Baha’is from Alberta and elsewhere joined their Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal neighbours in Edmonton March 27–30 for the final national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). They attended the event to listen, learn, bear witness, show solidarity, and reflect on ways to contribute to reconciliation.
The Baha’i Community of Canada had presented a submission to the TRC at the Vancouver national event in September 2013, and members of the Baha’i community have attended all of the national TRC events across Canada. Please see here: http://www.bahainews.ca/en/node/865.
Allison Healy, a residential school survivor and member of the Baha’i community of the Kainai First Nation, Alberta, said, “The truths have been told, we all have learned about the horrible truths; now we really have to move forward to reconciliation and act.”
Alberta had 25 residential schools — more than any other province — and the Commission estimates that 12,000 survivors are still alive in the region. In Canada, more than 150,000 students were forced to attend residential schools over a period of 130 years. The last school, near Regina, closed in 1996. The Commission has heard more than 6500 testimonies about multiple types of abuse suffered by children, as well as the inter-generational trauma which continues to this day.
During the Edmonton event, attended by up to 9000 people on a daily basis, the Commission received dozens of survivor testimonies in public panels, smaller sharing circles, and private meetings. The weekend also featured seminars, town hall meetings and panel discussions on the theme of reconciliation, as well as a “Learning Place,” artistic presentations, a concert, and talent nights, and programs for youth and children. In the morning and late afternoon of each day, the Commission received expressions of reconciliation from various groups, and reflections from honorary witnesses.
TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair underlined the critical importance of the long road to reconciliation ahead, which follows the “truth-telling” process that has gone on for the past four years.
“The work of the Commission may come to an end but the work of reconciliation will never end,” he said. “We need to make the ground strong for our children and grandchildren.”
All who spoke on the topic of reconciliation stressed that it is the work of both the Indigenous community and the “settler” community, including newcomers to Canada. We should see this not as a burden but a challenge.
“Each of us has something we can do. What is it?” asked Commissioner Sinclair.
Baha’i youth Leva Ikhbali volunteered at a booth for the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in Edmonton, which focuses on education about the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. She spoke of her experience conversing with people about reconciliation: “What I learned is that people are walking the path of reconciliation at different paces, toward one common vision. To reach this vision, we must build understanding through patience and walking shoulder to shoulder.”
Sama Imamverdi, Ashraf Rushdy and Jordan Bighorn were among 140 youth from a great diversity of backgrounds who were attending a conference parallel to the TRC called the 4Rs Youth Initiative. The mandate of the Initiative is “Reshaping the dialogue among Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in order to strengthen the economic, social and cultural fabric of our country.” These youth pledged to the TRC gathering on the last day that they too will carry forward the work of reconciliation.
Welcome news arrived during the conference that the Alberta government has mandated that the Kindergarten to Grade 12 curricula in the province include content on the significance of residential schools and the First Nations treaties. This will ensure that ignorance about this sad part of our collective history will not be perpetuated.
A touching moment came on the last day when a victory song was drummed for the three TRC commissioners. Eugene Arcand of the TRC Indian Residential Schools Survivor Committee, which serves as an advisory body to the TRC, said the commissioners were “three great warriors who did everything they could for the survivors.”
Commissioner Dr. Marie Wilson, in her final talk at the conference, addressed the survivors who had so courageously spoken of their suffering. She lives in the Northwest Territories, which is known as the diamond capital of the world. “Diamonds are made under great pressure,” Dr. Wilson said. “I see you all as sparkling diamonds.”
A closing ceremony in Ottawa this coming June will conclude the TRC’s mandate. Canada’s TRC will produce a final report which will include recommended reforms, and a National Research Centre will be established at the University of Manitoba.
Click here to read the Baha’i Community of Canada’s submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission