For Danielle Sinclair, the most important part of the recently-released Truth and Reconciliation report were the individual stories told.
“There was research that was done, data that was collected and reports that were written, but, for me, it’s the stories,” Sinclair said. “For me the TRC is a project of witnessing, of giving voice to those that were silenced.”
Sinclair, a panelist and social work student at Ryerson, said these anecdotes, from victims of Canada’s residential school system, were the most powerful part of the report.
She and three other indigenous women from a variety of backgrounds sat before a room of Ryerson students Oct. 7 to discuss a new report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). More than that, they discussed what Ryerson should be doing to implement the recommendations.
The TRC was formed in 2008 to educate Canadians about the effect Canada’s residential school system had on Aboriginal individuals and communities, and provide ways for healing and progress.
Beginning in the 1870s, indigenous children were made to attend residential schools where they were isolated from their families and forbidden from practicing their culture and speaking their native languages. An astounding number of students were subjected to sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse which has had lasting effects. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.
Earlier this year, TRC released a final summary of its report titled, “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future.” It included 94 recommendations on how to move forward.
Panelist Tracey King said that she thinks Ryerson is on the right track, “In fact we’re leading in many ways.” As examples she pointed to transitionary services for Aboriginal students starting at Ryerson and the fact that Ryerson has an Aboriginal education council that influences Aboriginal curriculum.
The other panelists added areas for improvement.
Sinclair said she’d like to see Ryerson come forward with a comprehensive program for its educators to teach Canadian history from an aboriginal perspective to “correct the history that’s been taught.”
Panelists Monica McKay, King, and Sinclair reflected specifically on the effect residential schools had on their families. Each of them had parents or grandparents who were a part of the system and the resulting abuse.
King said she spent the majority of her childhood unaware of what her biological father went through. She said she felt resentment towards him because of his absenteeism and the abuse he inflicted on her mother. “Hearing these stories was a turning point for my family,” she said. When he shared his story, it allowed her to understand what abuses he’d experienced.”
“This is not an Aboriginal issue, it’s a Canadian issue,” said moderator Denise O’Neil Green. McKay too said that the work of reconciliation seems to “fall on our shoulders — it’s just our work.”
Sinclair said, for allies, that speaking out is a form of action. It’s often fear and pride that keep non-Aboriginal people from speaking out about these issues that they may not understand, she said. But the onus is on them to learn individually.
“We have to be brave and sit in that place of discomfort and hurt in order to a place of understanding,”