TRC IN TORONTO — Hilton Henhawk was one of many volunteer artists who contributed to a painted teepee as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came to Toronto May 31-June 1. (Catholic Register/Michael Swan photo)
History of residential schools is relevant to all
By Michael Swan
TORONTO (CCN) — “Canadians from before have done a great
disservice to Canadians who are new by not telling the story, the true
story of this country,” said Estella Muyinda.
Muyinda was born in Uganda. Today she is a lawyer and just
as thoroughly Canadian as everybody else in line at Tim Horton’s — and
more than some. She’s spent time in Inuvik and Tuktoyuktuk in the
Northwest Territories. In travelling the country she has learned about
the first of Canada’s three founding nations.
At The Meeting Place, a May 31 to June 1 community organized
event for Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Muyinda was there
to learn more. She wants a complete picture of how the colonial project
that built one of the wealthiest and most progressive democracies in
the world also crushed cultures, languages, families and individuals — and
ironically used Christian churches and a school system to do it.
Three years into the TRC’s five-year mandate, the commissioners
worry about how the history of residential schools will ever reach new
Canadians crowded into the country’s largest cities.
Why would these people feel they have to take responsibility for attempted
cultural genocide committed before they ever reached Canada? Particularly
when their third-, fourth- and fifth-generation neighbours are paying
the issue no attention at all?
“How do we engage the other 35 million people in this country who
are not indigenous, who think this has nothing to do with them?” asked
commissioner Marie Wilson as The Meeting Place opened up at a downtown
Many new Canadians know little of the history that gave us 640 reserves
from coast to coast, millions of square miles of crown land and the Indian
Act. But that hardly distinguishes them from the old Canadians. If for
over a century the Anglos and French ran schools designed to kill the
Indian in the child, why should an immigrant share the guilt?
“We don’t get to cherry pick our history,” said Wilson. “Wonderful
people live here (in Toronto) and they have a right to the truth.”
Muyinda is offended by any suggestion that the legacy of residential
schools might be irrelevant to new Canadians.
“The question should be, why isn’t everybody here?” she
said. “To hear the stories and to figure out how to remedy this?”
Justice isn’t one of those things that can be applied sparingly
to the body politic. Muyinda is convinced that there’s a deep connection
between the justice new Canadians can expect and the justice Aboriginal
“Canada will never stop hurting until Aboriginal people stop hurting,” she
Justice in the strict terms of the justice system is indeed
what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is all about.
The commission was created as part of the largest class action settlement
in Canadian legal history. “It’s a court-supervised obligation,” points
“Canadians have to start being ready for this. It’s not an
optional obligation,” she said.
Getting people to own up to a terrible history isn’t just a political
problem in Canada. It’s a problem in the church, said Gerry Kelly.
Working out of offices at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops,
Kelly co-ordinates the Catholic response to the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission for 54 separate Catholic entities — dioceses, religious
orders and corporations.
“The awareness is very thin within the Catholic community,” Kelly
“Because of the clericalism, Catholics have a hard time owning
this,” Kelly told a Meeting Place workshop on How Can Churches
Talk on Reconciliation.
But sooner or later we all have to be involved in what Blessed Pope John
Paul II called the healing of memories, said Jesuit provincial superior
Rev. Peter Bisson.
“The Christian mission is about reconciliation — with God,
with creation, with each other,” said Bisson. “You can’t
do one without the other.”
And healing has to start where the wounds are deepest.
“We’ve done wrong, not simply made mistakes,” said Bisson. “For which we’re trying to make reparation. We’re all affected by this.”