Reconciliation Week offers chance to heal

NANAIMO – Events at Vancouver Island University shed light on events that took place at residential schools.

Tolerance is not enough for Doug White, chief of Snuneymuxw First Nation.

It’s not enough for aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians to simply stop fighting and walk back to their respective corners.

He sees a future in which engagement is sought, where concern for others’ well being is paramount and all work together to heal the dark history that plagues Canada’s relationship with its indigenous people.

“Things aren’t going to really change until we engage with the hearts of Canadians,” White said. “It’s going to be Canadians themselves – not lawyers and politicians.”

It’s Reconciliation Week in Canada, and while the focus is mainly on sharing and coming to terms with what happened in residential schools, issues like poverty, children in care and violence still plague First Nations today.

Aboriginals face lack of access to potable water – Snuneymuxw reserves were connected to the municipal water supply last year – grinding poverty leading to alcoholism and domestic violence, and what White describes as a crisis for child welfare with more than half the children in care aboriginal.

“It’s effectively become normalized,” he said.

But change is happening. Reconciliation Week came out of the 2008 apology from the federal government over physical, sexual and emotional abuse perpetrated at residential schools. White notes it was a Snuneymuxw man who attended the Port Alberni school who was the first to file a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse.

“That was the spark that lit the fire across the country,” White said.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was another result of the apology, to give aboriginals and the rest of Canadians alike an opportunity to denounce what happened, offer love and support to one another, and talk about the future.

“This is a very important opportunity for our country to address an issue that’s been troubling us as nation for a very long time,” White said. “It’s a multi-generational process.”

Reconciliation focuses on healing within aboriginal communities but also allows other Canadians to come to terms with actions of previous governments and society leaders.

“Some of the most deeply disturbing aspects of Canadian history are wrapped up in this,” White said. “It’s done something horrible to Canada as a whole – to its dignity.”

Snuneymuxw and Vancouver Island University partnered on reconciliation events, including information booths at the Nanaimo campus today and tomorrow (Sept. 19-20).

On Friday, events start at Shq’apthut, the Gathering Place (building 170), with a film screening at 9 a.m. of Muffins for Granny, exploring the personal stories of residential school survivors, followed by a facilitated discussion.

After lunch, a procession will walk from the long house to Kwulasulwut Gardens, located behind the library.

All are welcome to attend the events.

“There is something in this spirit of people willing to stand with us,” White said. “We’ve come a long way in a short period of time.”

For more information on the reconciliation commission and its work, please visit its website at http://reconciliationcanada.ca.