When Esquimalt Nation Chief Andy Thomas took the stage at the Truth and Reconciliation event last week, he didn’t focus on Indian residential schools.
He used his spotlight to talk about the present: about the Douglas treaties that still need to be addressed and about the Esquimalt reserve. At 18 hectares, it is home to 250 people, and supports another 150 people off reserve.
“We’ve been held out of the economy for too long,” Thomas said.
Reconcile. ‘To make friendly again after a period of estrangement,’ according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.
After a full day listening to residential school survivors, I was inspired to look up the word.
After truth telling, reconciliation is the second purpose of the national commission, and the word is meant as more than some form of settlement between government and First Nations’ leaders. Every Canadian has been charged with the task. But practically speaking, how do we move forward?
The words of one young woman at the event stuck with me: Why, she asked, don’t schools teach the names of First Nations whose homelands they occupy? Why does every child learn basic French, but not even a few phrases of the First Nations language of their region?
It’s a solution unlikely to right our nation’s historical wrongs, but it’s a place to start.
It’s hard to respect the rights of people we know little about.