Reconciliation is going to take years, if not generations: Trudeau

Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
OTTAWA – If residential schools can be equated to a 100 year walk into the woods then fixing the damage they did to Indigenous people is going to be a long walk back out.

That was the message Canadians heard Wednesday from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking of the first steps of reconciliation his government is taking by meeting with Indigenous leaders from all walks. 

Trudeau said the purpose of the Wednesday morning meeting was to set that direction.

“We talked about a number of specific issues,” said Trudeau. “But also engaged directly on how we’re going to work together to address these problems concretely. This is an engagement that is going to take years, decades and generations, perhaps.”

Trudeau didn’t get into specifics, but for Indigenous peoples the specifics surround them.

Residential schools destroyed up to seven generations of their families.

The schools began with the first kids in the late 1800s then the next generation were taken and so on.

One after another.

By truck.

By train, like cattle, in some cases.

Some parents unknowingly walked their kids to schools run by Church and funded by the State.

Those that fought back did so under threat of imprisonment if they didn’t hand over their kids to the priest at the door in the throes of residential school system that pulled in over 150,000 children to indoctrinate them with the white way of living and language.

There are cases of scientific and medical experiments, documented cases of sexual and physical abuses and thousands of deaths, some 3,200 officially. But many more are suspected according to Justice Murray Sinclair who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission documenting all the specific details its final report released Tuesday.

The TRC has 94 recommendations on what needs to be done to fix the mess of residential schools – one is an inquiry into the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The Trudeau government has already begun work on the inquiry.

One recommendations that isn’t so easy for Trudeau to achieve is an official apology from the Catholic church, as it falls outside of the federal government’s jurisdiction. 

Trudeau said Wednesday he’ll seek an apology from the Pope.

“I’m not going to pretend it is my job to order other governments or other organizations to do anything but I certainly look forward to constructive engagement to address this issue,” he said.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said an apology is needed

“The Catholic church is the only church that has not officially apologized to the survivors,” Bellegarde said Wednesday flanking Trudeau.

But as Trudeau, his ministers, Aboriginal leaders and the grassroots move forward it’s important to ensure this first meeting wasn’t just a meeting to have more meetings, said the prime minister.

“It’s important to start with a true sense of collaboration and partnership and that’s exactly what we cemented this morning,” he said.

That means not passing the buck said Dawn Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

“We cannot afford to sit around talking about jurisdiction, who is responsible for what when we all have a role to play,” said Harvard.

After all, people’s lives are at risk she said.

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Investigative Reporter

Kenneth Jackson is based in Ottawa, Ont. and has worked more than two decades in the business. He got his start in community newspapers before joining the Ottawa Sun in 2007 where he worked the police beat.

In 2011, Jackson joined APTN to break the Bruce Carson scandal with Jorge Barrera that sparked three federal investigations into the former senior advisor to then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Carson was later convicted of fraud sparking a court battle to the Supreme Court of Canada. The conviction was upheld and based entirely on APTN’s investigation.

Jackson has focused, almost exclusively, on the child welfare system in Ontario over the last five years. The work has earned multiple awards, including the 2020 Michener Award.

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