t afford to turn our backs to the legacy of colonization. Many times, nations turn their back to history, but this is not even history. Survivors and their families are still mourning, and their wounds haven’t healed yet. Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals are still waiting for justice.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has documented 4,118 children who died at residential schools thus far. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls described the violence against Indigenous women and girls as a genocide. This not a genocide of the past. Survivors and those who’re affected relive the pain through traumatizing memories.
I invite each one of us to look up locations of residential schools around us, where we live. Between 1995 and 1998, the final residential schools closed. This is not history, and many of us are old enough to have witnessed the presence of this evil legacy.
Implement Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action
It’s our collective responsibility to ensure that all governments (federal, provincial, territorial and municipal) as well as institutions implement all Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. Let’s ask the tough questions: how many of those calls to actions have been implemented? And what it takes to implement them all, across Canada?
National media did a tremendous work last week in covering the Pope’s visit, meetings and apologies. Following this, we must expect no less than media exposure on progress: implementation of TRC calls to action, how many of them are implemented, and reports on promises and whether they’ve been fulfilled or not. The story is newsworthy… and national media must realize that.
Silence is not an option in facing injustices.
Let’s hold the space for Indigenous communities. Being in solidarity must be translated to being an ally and taking action led by Indigenous communities, leaders, and activists. To all Indigenous friends, I know that the past few days brought back traumatizing memories, please know that there are many resources available and there are allies who will always strive, and stand by your side, to end all forms of discrimination and injustices. Your resiliency and courage make the North, and this nation strong.
Please visit Truth and Reconciliation Centre website, www.nctr.ca, where you can access resources and download TRC Commission Calls to Action and other important reports.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
This column appeared in the Yellowknifer on August 3, 2022