Reconciliation: More than a Symbolic Gesture

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Women have always been a beacon of hope for me. Mothers and grandmothers in the lives of our children, and in the survival of our communities, must be recognized and supported. The justified rage we all feel and share today must be turned into instruments of transformation of our hearts and our souls, clearing the ground for respect, love, honesty, humility, wisdom and truth. We owe it to all those who suffered, and we owe it to the children of today and tomorrow. May this day and the days ahead bring us peace and justice.

  • Patsy George on the strength of Indigenous women and their contributions to reconciliation.

In 2015, following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s release, Calgary City Council directed the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee (CAUAC) to discuss truth and reconciliation. The findings and subsequent calls to action outlined in the TRC, after six years of hearings and testimony from more than 6,700 residential school survivors from across Canada detailed more than a century of abuse at Indian Residential Schools. The findings and calls to action were captured in 25 pounds of literature across nine volumes recounting the destruction of a culture.

The TRC found that the residential school system was created intentionally to remove indigenous parent’s involvement in the development of their children as a means of assimilation. Alberta’s role in reconciliation is substantial when you consider Alberta had at least 26 residential schools with some counts reaching 30. In Calgary, there were at least 10 residential schools in and around our city removing indigenous children from their families for more than 110 years.

This week Calgary took an additional and important step towards reconciliation with an almost unanimous vote to rename Langevin Bridge to Reconciliation Bridge. The change was first recommended in White Goose Flying, the report to Calgary City Council on the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation calls to action in May 2016. The report highlighted the importance of renaming the bridge because of its link to Indian Residential Schools. Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, one of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation was a proponent of residential schools and an instrumental figure in establishing the design of Canadian residential schools.

“The fact is that if you wish to educate the children, you must separate them from their parents during the time they are being taught. If you leave them in the family, they may know how to read and write, but they will remain savages, whereas by separating them in the way proposed, they acquire the habits and tastes…of civilized people.” – Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, 1883.

Renaming the bridge does not wash the history of our city or our country: itis a symbolic gesture in recognizing the history between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians and how complicated that history can be. Today we are building a different future. It is a step in the right direction to end the inter-generational trauma that was direct result of the development and implementation of a school system that’s purpose was to eradicate so-called savages. We applaud the bridge’s renaming and the steps the city of Calgary has taken in the name of reconciliation.

As the largest and longest serving women’s organization in the city, YW Calgary recognizes the intersectional trauma that indigenous women have experienced. We applaud the steps taken by governments at all levels towards reconciliation. We see the vulnerabilities and pain directly linked to indigenous women and their family’s experiences with residential schools and remain committed to building communities based on respect.

Education is the key to reconciliation; we must demand a course of action at the federal and provincial levels of government to understand and ensure we all remain aware of this history. Each of us has a role to play in reconciliation and YW Calgary remains committed to supporting women and their families to heal and build skills through our services and continued advocacy. Click here to learn more about TRC’s Calls to Action and click here to learn about CAUAC’s calls to action for Calgary.