A Bridge to Reconciliation: A Critique of the Indian Residential School Truth Commission

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Truth and reconciliation are separate and important elements in overcoming mass wrongs. While truth can be attached to fact finding, bridging the path to reconciliation can be far more difficult. In the Ojibway creation epic, Sky Woman cast a curse upon the earth and Odeina was one of the many who died. When Odeina arrived at the spirit world, there was a chasm separating it from the earth, denying spirits their final resting place. Odeina showed strength and wisdom by using the branches of trees to build a bridge to traverse the rift. For his selflessness, Odeina was allowed to return to life and was given the added responsibility of sharing his wisdom (Borrows 2006). A successful truth and reconciliation commission must be like Odeina: it must have the wisdom to build a bridge over the chasm that separates truth and reconciliation, but it must also take on the responsibility of sharing this wisdom widely and with future generations.

In the past year, the Government of Canada has established the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to address the deleterious effect that the IRS system has had on Aboriginal communities. A TRC is a commission tasked with investigating and revealing past wrongdoing by a government, or by non-state actors, in the hope of resolving conflict left over from the past. Sadly, I do not believe the TRC has been set up in such a way that will enable it to demonstrate Odeina-like qualities, since the mandate of the Commission focuses too much on truth and not enough on reconciliation. When addressing the problems faced by these communities, the experience of residential schools is only one piece of the puzzle. Other variables must be specifically defined and addressed or, else, they will linger on in the background. The problem is that the TRC is approaching the residential school problem as an isolated issue, rather than taking a holistic approach.

Originally published in Scholarship@Western, 2010.

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Topics:  Canada, Public Schools, Tribal Governments, Tribal Lands

Published In: Education Updates, Indigenous Peoples Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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