Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Truth and reconciliation

"Canadians' first responsibility is to know history"  was the headline on one of the Toronto Star's stories about the Truth and Reconciliation report last week.

Not a good start, I thought. It reminded one of those old Dominion Institute surveys of Canadians' ignorance of history where the question used to be something like "What month did the October Crisis occur?" And the correct answer was "I don't know, there isn't enough history taught in the schools."

Actually the Canadians and Their Pasts studies have shown Canadians know quite a bit about history, on a pragmatic, need-to-know basis at least, which fits my own experience of talking about history with the public. But I don't have a lot of faith in any public policy initiative that depends on obliging the Canadian public to know something specific about the past.  Or, despite calls to add residential schools to every school curriculum, one that depends on a "ram it down the throats of schoolkids" attitude to history.

But then there is Richard Gwyn today, declaring "it would be very hard to find anyone who believes Canadians are the kind of people who engage in cultural genocide."  So much for Mr Justice Murray Sinclair's effort at educating one prominent Canadian. Gwyn argues the evils of the residential schools were a blunder, not a policy, no one's fault really. We are not that kind of people. When he proposes we all move this discussion more toward the centre, he seems to think it is a compromise he is proposing: First Nations will stop talking about cultural genocide, and the rest of us will go on not thinking about it.

So, the need for public education is vast. And given the suffering, the loss, the ongoing trauma of the residential schools, surely any movement toward reconciliation is going to require a great deal of talking through by survivors and their families, and listening by the rest of us.

But I don't know that talk is enough.  Reconciliation depends on real changes, and the key ones are about respect for, implementation of, the treaties, I think.  When indigenous people have the share of control of the Canadian territory that the treaty negotiations called for, they will cease to be dependent and can shape their own destinies.  And then we might be more ready to know their history.  

'Cause history loves winners.

Update, June 11:  Gratified to see this post tweeted and retweeted by a slew of friends of the Pasts Collective @pastscollective @cmedmoore 

See Daniel Francis's critique of Richard Gwyn's views.
Follow @CmedMoore