As a member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, the host nation for the TRC closing events, it was an honor to watch history in the making from June 1-2, 2015 in Ottawa. The phrase “this isn’t an Aboriginal problem, this is a Canadian problem” was heard many times over the course of the two days. On behalf of MUSKRAT, here are eight inspiring moments for moving reconciliation forward.
1. Grand Entry Led by Host Nation Chief Kirby Whiteduck
Chief Whiteduck of the unceded territory of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan led the grand entry. Whiteduck has held office for over a decade and also penned the book – Algonquin Traditional Culture- chronicling the life of Algonquins around the time of European contact.
2. Witnessing the Warmth of Inuit Traditions
Sally Webster, an Inuit Elder ceremonially lit a qulliq to start the day on June 1. A Qulliq is a soapstone lamp/stove. The soapstone is carved to form a rounded shape, with a depression at the top which holds seal oil that is burned as fuel. Prior to contact, the qulliq was the only source of light and heat for Inuit ancestors.
3. Honouring the Drum, the Heartbeat of Mother Earth
The drum was a beautiful sight and sound to behold as the TRC final report was being handed out to delegates. Drummers, and singer Waub Kinew were also present in the lobby of the hotel while speeches were given in the main ballroom.
Representing the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, Kevin Lemarr Jr., Eric Kakegamik, Eddy Robinson performed for the closing events.
4. Learning from Inuit Survivors
Debbie Gordon – Ruben, Julia Cockney, Roy Cockney, Barbara Archie and Sadie Lester are five Inuit survivors representing the Beaufort Delta Region. After surviving residential schools in the NWT, this is the first TRC event that any of them had attended from their area.
5. Childhood Art Returned to Survivors
Artist Robert Aller, who openly opposed residential schools, ran an art class at the Alberni Indian Residential School. For 50 years he carefully saved the colourful pieces that depict cultural objects, places of home, relatives, and friends of the students. Aller passed away in 2008, bequeathing them to the University of Victoria, who then led a research initiative to have them returned survivors who created them.
6. Project Of Heart and Remembering the Children Who Died
Honorary witness, Sylvia Smith, founded Project of Heart to commemorate the children who died in residential schools. The TRC states that a child in a residential school had a 1 in 25 chance in dying whereas a soldier in WW2 had a 1 in 26 chance of dying. The report estimates that over 6000 students died as a result of their school experience. Project of the Heart aims at building positive relationships between Native and non-Native people by educating students about the impact of the residential schools as well as Indigenous teachings, values and traditions. Part of the project includes decorating small tiles with each one representing a life lost in a residential school.
7. Chief Perry Bellegarde Asking Canadians to Let Go of Racist Stereotypes of Indigenous People
Perry Bellegarde, AFN National Chief gave a speech after the TRC findings were released. In his speech he encouraged Non-Native people to let go of racist stereotypes of Indigenous people and make room to learn more about their rich culture and way of life.
8. Canadian Leaders Taking a Stand to Support the TRC Recommendations and Steps Towards Reconciliation
NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair was one of the first attendees to give a standing ovation when the TRC recommended an Inquiry into the murdered and missing Indigenous women. Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, who was sitting beside him, did not stand. NDP leader Mulcair was also the only Party leader out of Conservative, Liberals,and Green Parties in attendance.