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Letter: The truth about reconciliation

by Peggy Taillon, The Ottawa Citizen

Re: Beatings, rapes a reality for children at residential schools, June 2.

Justice Murray Sinclair
Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in Ottawa.
Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press

Imagine living in a small, remote village in the Far North of our vast country. You live off the land, work and share with your neighbours and families.

Suddenly one day, strangers appear. They speak an entirely different language, look very different, wear different clothes. They believe they hold authority over you. Without warning, without any attempt at translation, explanation, they systematically remove your children from the village, from your family.

You don’t know where they have been taken, when or if you will ever see them again. After months of grieving, much time passes and then suddenly, some of the children return. Others it seems, are missing, without explanation; families never hear of their whereabouts.

The children look different, their clothes, their hair are different. They speak a new language, but more than that they seem changed, as though their souls have been tampered with. They are sullen, fearful. Some tell you stories that are horrific, of beatings, forced sexual acts, punishment for not conforming to the regimented life they were forced to live, learning a new language reading books, prayers. They were told they needed to be cleansed, fixed, that they were lucky to be “saved” from a life as a “savage.”

That is our story, our heritage as a country. You don’t have to be a survivor to understand how wrong this was and how traumatizing it remains to survivors today.

Reconciliation is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “restoring relations with family.” Reconciliation happens when two parties engage, listen, learn and share.

Sadly most non-aboriginal Canadians have not been engaged and in some cases are wholly unaware that this process has been unfolding for the past six years.

Sadly most of us do not understand how we all must face our biases, misperceptions and yes, even racism toward our First Nations, Métis and Inuit in this country. Until we do, true reconciliation will remain out of reach.


Peggy Taillon, Ottawa, President and CEO, Canadian Council on Social Development and the HERA Mission of Canada

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