All Canadians are victims of Indian residential schools

By Michael Champagne
CBC News
May 31, 2015

Winnipeg indigenous rights activist Michael Redhead Champagne reflects on a few things Canadians need to keep in mind with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission coming to a close June 2.

All Canadians are victims of Indian residential schools — whether you attended one of the schools, whether you're an inter-generationally affected relative, a parent left behind or a non-aboriginal person in Canada who was fed a false history.

It's important to also acknowledge much of the 96 per cent of Canada's population that isn't aboriginal have had their perceptions of indigenous people and communities altered in a negative way, because they haven't grown up knowing the role their government played in killing the Indian in the child. The government that they learned about in school was a lot more mean spirited and malicious than many Canadians could ever imagine.

This weekend is the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and has many people asking the question: "What next?" The spotlight will shine on the courage and resilience of survivors and I hope the rest of Canada is paying attention.

When the TRC began, only 49 per cent of Canadians knew about residential schools. Over six years later, I hope the hard work of the commission can be articulated with clear recommendations for community and for government to realize together. When I think of what our next collective step is I believe there are a few answers.

1) There can be no reconciliation until our women and children are safe:

This means we have to work together to address the normalized violence that has led to the astronomical number of missing and murdered indigenous women.

The solutions must include the voices of our women. It also means addressing the alarming rate of kids in the care of Child and Family Services in Manitoba — over 10,000 kids need our help to get healthy or back to their family.

2) Education Curriculum must change:

As recommended by the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, we must ensure all children receive an accurate picture of history, inclusive of the strengths and importance of indigenous communities in the founding of Canada.

There also needs to be an acknowledgement that this country deliberately, systematically, and in partnership with churches, sought out to harm indigenous and non-indigenous children alike through misinformation. The damage was caused through education and the healing must come through education, too.

3) Sustained deliberate and voluntary actions that emphasize healing and the strengths of communities:

This one requires indigenous and non-indigenous folks to, of their own will, stand as an example for their relatives, peers and neighbours to follow. At this point it seems fitting to highlight Meet Me at the Bell Tower and the Christian Reformed Church organization called the Indigenous Family Centre (IFC). We partner every week with young indigenous leaders and draw support from this faith-based organization.

It's important to note the IFC believes respecting indigenous teachings and practising their own Christian faith, together in the same space, builds understanding and allows for healing to begin on all sides.

This is about Identity. For all of us. What does it mean to be Canadian? What does it mean to be indigenous?

We are all affected by this legacy and it's going to take every Canadian to acknowledge that so we can heal and walk out of the darkness with heads held high, together.


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