Organizers are hoping to draw tens of thousands to a national reconciliation event in Vancouver this fall, which is part of efforts aimed at creating a “national memory” around residential schools.
At a news conference at Vancouver City Hall today, Truth and Reconciliation Canada (TRC) chair Justice Murray Sinclair, Reconciliation Canada ambassador Chief Robert Joseph, and Mayor Gregor Robertson unveiled a series of activities that are set to take place as part of Reconciliation Week from September 16 to 22 in Vancouver.
The initiative is focused around the TRC's sixth national reconciliation event, which is intended to allow former residential school students to speak to the commission and to the public about their experiences.
“Imagine what it would be like if the government were to come to you today or tomorrow and tell you that they’re taking your children away from you…and placing them in an institution for the purpose of changing them into something that you did not want them to be—to take away their language, to take away their culture, to remove from them their manner of dress, to remove from them their understanding of their history,” said Sinclair.
“Imagine if the government did that to you, and what impact that would have upon you as a parent, but also try to imagine for a moment what impact it would have upon you as a child, if you happen to be one of those children.”
The national event, which will take place at the Pacific National Exhibition from September 18 to 21, will be acccompanied by activities organized by Reconciliation Canada that will take place around the city.
On September 16, a reconciliation flame will be lit at Ambleside Park to mark the launch of the week-long activities, followed by an all-nations canoe gathering on September 17 from Kits Point to Science World, and a Walk for Reconciliation on September 22 that Reconciliation Canada hopes will draw up to 50,000 people. The week will culminate with a celebration on September 22.
“I just want to invite all Canadians, all Vancouverites, all British Columbians, to please come—we’re inviting you to come to this reconciliation event in September,” said Joseph.
Sinclair said the national event, which he expects could be the largest the commission has held so far, will aim to involve all Vancouver residents, including the immigrant and newcomer population.
“That population is not connected to the history of oppression, the history of maltreatment and mistreatment that aboriginal people have experienced in this country, but they are connected very closely to the solutions,” he said.
Robertson noted the city has declared a “Year of Reconciliation” in Vancouver, from June 21, 2013 to June 20, 2014, and said he has challenged other mayors across the country to do the same.
“The devastating impact over 150-odd years of residential schools has taken its toll, and continues to be a huge challenge in cities like Vancouver, and there’s a lot of work to do to get beyond that,” he said.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children attended government-funded, church-run residential schools, where many were exposed to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. The schools were operated from the early 1870s until the final one closed in 1996.
“This is not and should not be seen as an aboriginal problem,” said Sinclair. “This is a Canadian problem that we must face.We must change the way that we talk to and about each other going forward, and that is the ambition of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and one of the purposes of what we hope to achieve during the national event.”
Today’s press conference took place the same day as a series of grassroots protests across the country. The “Honour the Apology” demonstrations were prompted by new research that revealed at least 1,300 aboriginal people, including some residential school students, were subject to government-run nutrition experiments in the 1940s.
Organizers of the demonstrations urged the federal government to release all documents related to residential schools to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and for a national inquiry into the experiments.