On October 23rd, we tuned into CBC, with millions of other Canadians, to watch Gord Downie’s The Secret Path and the discussion that followed (The Secret Path and discussion transcript can be found on CBC’s website). The Secret Path is a musical and visual portrayal of Chanie Wenjack’s attempt to find his way home after escaping from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, ON. He died on October 22, 1966 walking the railroad tracks, trying to reach his home and family in the remote community of Ogookiing (Ogoki Post), over 600 km to the north. He didn’t know how far away it was or how to get there, but he tried.
The Secret Path is haunting, beautiful, wrenching and uncomfortable. As Jesse Wente stated in the discussion afterward, “We really need to embrace discomfort.” Learning the truth is a start, and The Secret Path project is one of the cracks letting the light shine on Canada’s past policies, ill-treatment, and devastating long-term impacts on Indigenous people. As uncomfortable it is for Canadians to hear the truth about our national policies designed to “kill the Indian in the child”, it’s an important first step on the road to reconciliation. Melanie Hadley, the panel host, closed the discussion by asking Canadians to simply read the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and pick one: “Pick one that you can live, pick one that you can stand for.”, she said.
In reading the recommendations, I’ve found it difficult to find myself in the Calls to Action section as it seems to be speaking to federal, provincial and territorial governments. But with effort I think I can find something to get behind, to raise with our elected officials and community leaders such as healthcare, education and training, and business.
The Principles of Reconciliation document provides general guidelines for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canada. Here are a few that speak to us Terrapins.
Principle 5: “Reconciliation must create a more equitable and inclusive society by closing the gaps in social, health, and economic outcomes that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.”
Principle 9: “Reconciliation requires political will, joint leadership, trust building, accountability, and transparency, as well as a substantial investment in resources.”
Principle 92: “business and reconciliation” speaks right in our ears: “Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.
Our own work with Aboriginal Finance Institutes across Canada is focused on making developmental lending work better — to start or grow Aboriginal owned businesses that create employment, increase household incomes, build strong leaders and positive role models.
On our personal road to reconciliation, we are thinking about Chanie Wenjack and others who never made it home — the children and families who survived residential schools but continue to suffer and those that struggle from the impacts of colonialism — to learn from the past, in hopes of a more equitable future for all Canadians. In this regard reconciliation is reciprocal.
We may not know how far away reconciliation is, or how best to get there, but we all need to try.
Trace MacKay, November 2016