Stuart Mackinnon: Reconciliation and truth-telling—acknowledging our colonial past

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      Last night, the Vancouver park board unanimously approved chair and commissioner Stuart Mackinnon's motion directing staff to analyze the organization's "colonial roots, as well as current practices" and report back with recommendations "to acknowledge any and all injustices uncovered as part of the 'truth-telling' phase". Below, you can read a transcript of Mackinnon's speech before the board:

      Post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin famously asked in his 1897 painting:Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?  These questions are as relevant today as they were more than 100 years ago.

      The Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada states:

      "There is an emerging and compelling desire to put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future. The truth telling and reconciliation process as part of an overall holistic and comprehensive response […] is a sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people and the need for continued healing. This is a profound commitment to establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a brighter future. The truth of our common experiences will help set our spirits free and pave the way to reconciliation."

      In the introduction to "Confronting the Past: Truth Telling and Reconciliation in Uganda", by the International Centre for Transitional Justice, it says:

      "Truth telling is recognized as one of the important transitional justice measures for redressing the legacies of abuse and responding to human rights violations and harms that occur during repression or conflict.

      "Truth telling plays a critical role in acknowledging the wrongs suffered by victims, fostering reconciliation, community healing, and preventing the recurrence of the past abuses in post-conflict societies. Establishing the truth about past violations will not only help determine the most appropriate remedies to be offered to victims, but it will also help identify the necessary reforms that can prevent such violations from happening again."

      Vancouver’s history is one of progress and wealth, but it has been built on great sacrifice and destruction. What once were dense forests, pristine fish-filled streams, and fertile hunting grounds have been cut down, paved over, and built up. This has come at great cost to the land and the people who have always been here.

      We are a prosperous city of unparalleled beauty, but our prosperity has come at a price.

      That price is not buried in some obscure, forgotten past. It is documented. And some of that documentation is held by the park board. It is time that the park board told those truths. From those truths, healing can begin. 

      Healing is an important step on our journey to reconciliation. At the Manitoba national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2010, residential school survivor Evelyn Brockwood talked about why it is important to ensure that there is adequate time for healing to occur in the truth and reconciliation process.

      She said “When this came out at the beginning, I believe it was 1990, about residential schools, people coming out with their stories... I thought the term, the words they were using, were truth, healing, and reconciliation. But somehow it seems like we are going from truth telling to reconciliation, to reconcile with our white brothers and sisters. My brothers and sisters, we have a lot of work to do in the middle. We should really lift up the word healing.”

      Truth-telling is the first step in helping unlock the past and helping us to understand "where do we come from, what are we, and where are we going?" The truth of our common experiences will help heal all of our spirits and help pave the way to reconciliation. 

      Evelyn Brockwood also said, “Go slow, we are going too fast, too fast.... We have many tears to shed before we even get to the word reconciliation."

      I hope that you will join me in supporting this motion on truth-telling of the park board’s colonial roots, as well as our current practices, so that we may continue our path to healing and reconciliation with local First Nations.


      Colonialism is the policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of developing or exploiting them to the benefit of the colonizing country and helping the colonies modernize in terms defined by the colonizers, especially in economics, religion and health.

      Unceded: those lands never signed away through a treaty or conquered by war.

      Historical Dates

      January 13, 1849: Vancouver Island is declared a "crown colony"

      August 2, 1858: Crown Colony of British Columbia is established, not including Vancouver Island

      August 6, 1866: Vancouver Island and British Columbia are merged into one colony

      July 20, 1871: The colony entered into Confederation with Canada