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The search for unity and cultural reconciliation

The search for unity and cultural reconciliation

The journey of truth and reconciliation “is not just a journey for Aboriginal people, but for the whole country. Canada needs to heal because of its past.”

That is how Bob Watts began the 2012 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture, titled “Rights in a History of Wrongs: What does a just future look like for Indigenous peoples?” Watts is the former CEO and Chief of Staff of the Assembly of First Nations, and former Interim Director of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Watts’ lecture was sponsored by the Laurier Institution and delivered at the University of British Columbia in November. After the lecture, he joined a group of local Baha’is to consult about the role of the Baha’i community in supporting processes of reconciliation associated with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The Baha’i Community of Canada has been invited by the Commission to make a formal submission to its proceedings, and Watts participated in a workshop on the content of this document.

The TRC has the mandate to record survivors’ stories about their residential school experiences and to help educate all Canadians about this period of the country’s history. During the 20th century, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools, often against their parents’ wishes. Most were forbidden to speak their own languages or observe the practices of their cultures. There are an estimated 80,000 former students living today; however, the residential schools have had an impact on successive generations.

“There was often a conspiracy of silence about what happened in residential schools,” said Watts. “A lot of people were hurt at many different levels, they were hurt physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When we talk about the need for healing, some of us think that we should have called it the Truth and Healing and Reconciliation Commission.”

Watts said that the dialogue generated by the TRC gives us a chance “to re-imagine how we want to live together.”

“I encourage you to pay attention to the TRC, support it, honour it, and look for opportunities given to us… to share with each other in that spirit of reconciliation, in that spirit of nation building, and in that spirit of creating unity out of diversity.”

Baha’i communities across Canada have supported the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other efforts to foster reconciliation between the peoples of Canada.

A number of Baha’is from Saskatoon supported the TRC’s June 2012 national event, held in that city (see story). “I noticed that quite a few Baha’is participated in the event in some way,” said Paul Hanley, a Baha’i from Saskatoon. “I think all who did went away with a much deeper understanding of the experience of residential school survivors and the impact of the experience not only on Aboriginal communities but ultimately our whole society.”

A number of Quebec Baha’is have also supported Projet Citoyen (Project Citizen) — a TRC-inspired initiative. The project was launched by “Espace Art Nature” — a non-profit organization dedicated to harmonious co-existence with nature — and “Initiatives et Changement” — a non-profit organization “committed to building relationships of trust across the world’s divides” — to foster cultural reconciliation and unity among the residents of Quebec, including First Nations, francophones, anglophones, and new Canadians. To achieve its objectives, Projet Citoyen holds an initial large gathering followed by subsequent smaller meetings called Cercles de confiance (Circles of Trust).

The project is now established in Victoriaville and Montreal and will be extended to Quebec City and Sherbrooke in 2013. The next meeting in Montreal will be held in December at the Baha’i Centre.

Click here to read the Baha’i Community of Canada’s submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission