Patti LaBoucane-Benson on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report
I have long been involved in the healing and reconciliation movement in Canada. My understanding has been shaped by my participation in the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide gatherings since 1992, which focusses on solutions to the common challenges colonized Indigenous people face. I’ve read the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) report, most of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation publications, and focussed my PhD work on historic trauma. I’ve also been personally and professionally immersed in spiritual and emotional healing work, and have had the honour to sit in circles with residential school survivors who have shared their experiences, as well as intergenerational survivors who are grappling with their historic-trauma informed behaviour.
Even so, when I downloaded the Executive Summary from the 300+ page final of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on June 2, I was once again totally gutted by the pain of the survivors and the nature of the trauma inflicted on children and their families. Full disclosure: I have not finished reading the document. I can only digest around 10 pages at a time and I anticipate it will be a few more weeks before I’ve read it all. I’m struck by the way the document honours and reflects the voice of the thousands of survivors who shared their stories with the TRC. I am also eternally grateful to the commissioners Murray Sinclair, Wilton Littlechild, and Marie Wilson for carrying this burden over the past 6 years. And I feel that they have now passed it to all of us. It’s a huge historical weight that is manageable only if every Canadian takes on and repairs a small piece.
Meanwhile, June 11th was the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation. The organization I work for, Native Counselling Services of Alberta, marked the day by organizing annual training for over 130 staff to better understand residential school policy, its legacy, and how we can best support clients on their healing journey. For many NCSA staff members, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how colonial policy has affected our own families and reaffirm our personal commitment to healing.
While I engage once again with the pain, grief, and loss of residential school and intergenerational survivors, I feel heartened, and at times excited, by the reconciliation that is happening throughout Canada—some are larger, more official, and symbolic events, while others are smaller community-based actions.
Soon after, I attended the Stony Plain National Aboriginal Day celebration. Among the hundreds of people who attend this event every year, I especially appreciate the foster families who take the opportunity to engage with Aboriginal cultural knowledge keepers and create relationships with local Elders to strengthen their child’s connection to their culture. The next day, the Aboriginal People’s Television Network held a huge celebration in Edmonton’s River Valley. They had a full day of family-based cultural activities and NCSA was one of many service providers who participated. Our staff were thrilled that so many people were seeking out legal education information. Some had upcoming court dates, others had recent interactions with child welfare—AND they were engaged, asking questions, and accessing legal information that would help them navigate these complex colonial systems.
On Saturday night, my husband Allen got a call, inviting us to the Alberta Legislature on Monday for an announcement. We had the honour to witness the apology by the Premier of Alberta for the provincial government’s silence while residential school policy was enforced. Reflecting on this experience, I am astonished by the humility with which this event was organized. It wasn’t advertised in advance, nor was it a political point-scoring media event. Rather, we were asked to enter through the west door and were quietly welcomed into the gallery. Premier Notley began the session by sincerely acknowledging the invited guests; and while making the apology, there were times she needed to pause while overcome with emotion. Most of us were so moved that we stood and applauded when it was done. Once the regular business of the session began, we cleared out of the gallery. I left feeling hopeful for a better relationship between Aboriginal people and the provincial government, and proud to be an Albertan.
And so, while I engage once again with the pain, grief, and loss of residential school and intergenerational survivors, I feel heartened, and at times excited, by the reconciliation that is happening throughout Canada—some are larger, more official, and symbolic events, while others are smaller community-based actions. I’ve come to understand that reconciliation is a human process that requires that we acknowledge our mistakes and then take concrete steps to create authentic relationships. It’s also thousands of small individual actions, that when aggregated, will change the way we think about our history and ultimately how we love one another.
Patti LaBoucane-Benson is the author of The Outside Circle and the Director of Research, Training & Communication at the Native Counselling Services of Alberta