Getting to Truth Before Reconciliation

Kluane Lake in Yukon, Canada

Confronting the Truth by Hearing in Indigenous Voices

By: Kluane Adamek (Aagé), Assembly of First Nations Yukon Regional Chief

We continue to mourn for the souls taken by residential “schools”; those who have been found and those who remain missing. Since 215 unmarked graves were found at the former Kamloops Residential School on May 27th, 2021, this has increased to over 1000 unmarked graves. It feels as though there has been a continuous stream of heartbreak, and with each new finding, and each rise in the total number of souls found buried, wounds reopen a little bit more.

In the midst of these painful discoveries, people continue to ask what they can do to support Indigenous peoples and contribute to reconciliation in this country. To those people I say: to get to reconciliation, we must first get to the truth. While these events have been labeled ‘discoveries’ by the majority of the country, to Indigenous people, they are merely confirmations of the truth that we have always known. Indigenous people, survivors, intergenerational survivors, and families have been telling us these truths over and over for decades, and it is time that each person in Canada – especially those who are non-Indigenous – finally do the work of actively seeking and confronting that truth.

You can begin by listening to the Indigenous voices that have been speaking this truth long before May 27th, 2021.

First, I ask all Canadians to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Final Report and 94 Calls to Action. Between 2008-2015, the TRC collected the testimonies of thousands of survivors and intergenerational survivors who bravely shared stories of the abuse and violence they experienced in residential schools, and the lasting legacy that those experiences have continued to have throughout generations. The work of the TRC captures and shares truth in the words of survivors and families themselves, and there is no better way to hear the truth about the residential school system than from the lips of those who have lived – and continue to live – through its impacts.

I also encourage Canadians to read through the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit+ Calls to Justice. Similar to the work of the TRC, the MMIWG2S+ Calls to Justice speak to the first-person testimonies given by families and those directly affected by the violence perpetrated against women, girls and two-spirit+ people. However, it also highlights one of the truths that many non-Indigenous Canadians are just now starting to come to terms with; that colonial racism and violence is not only a piece of history, but the everyday lived experiences of Indigenous people in today’s Canada.

Elder Georgie Lowe, Elder Dorothy Smith, Elder Ron Chambers, Regional Chief Kluane Adamek, Elder Grady Sterriah, Elder Frances Woolsey at AFN Yukon Leadership awards May 2021 Whitehorse Yukon
Elder Georgie Lowe, Elder Dorothy Smith, Elder Ron Chambers, Regional Chief Kluane Adamek, Elder Grady Sterriah, Elder Frances Woolsey at AFN Yukon Leadership awards May 2021 Whitehorse Yukon

There are so many truths that remain unknown or unrecognized by many in Canadian society, like the fact that the last residential “school” in Canada closed in 1996, or that the modern-day child welfare system is simply a replication of the Sixties Scoop, or that Indigenous women and girls continue to be the subjects of racist and sexist policies such as birth alerts and forced sterilization. These are violent realities of the present generation of people who are alive today, and will continue to affect generations to come unless there is true transformative change.

These truths are accessible to anyone with a phone, computer, or a willing ear – but you must want to find them.

Seeking this truth cannot be separated from how we seek and receive information. Whether you get your news online, through podcasts, on Twitter, or even on TikTok, I suggest you look for the many Indigenous voices that exist in all places and spaces; to spread awareness, information and truth. By diversifying the methods through which you learn about Canada’s true history, you will only broaden the scope of perspectives and experiences that you have access to. In seeking truth and reconciliation, it is important to acknowledge and understand that Indigenous people are not homogenous, and that our experiences and cultures as First Nations, Inuit and Mtis  vary greatly. It is not enough to follow just one Indigenous politician on Twitter or read the book of one author. Nations and citizens experienced colonization differently by virtue of geography, resources, population, and more. Therefore, they face different challenges of neo-colonization today. Truth comes from lifting up the voices and stories of all Indigenous people today and through history.

Willful ignorance has never been an acceptable justification for turning a blind eye to the atrocities that Canada is built upon, but now there really is no excuse. If you are committed to reconciliation, then you must be committed to the truth, and to access and amplify this truth. This means accessing and amplifying the voices and stories of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people who have been telling us about the truth for decades. There have been too many reports and inquiries done whereby Indigenous people have been used as resources, asked to retell their stories, and sometimes even retraumatized by the experience. They have done the work to bring the truth to the surface, and it is time for the rest of Canada to take up the work of facing it.

Incredible First Nation Women Leaders gather in Kluane Country
Incredible First Nation Women Leaders gather in Kluane Country
Generations of Lù'àn Män Ku Dän - Kluane Lake, Women Kluane Adamek, Grandma and cousins Jade Groves, Pascale Dickson
Generations of Lù'àn Män Ku Dän - Kluane Lake, Women Kluane Adamek, Grandma and cousins Jade Groves, Pascale Dickson
Women Deliver 2019, Regional Chief Adamek with Indigenouse Emerging Leaders and Minister Monsef, Status of Women
Women Deliver 2019, Regional Chief Adamek with Indigenouse Emerging Leaders and Minister Monsef, Status of Women