Xwla ye toteló:met qas ye slilekwel “towards understanding and harmony”
- translated from Halq'eméylem by Siyamiateliyot (Elizabeth Phillips)
Reconciliation at UFV
By Shirley Hardman, senior advisor on Indigenous Affairs at UFV
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was telecasting the TRC closing ceremonies — along with the commission’s conclusions and recommendations — I, like many Aboriginal Canadians sat transfixed, listening and viewing the faces of the speakers.
When Justice Sinclair cautioned that this report is for the future, the Survivors were moved to applaud. I wondered, what about right now? What can we do today? The report and the speakers repeatedly stated that education will have a role in this action of building together.
Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations' Chief, asserted that in order to make room in our hearts and minds we would need to get rid of our society’s old ways of thinking about indigenous people. The churches (Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, United, and the Jesuits), standing together, acknowledged that apologies are not enough; they committed to “foster learning about and awareness of the reality and legacy of the residential schools…and the new ways forward.” It is a call for teaching about the history and legacy of the residential schools in all Canadian schools.
Bringing reconciliation home
As I sat listening — and really, I was only listening because the telecast was so annoyingly intermittent — I began to think about my role in reconciliation. As the Senior Advisor on Indigenous Affairs at UFV, what advice do I have? What action can I take? As an academic, what can I be expected to do? The answers don’t come easily.
On October 27, 2011, the University of Manitoba apologized for both failing to recognize and challenge the forced assimilation and for the university’s role in educating graduates that would go on to participate in such a system. In the apology, President Barnard stated that the university has “failed Aboriginal peoples.” It is in this apology that I can see a way forward. The U of M President reminds us that a critical role of the university is “to create, preserve and communicate knowledge.” This is something we all do at UFV.
The call for action says we must understand the past. Education will provide this understanding. This means some university instructors will experience a shift in attitude and it will be critical we have the requisite knowledge to pass on to students. This knowledge has not been a part of our own education, and in most cases not a part of our area of expertise. Leaders in many disciplines are not writing about it. So, the responsibility falls to us as individuals.
In her book RESHAPING THE UNIVERSITY: Responsibility, Indigenous Epistemes, and the Logic of the Gift, Sami author Rauna Kuokkanen offers a participatory paradigm that she cautions is not a model, but a process, that requires a long-term commitment. Rauna states in her introduction that she is making a “call for the academy to accept its responsibility toward the other and to do its homework.” Rauna is writing about indigenous knowledge, not a socio-historic overview that will inform and foster understanding of indigenous peoples. However, I think the process is transferable and could prove to be utilitarian.
As academics, we must accept the responsibility of moving the recommendations of the TRC forward. We must create and develop knowledge around the final report and its recommendations, and instill this knowledge in the minds and the hearts of our students. Our students go on to become social workers, teachers, political leaders, youth workers, business frontrunners, and church leaders. Our students are citizens in a society that needs to move towards understanding and harmony in a way that will address the truths that the six-year commission uncovered.