As Vancouver prepares to host a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada event in the fall, one councillor wants to see a “Year of Reconciliation” proclaimed in the city.
A motion set to be introduced by Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer next week also asks staff to report back on the possibility of naming the municipality a "City of Reconciliation”, and for council to state its support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Reimer said her motion is based on recommendations made by Reconciliation Canada, and by a resolution passed by the city's Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee.
“For some people, the residential school experience is unknown,” Reimer told the Straight by phone. “They might have heard the term, but they’re not aware of what it meant…It was a very deeply traumatic and shameful experience in Canada that needs to be dealt with, needs to be acknowledged, needs to be understood, and that we need to move on from collectively.”
“Ultimately it’s a trauma…that has reverberations throughout our community, and if we can’t reconcile that and move forward, that’s holding us back, as a society and as a city,” she added.
Karen Joseph, the executive director of Reconciliation Canada, said the group is organizing “dialogue workshops” in the lead-up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in September. The commission has held four other national events across the country to date, which are aimed at informing Canadians about the history of the residential schools system, and the experience of former students and their families.
“It’s really taking the reconciliation process as it exists right now in terms of acknowledging and apologizing and making restitution, and takes it to the next level of well that’s just the very beginning step, and where do we go from here,” Joseph said in a phone interview.
Some of the events the organization is coordinating in conjunction with the TRC gathering include an All Nations Canoe Gathering on September 17, a commencement event at B.C. Place on September 21 that will include international speakers, and a “Walk for Reconciliation” through downtown Vancouver on September 22. Joseph said organizers are hoping to invite 50,000 people to the B.C. Place event and the walk.
Chief Robert Joseph, the executive director of the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society, said he is hoping to see Vancouver adopt the recommendation to name the municipality a city of reconciliation.
“It’s really important here in Vancouver in particular because we have so many ethnic groups here already, whose own relationships with others needs to be nurtured and cared for, and we think that Vancouver is a great [place] to be declared the city of reconciliation,” he told the Straight by phone.
The Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chief and former residential school student is also part of the Reconciliation Canada initiative, a charitable project created by the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society and Tides Canada Initiatives to engage Canadians in “meaningful dialogue” to build stronger relationships between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.
If Reimer’s motion is passed, a “Year of Reconciliation” could be proclaimed in the city beginning June 21, which is recognized as National Aboriginal Day. The councillor said the City of Reconciliation designation is likely to require more discussion. She noted that to her knowledge, no other municipalities have taken on the title.
Reimer added that in her view, the topic of reconciliation has begun to gain more attention.
“This discussion felt impossible 20 years ago,” she said. “The impact is so huge and the discussion and the number of people having it is so small. And now to be at the point where…it’s a discussion that has become much more mainstream is really encouraging about what’s possible.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada event is scheduled to take place from September 18 to 21, 2013.