Truth, Reconciliation, and Hope: A new vision for Canada

Noel Starblanket, Rt. Hon. Paul Martin, Fr. John Meehan, SJ

A reflection by Fr. Philip Shano, SJ, Jesuit Provincial Delegate for Indigenous Ministry

The culmination in June 2015 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), brought the situation of Indigenous peoples to the forefront of Canada’s national agenda.  The Jesuits in English Canada responded immediately to the TRC's 94 Calls to Action with a number of initiatives. 

June 2016 saw the Jesuits partnering with the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, to organize the conference: Truth, Reconciliation, and Hope: A new vision for Canada, and four days of events to honour Residential School Survivors, the First Nations and Métis peoples.  

The hope for the conference was to begin a dialogue among Indigenous leaders and all Canadians and embark on a path of restored relations.  The first event on June 19 was held at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish where three Residential School Survivors:  Michael Cheena, Kim McDougall, and Murray Crowe, gave their heart-rending testimonies of their time in the schools.

They spoke of more than 100 years of Canadian government policies of assimilation and annihilation of the Indigenous people through the residential schools, and the role of churches in operating the majority of these schools, which impacted more than 150,000 Indigenous children.

drumCouncil Fire All Nations Jr's Drum Group

On National Aboriginal Day, June 21, the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre prepared a ‘feast of strawberries’ in honour of the Strawberry Ceremony, along with wild rice, fresh fish, and corn soup to honour conference speakers, community members, and Jesuits. The All Nations Juniors Drum Group performed an Honour Song, and community members displayed a mix of traditional and modern fashion in an Indigenous Fashion Show.  

On June 22, the Truth, Reconciliation, and Hope conference provided more than 250 participants with a much richer and more engaging experience than most could have predicted.  It was diverse, challenging, and filled with honest engagement and personal accounts of tragedies suffered by Residential School Survivors.try-collageClockwise from top left: Grand Chief Joe Norton with wampum belt; Noel Starblanket and Fr. Peter Bisson, SJ;  Residential School Survivor Murray Crowe; Rt. Hon. Paul Martin with Elder Rosella Kinoshameg; MTMS staff with McGrath family donors

One of the most moving moments was hearing Noel Starblanket, Knowledge Keeper from Saskatchewan, speak of his 12 years at a Catholic Residential School and his request for the continued promotion of accountability and responsibility that comes when people see and hear the truth. “We cannot unsee or unhear it,” he said. 

Charlie Angus, MP, NDP Critic for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, added that recent states of emergency on reserves have their basis in the fact that these “holding places” were never built to last. Angus stressed that the most important Canadian resource is our children, not minerals.  

Former Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin, in dialogue with broadcaster and conference moderator John Moore, offered a vision of the role of education in changing the path for students and Canadians alike.  

paul-martin-mooreThe Rt. Hon. Paul Martin interviewed by conference host, John Moore.

TRC Commissioner, Dr. Marie Wilson, spoke of her work on the TRC and gave an inspiring rendition of the Gospel Beatitudes juxtaposed with statements from witnesses at the TRC hearings.  

The afternoon’s panel discussion brought together Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton, Grand Chief Abram Benedict, treaty expert and lawyer David Nahwegahbow, and Dr. Wilson in an engaging discussion of the TRC’s Call to Action #62 on education.  

The most powerful moments came when the panel of young Canadians were led in a discussion by Dr. Randy Boyagoda, incoming Principal and Vice President of the University of St. Michael’s College.  The presentations by Karolina Jonsson, Matthew Hendzel, SJ, Trevor Roundpoint, and Luke Bannon, offered insights into the challenges still faced by young Indigenous parents in raising their children in a country fraught with bigotry.

youth-panelDr. Randy Boyagoda with youth panel.

Near the end of the full day conference, two graduates of Mother Teresa Middle, (MTMS), (the Jesuit Academy in Regina), Draydin Cyr and Dylan Cyr-Yuzicappi, spoke about how the school's program and mentorship brought them success in education, sport, and home life; providing them with hope for the future.  

After their talks, Toronto students Anne and Brian McGrath, on behalf of the event sponsor, The McGrath Family Foundation, presented Draydin and Dylan with a cheque for $30,000 raised to assist MTMS programs. 

moms-cheque Gift to Mother Teresa Middle School

Following the conference, speakers and guests gathered at Regis College, the Jesuit Theologate, for an event with guest of honour, His Eminence Cardinal Collins, Chancellor of the University of St. Michael’s College, Andrea Chrisjohn of Council Fire, and Métis dancers and musicians. Renowned Wikwemikong artist James Mishibinijima's masterful symbolic paintings of the residential school experience were on display at the College.

The Jesuits and the University of St. Michael’s College would like to thank Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, The McGrath Family Foundation, The Anne McGrath Memorial Foundation, and the many sponsors and volunteers for their generous assistance.  

The conference will be the subject of a documentary, to be sponsored by The Anne McGrath Memorial Foundation and the Jesuits to help schools, parishes and community groups grow in understanding of the TRC’s issues.

To donate to Mother Teresa Middle School or purchase a copy of video interviews of conference speakers, please contact Fr. Bert Foliot, SJ at the Jesuit Development Office.

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