Sol Mamakwa is urging Canadians and northwestern Ontario residents to stand together and reflect on the tragic history of the country’s Indian residential school system today.
Mamakwa – Kiiwetinoong’s MPP, the NDP’s critic for Indigenous and Treaty Relations and the party’s Deputy Leader – says reconciliation cannot take place without knowing the full truth of what happened to the thousands of students who never returned home.
“Some praise the government of Canada and the Catholic Church for publicly admitting the truth of Indian residential schools. But admitting to wrongdoing in the face of undeniable evidence is not reconciliation. Performative acts of apology are not reconciliation,” says Mamakwa.
Mamakwa notes the Catholic Church continues to withhold certain residential school records which would help identify children in unmarked graves, and the federal government continues to withhold oppressive practices towards Indigenous communities.
Mamakwa’s message comes from a video message and statement ahead of the second annual National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.
“As the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is upon us, we must reflect deeply on why this day is important, and how it brings us together. We must acknowledge that our history together since contact has not always been good, and that its long shadow is felt in our present. And so, the present dictates that we must come together in a good way, in the spirit of truth and ‘reconciliation.’
Reconciliation can be an act of performance, or it can be the product of reflecting on the past, healing and making right. We cannot have reconciliation without truth. For many years, Indian Residential School survivors spoke of their firsthand experience of the abuse inflicted upon them, where many children were killed and buried in unmarked graves. The reality is that most Canadians did not accept this as truth, and it wasn’t until our children’s remains were unearthed by the hundreds, and then thousands, that the truth could not be ignored.
As we journey together on this land we now call Canada, we must never forget the former students — the survivors — of the Indian Residential Schools system. While we engage in actions, events and conversations centred on reconciliation, we must never leave anyone behind. There are survivors who still carry the unforgettable scars, burdens, and the unforgiving trauma from their lived experiences.
I cannot overstate the impact colonial oppression continues to have even today – the intergenerational and transgenerational effects of trauma on Indigenous Peoples and nations is real, and still far too visible. On this day, let’s think of all those who continue to suffer from the lasting effects of the legacy. Reach out to them, and re-assure them that they have not been forgotten.
We need to understand the past in order to build a better present, and stronger future, together. On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I encourage people to participate in public events of mourning, reflection and education. And I continue to ask the government of Ontario to recognize Sept. 30 as a statutory day off so everyone is able to observe this solemn occasion.
As Canadians and Ontarians, we all play a role in reconciliation. If we can approach people with understanding rather than judgement, break down the structures of oppression, and heal together, reconciliation is possible.”
Canada passed legislation last year to make September 30 a federal statutory holiday, one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2015’s Calls to Action, after the discovery of the 215 unmarked bodies in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
The story made headlines around the world – forcing Canadians to finally face the horrors of our former residential school system.
For over 100 years, over 150,000 Indigenous youth were forcibly taken from their families to be assimilated into residential schools and settler culture, which included giving youth new names, haircuts and identification numbers.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says over 70 Indigenous youth in the Kenora area died while attending two local residential schools.