For the record: Justice Murray Sinclair on residential schools

Justice Murray Sinclair tables the recommendations of the truth and reconciliation commission on residential schools
Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in Ottawa. Adrian Wyld/CP
Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in Ottawa. Adrian Wyld/CP
Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in Ottawa. Adrian Wyld/CP

The truth and reconciliation commission on residential schools officially presented 94 recommendations today at an event in Ottawa. Below we’ve posted the prepared text of remarks by Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the truth and reconciliation commission, and commissioners Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild.

Responses and statements from Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Green party leader Elizabeth May and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde have been posted here.

Murray Sinclair

Good morning.

Thank you to the traditional keepers of this land, the Kitigaan Zibi Anishnabeg and Pikwàkanagàn First Nations for welcoming us.

On behalf of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I welcome you all here today for this very special and very important moment in our history.

On Sunday, we marked the start of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s closing ceremony by lighting a sacred fire and taking part in the symbolic Walk of Reconciliation.

We enjoyed musical performances celebrating Aboriginal cultures from across Canada… …providing us with opportunities for reflection and for remembrance…

…and honoured the survivors of residential schools and their families.

This has been a difficult, inspiring and painful journey.

The residential school experience is one of the darkest, most troubling chapters in our collective history.

Despite the many challenges, the Commission and the groups supporting us worked tirelessly, facing the difficult facts about Canada’s residential schools system and the legacy left in its wake…

… a tragic and difficult legacy.

Ours was a process of research, sharing and above all else, listening. In this way it was a commission like no other.

It was set up not by government, but by the parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement seeking to repair the harm caused by residential schools.

In the course of our commission, survivors were not examined as if on trial.

Instead, they were invited to share what they had to share – no more, no less – and their stories were recorded into history and acknowledged.

Since 2008, we have collected documents, visited more than 300 communities from coast to coast to coast and heard testimony from thousands of witnesses.

We heard of the effects of over one hundred years of mistreatment of more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children placed in these schools.

We received statements from individuals who’d been removed from their communities and forced to attend residential schools.

We heard from the families and loved ones connected to survivors for whom the effects have been deeply damaging and continue to be felt today.

Removed from their families and home communities, seven generations of Aboriginal children were denied their identity.

We heard how, separated from their language, culture, spiritual traditions, and their collective history, how children became unable to answer questions as simple as: Where do I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? And, who am I?

These fundamental questions guide us in life, influence our choices, strengthen our ability to take advantage of opportunities and help us find and fulfil our sense of self.

Survivors were stripped of the ability to answer these questions. They were stripped of the love of their families.

They were stripped of their self-respect…and of their identity.

Their stories, more than 6,750 in number, will now become a part of a permanent historical archive, never to be forgotten or ignored.

The commission also listened to the stories of some of those who worked at or administered the residential schools…individuals haunted by their own memories seeking to come to terms with how destructive the institutions were to Aboriginal people and their culture.

Men and women who understand that the schools were destructive to Aboriginal languages and culture, and who regret being part of these acts.

We heard the pain of those charged with the care of those children…

…we heard of the demons they face for not being able to care for them properly or protect them from the abusers.

We acknowledge these individuals and thank them for their contributions…

…mostly, I would like to thank our survivors.

The Survivors showed great courage, conviction and trust in sharing their stories.

These were heartbreaking, tragic and shocking accounts of discrimination, deprivation and all manners of physical, sexual, emotional and mental abuse.

The details of the residential school experience and its impact on the lives of Aboriginal people will be delivered in our commission’s final report, which will be published near the end of this year.

The Survivors have entrusted us, and by extension, all the people in Canada, with two priorities.

First, the Survivors need to know before they leave this earth that people understand what happened and what the schools did to them.

Second, the Survivors need to know that, having been heard and understood, that we will act to ensure the repair of damages done.

And so today we have released these recommendations based on the years of work.

The Commission’s recommendations outline specific actions to redress the harmful and disgraceful legacy of the residential school system in Canada.

Today, I stand before and acknowledge that what took place in residential schools amounts to nothing short of cultural genocide – a systematic and concerted attempt to extinguish the spirit of Aboriginal peoples.

These actions included the removal of generation after generation of Aboriginal children from their families, the suppression of Aboriginal language and culture, and the attempts to re-educate Aboriginal children with non-Aboriginal culture.

…to remove a culture deemed inferior.

In this way, Canadian governments and churches and others sought to erase from the face of the earth the culture and history of many great and proud peoples…

…this is the very essence of Colonialism…

…leaving in its path the pain and despair felt by thousands of Indigenous people today.

But rather than denying or diminishing the harm done, we must agree that this damage requires serious, immediate, and ongoing repair.

We must endeavour instead to become a society that champions human rights, truth and tolerance, NOT by avoiding a dark history but rather by confronting it.

A society that respects and protects the cultures of all peoples within it…

…a society in which children are proud of their identity, culture and traditions…

…not made to feel ashamed of them.

A society that seeks an end to the cycles of violence, abuse and poverty instead of seeking to re-victimize, marginalize and further punish.

…as though further injury could in some way resolve a past injury.

To become this society, we need to bear witness to the past and join in a vision for the future.

This must be the goal of reconciliation.

If we are to truly live by our convictions, we must confront and accept that Canada’s history includes a history that’s inconsistent with how we see ourselves.

We must acknowledge, apologize and atone for the abuses and horrors suffered by Aboriginal people in Canada and support the healing of all involved, from the Survivors, to Intergenerational Survivors, and those who are responsible for abuses.

Part of this healing process will involve putting an end to the legacy of discrimination that still informs attitudes in our education system and curricula today.

We must understand that the lives of Aboriginal people across Canada are connected to the lingering effects of residential schools and that many of the most destructive attitudes are perpetuated in our public education.

We must remember that at the same time Aboriginal children were made to feel inferior, generation after generation of non-Aboriginal children were exposed to the false belief that their culture was superior.

Imperialism, colonialism and a sense of cultural superiority linger on.

The courts have agreed that these concepts are baseless and immoral in the face of inalienable human rights.

To this end, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations address some of these core challenges.

From child welfare to legal and economic concerns…

…from education to language, culture, health, business and commemoration, our 94 recommendations endeavour to confront the complexities associated with reconciliation.

Central to directing the path to reconciliation will be the Canadian government’s adoption of the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – a declaration that received near unanimity at the UN in 2007.

Shamefully, Canada was the only country to raise objections last fall to a UN document reaffirming the declaration.

Many of our Commission’s recommendations are grounded in the principles of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This internationally accepted document provides a framework for affirming, respecting and protecting the equality of Aboriginal people and their rights.

The Canadian government’s rejection of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sends a clear message to Aboriginal people in Canada, all Canadians, and the world.

We believe the current government is not willing to make good on its claim that it wishes to join with the Aboriginal people in Canada in “a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward together” as promised nine years ago.

Words are not enough.

Reconciliation requires deliberate, thoughtful and sustained action.

Political action will be required to break from past injustices and start the journey toward reconciliation.

The Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also recognizes the urgent need to respect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples affirmed in treaties and agreements with other nations.

To this end, we call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown.

The proclamation would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which stated in no uncertain terms that all lands which had not been purchased or ceded to the Crown, were reserved for the Aboriginal inhabitants of the land.

Through the course of time however these agreements were disregarded and ignored by Canada’s governments.

As we have learned, governments took further steps to hinder the expression and strength of Aboriginal sovereignty through a variety of means, one of which was the residential school system.

The courts have recognized this history and upheld the nationhood and the rights of Aboriginal people in their legal decisions.

Now it is time for Canadian governments and Canadian society to do their part.

This Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation would reaffirm and restore a commitment to the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown.

In addition to adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation, we call for the proclamation to include a repudiation of the concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the doctrine of discovery…

…to renew or establish Treaty relationships based on principles of mutual recognition and mutual respect…

…and to reconcile Aboriginal and Crown constitutional and legal orders to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation.

Survivors, their families and their communities are looking to our political leaders to display the conviction and the courage to honour the commitments made to Aboriginal people in Canada – to start a new chapter in the story of Canada…one that we can all be proud of.

Political will, however, can only be sustained by the wishes of the people who demand change.

We must all call for the ongoing progress of reconciliation, regardless of political affiliation, cultural background or personal history of connection to this dark history.

Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem – it involves all of us.

Our recommendations should not be seen as an itemization of national penance, but as an opportunity to embrace a second chance at establishing a relationship of equals:

…an opportunity for Canadians to prove to themselves and to the international community that Canada respects and protects the cultures of all peoples within it.

We must accept the challenge of enacting effective solutions to the cycles of violence, abuse and poverty experienced too often and too disproportionality by Aboriginal people.

We therefore call upon the prime minister of Canada to issue an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report, which would outline the government’s plans for advancing the cause of reconciliation.

Many recommendations put forward by our commission include detailed public reports on the progress of the reconciliation process. In this way, some aspects of reconciliation will be manifested as concrete goals, against which the efficacy of government actions can be measured.

These annual reports would include:

-details of the state’s care for Aboriginal children,

-information on funding of education for Aboriginal children on and off reserves,

-evidence on the economic attainments of Aboriginal peoples in Canada compared to non-Aboriginal people,

-action on the problem of overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody and the justice system, especially Aboriginal youth,

-the reduction of the gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities with respect to key health indicators,

and the reduction of the rate of criminal victimization of Aboriginal people, including information related to homicide and family violence victimization.

While we are hopeful that these recommendations will be adopted, we realize that committing to annual progress reports will be the source of some apprehension for political leaders.

Regular evaluations will be unequivocal in showing progress or the lack of it. This, however, is precisely the point.

Again, all the people in Canada must be clear, loud, and united in expressing their heartfelt belief that reconciliation SHOULD happen.

I ask you today to embrace this statement: you don’t have to believe that reconciliation WILL happen, you need to believe that reconciliation SHOULD happen.

Those seeking or holding office must understand that reconciliation must be a priority from the highest to the most local levels of government.

Our leaders must not fear this onus of reconciliation…

..the burden is not theirs alone to bear, rather, reconciliation is a process that involves all parties of this new relationship.

Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people from coast to coast to coast, the young and the elderly, are interested in taking part of the discussion about reconciliation and being part of making reconciliation a reality.

The eyes of the world and the gaze of history is upon us.

What we do now and in the years ahead matters a great deal.

It matters not only for those who are with us today, but also the generations to come and the spirits of those who are not with us here today whose memories we must honour.

We must work together…

…we must speak the truth.

At its heart, reconciliation is about forming respect.

The sacred fire lit at sunrise a few days will be extinguished in the coming days. …now we must light this fire within ourselves…

…and let our conviction, courage, commitment and our love keep this fire burning. Thank you.

Marie Wilson

I want to acknowledge that we are on the traditional unceded territory of the of Algonquin Nation, thank you to Kitigaan Zibi Anishnabeg and Pikwàkanagàn First Nations for welcoming us into your ancestral homeland.

As my fellow commissioners have stated, we have spent the past six years traveling to hundreds of communities from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Arctic oceans.

We met thousands of survivors, those that were affected through directly attending these schoolhouses of shame, or intergenerational survivors who were affected because their parents, brothers, sisters, children or partners were taken from their homes and put in schools where they were taught to hate themselves, and their culture.

These survivors inspired our work, their stories of resilience inspired us, and we are here today on their behalf, to ensure their voices are heard not just by us, but by all Canadians, our political leaders, and the world.

We also learned about the stories that we could not hear.

At least three thousand, two hundred students sent to Residential Schools never returned home.

In almost a third of those cases, the student’s name wasn’t even recorded. A quarter of the time, the student’s gender was not recorded.

For almost half of students who died, the cause of death was not recorded. The indignity of this is both shocking and saddening.

Throughout our studies, we have identified a number of causes of death. Medical care was of the lowest quality, and disease ran rampant through the schools.

Some students, distressed, neglected and abused physically, mentally or sexually, ended their own lives.

The buildings that housed students were often poorly built and maintained, and became fire traps without proper escape opportunities. Nineteen students died in a fire at the school in Beauval, Saskatchewan, in 1927, and just three years later, twelve more died when the school at Cross Lake, Manitoba, also burned down.

And, of course, a number died in the wilderness after trying to escape from oppression and the conditions they suffered at the schools.

Despite the clear shortfalls in the health and safety standards at the schools, the record of government inaction is clear. Though a federal policy placed Aboriginal children in the schools, it never established an adequate set of standards and regulations to guarantee that Residential School students received the same consideration and care that any parent would expect from an educational institution.

Without regulation, the churches running the schools were free to hold their own investigations, which rarely led to more than seeking out and accepting the denials of accused school officials.

We recorded a number of troubling incidents showing failures to take student complaints seriously, failures to take action in the rare instances a school official was convicted, failures to investigate complaints impartially, and widespread failures to report incidents to the local police or the Department of Indian Affairs.

The government was not outside this accepted system of corruption and cover-ups. Our work found a failure within the Department of Indian Affairs to report abuse to the police and examples of interference and lack of cooperation with police investigations.

For example, the British Columbia Provincial Police identified a number of cases of abuse at the Kuper Island school in 1930. Rather than assisting the police, officials from Indian Affairs fired the individuals and told them to flee the province, so as to preserve the school’s reputation.

These deaths, this complete and utter disregard for the wellbeing of children – and let us not for- get that we are talking about children – were in part the consequence of a lack of government funding. But mostly, the causes of death found root in the same attitudes that enabled the schools to exist in the first place – a belief that Aboriginal peoples were inferior…a belief that their culture could and would be extinguished.

Most of the bodies of the deceased were never sent back to their home communities.

Instead, they were buried at the schools, in cemeteries that have long since been abandoned and forgotten.

Their families never had the opportunity to say goodbye. Many parents had no idea where their children were buried.

While our commission has discovered many difficult truths, many questions remain unanswered. There remain Aboriginal families with no idea what happened to their children, their sisters, their brothers, their grandchildren.

As part of the Commission’s work, we established the National Residential School Student Death Register, the first national effort to record the names of the students who died at the schools.

This register lists the three thousand and two hundred (3,200) students who never returned home. We expect there are more who have yet to be identified because of limitations in the records. Between 1936 and 1944, over two hundred thousand (200,000) files from the department of Indian Affairs were destroyed.

The work of completing the Register continues, and it cannot end with the conclusion of this commission for several reasons.

For a start, there are more documents to review.

We must also develop a national strategy for the documentation, maintenance, commemoration and protection of residential school cemeteries.

This strategy must be implemented in close consultation with the Aboriginal communities concerned, to properly honour the children who passed away in residential schools.

We were unable to find any evidence to suggest that the government and the churches that ran the schools offered any type of support to victims of abuse, their families or their communities.

That help and support is long past due.

That healing process is what we, as commissioners, now hope to begin.

Our public work may be ending, but the work of making reconciliation a reality is only beginning.

Thank you, to all of the survivors here in the room, tuning in at home and those who were unable to join us today. Thank you for your bravery and your trust in recounting your experiences.

And now we must demand that some bravery and trust from all Canadians. Not just government officials, not just elected leaders, but every person in Canada.

Consider what it means, what we’re talking about today. Parents who had their children ripped out of their arms, taken to a distant and unknown place, never to be seen again. Buried in an unmarked grave, long ago forgotten and overgrown.

The reason of death a mystery.

Reconciliation needs to happen so that these families can start to heal. So that families can begin to understand what happened.

Part of addressing the injustices and inhumanities of the past is understanding the present circumstances of Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal children today.

Aboriginal children are eight times more likely to be removed from their home, displaced and put into the child care system than non-Aboriginal Canadians.

In many situations, these children are intergenerational survivors, subject to the history of trauma experienced by parents or grandparents who are survivors of Residential Schools.

The effects of the school system continue to be felt, and continue to tear families apart.

Reconciliation is needed to help former students and intergenerational survivors alike heal from the wounds of yesterday that are still fresh today. We need reconciliation so broken families can become whole again.

Beyond that, we must also work together to prevent these injuries from continuing to damage generation after generation of Aboriginal people.

The legacy of residential schools must never be forgotten, but its effects must be reversed. We must work together to enable Aboriginal people the opportunity to reclaim their language, their spirituality and their culture.

As my fellow commissioners have said, reconciliation is not an issue for Aboriginal people, it is a challenge for all us in Canada.

It requires each of us to face the truth of these many great injustices and support solutions that will bring needed changes today and in the years and decades ahead.

A key element of a better future – a future in which true reconciliation is possible – is coming to terms with how we understand and teach others about our past.

We must understand and acknowledge how deep the history of imperialism and colonialism runs in our society today and what we teach newcomers to Canada. It is not always overt. In fact, it is often so subtle and pervasive that it may escape notice.

Think about your Canadian history classes. Did the story of Canada begin only shortly before Europeans came up the river this city is built on?

How honest are our textbooks about the traditional keepers of their land and their part in Canada’s story?

How frank and truthful are we with Canadian students about the history of residential schools and the role our governments and religious institutions played in its systematic attempt to erase the cultures of Aboriginal people?

Consider our comparative religion classes. Which spiritualities and understandings of the divine did it focus on and which received passing mention?

Think about the languages commonly taught in our schools and found in our libraries. Are they inclusive of Aboriginal culture? Are we taking steps to preserve Aboriginal languages so they are not lost to future generations?

Scholars and teachers have begun and must continue to answer these questions as they study how the history of Canada is taught. We will need to make thoughtful changes to curricula from coast to coast to coast that will engage students with a broader, less Euro-centric vision of our country.

To this end, we call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to create curricula on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for all of students.

We also call for funding to enable post-secondary institutions and Aboriginal schools to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.

We ask for the support of initiatives and activities that build students’ capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy and mutual respect.

We also call upon all levels of government that provide public funds to denominational schools to require such schools to provide an education on comparative religious studies, which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices developed in collaboration with Aboriginal Elders.

Other countries have started their own journeys of reconciliation from which we have learned much, and can learn more. However, we must recognize that no two situations are alike.

We must be mindful that a process that will be as long and complicated as the reconciliation of seven generations of inequity will require stewardship, study and ongoing attention.

Therefore, we ask for the establishment of a national research program with multi-year funding to advance our understanding of reconciliation as we move forward.

And move forward we shall. We have begun and we will prevail. We will prevail in our reconciliation because it is right and it is fair.

We will uphold our collective healing process because we know to do otherwise will allow for continued cultural violence, discrimination and tragedy.

We will create the change needed so urgently because of the strength of Aboriginal people…

….a strength we continually witnessed through the long and difficult times that have brought us here today…

…a strength that will sustain us all on our journey to reconciliation. Thank you.

Chief Wilton Littlechild

I want to acknowledge that we are on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation, thank you to Kitigaan Zibi Anishnabeg and Pikwàkanagàn First Nations for welcoming us into your ancestral homeland.

Thank you for joining me here today.

I would like to begin by sharing with you some words that my late grandfather – Chief Dan Minde – shared with me when I was just twelve years old.

He said to me: “When you work for our community you must do everything you can to make it better, then pass it to the next one…”.

By then, I had already been a Residential School student for six years.

Over the past six years of working on this commission, the meaning of my grandfather’s instructions have become quite clear, and I carried them with me every day that we visited a community or heard about the horrors that Survivors faced.

Much like the impact my grandfather’s words had on me, the importance of family has resonated in the stories we heard throughout our work. The resilience of families.

Families that had been attacked, both individually and collectively, by a policy designed to tear families apart and to remove the spirit of Aboriginal people.

A policy that sought to turn families against each other. That did, and continues to impact Aboriginal families and intergenerational survivors.

Despite these immense obstacles, our families remained resilient.

We heard how important the strength of family was to survivors in beginning the process of healing, and how the strength of family will be critical on the path to reconciliation.

Thank you to my fellow Commissioners, who over the past five years have become like a family to me.

Our stories, the impact that Residential Schools had on our lives, are both different, yet the same, in that we each have a personal connection to the residential school experience..

It was through this collective link that we grew stronger, a strength similar to that of the families we heard from.

So thank you to Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson and all those who helped me focus our work. It is sacred trust you have bestowed on me, and what blessing it has been.

My gratitude and admiration of your strength and resilience go out to all of those survivors who shared their views on how we can, and how we must, work together very hard for reconciliation.

To my fellow survivors here in the room, those watching elsewhere, and those who could not join us today, I cannot give enough thanks to you.

Thank you for your courage and bravery throughout this whole journey.

Without that, without your voice, we cannot define or inform reconciliation.

We have listened very carefully to many courageous individuals in our search for the truth.

Through pain, tears, joy, and sometimes anger, you shared with us what happened.

However, we must continue to speak and to offer opportunities to heal.

There are still many, many survivors who have not healed enough to come forward with their story, or that are too angry to tell their story, or worse, there are those who have given up hope.

My thanks goes out to you survivors who spoke with us, for giving us inspiration to carry forward, and offer other survivors the chance to be heard, and to heal.

Thank you to those who provided medical, cultural and spiritual support. Also to the many who prayed for us throughout the years, hai hai! Thank you.

Amongst the stories about the atrocities that went on we also heard stories of hope. For me, hope came from sports.

Sports were the personal saviour of my life. I first got involved as a means to run away from the abuse. It was my way out. Sports helped me get into university, to escape the walls of the school I attended.

This was a story we heard from other survivors. Sports provided an outlet to forget about the abuse, if only for a second. More than once, we heard survivors say that they wouldn’t be here today without hockey.

Throughout the tragic stories we heard there were also stories of hope. As we seek reconciliation, it is to these stories of hope that I turn to now.

Our spirit can not be broken.

This was the one recurring message that stood out to me throughout the public hearings, the essential step of returning to spirituality through our languages, cultures and land.

Over seven generations spent in these schools, they tried to destroy our culture. Our cultural events and ceremonies were prohibited. We were abused for using our own languages.

If we are to heal, we must return to our spirituality.
We must begin to once again speak our language, to hold our ceremonies.

One of my schoolmate’s encouraging pieces of advice was – “it starts with me, I need to make things right with our Creator, the Great Spirit”.

We were all guided in our journey by the seven universal gifts, sacred teachings towards having good relations or better relationships with mutual respect.

Our healing will require a return to our culture.

Not only for us, but for the future generations who will follow.

Our culture needs to live on for them, and be carried on by them. That will be a critical part of the process of reconciliation.

As our Commission comes to a close, the impact of my grandfather’s words stay with me. “When you work for our community you must do everything you can to make it better, then pass it to the next one…”.

We must realize that it is time for us to pass the duty of reconciliation on to the next generation.

I know that reconciliation will not occur in one lifetime.

It will require future generation to know our story and take on the duty of reconciliation.

We need to educate our youth, and create the tools and put them in place so that our children and our children’s children can use them.

While there are no easy answers, no magic wand to speed up the reconciliation process, for me there are four solutions for “making things better”.

Solutions that are already out there, but have never been utilized or capitalized on. Firstly, I believe

Treaties are a solution.

They are a basis for a strengthened partnership that call on us to work together.

I believe that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a global consensus, is another solution that offers us a true framework for reconciliation.

I believe the greatest opportunity for positive change is in lifelong learning, holistic education. I also believe these are best achievable if we work very very hard on unity.

Reconciliation will not be easy. This has been said many times throughout these closing events, yet they bear repeating.

At the highest levels, we need political will to move our country forward and towards reconciliation. As I mentioned, the Treaties and the UN Declaration, if honoured and respected, provide solutions.

Both of those call on us to work together, to sit down together and design a common path forward, together, on reconciliation.

And that call must be taken up to individuals, as well.
Above all, we must remember that this is a Canadian story, not an Indigenous one.

There are many who will put on blinders and pretend that this isn’t their issue, that the fault is not theirs.

We are not calling on you to accept the full brunt of the blame for what happened. We are calling on you to open up your mind, to be willing to learn these stories, to be willing to accept that these things happened.

Most importantly, we are calling on you to link arms with us, that all Canadians – Indigenous or not – young or old – first-generation or tenth-generation, that we work together to heal and secure a better future.

We need to have good relations.

For me, I am reminded by this every day. There is a city called Wetaskiwin, just a few minutes up the road from me. The name comes from an old Cree word that means, “having good relations.”

It is such a powerful word, and every day I see that on the sign out by the highway, and I am reminded of the need to build and sustain good relations.

That is what reconciliation is. That is what I, and my fellow survivors, and my fellow Commissioners, are asking of you. To have good relations.

We now know from many survivors’ testimonies, in building on the strengths of our people, the power is in family and in our culture.

We need to not divide, but embrace each other, to have good relations and come together and begin the reconciliation process in earnest.

Like those who survived the Residential Schools, we will only be successful if we use the strength of family.

With that in mind, let me conclude by extending my thanks to my own and extended family for their sacrifice, patience and support: Helen, Megan, Neil, Teddi and my grandchildren: Shaynna, Cleveland, Summer, Keeshon, Nea, Jack, Ava, Jaylynn, and Konnar.

And I will leave you with the seven most powerful words: “I’m sorry, I love you, thank you”.