Personal Perspective on Truth & Reconciliation

October 2, 2023

By Teresa Acheson, President of Yukon Federation of Labour

I was able to take part in an Indigenous Virtual Panel hosted by PSAC (Public Service Alliance of Canada) leading up to Truth and Reconciliation Day.  Hearing from the brave speakers, willing to share the stories of their families who experienced and saw trauma through residential schools and colonialism, I was reminded that we are still discovering the truth and the truth must be told in order to have full reconciliation. 

But in order to have a true spirit of reconciliation, we must admit something was wrong, in many cases something is still wrong, and the harm needs to stop.  There must be a change of mind and heart to be able to move forward, as reconciliation is intended to bring parties back together as one. 

None of us likes to talk about pain from our past.  Our social media culture has even more emphasised that we only show and share the best of us, washing our existence to only that which will get likes, loves or shares.   But also, our natural bodies and mind will work to protect us from severe trauma.  PTSD is real and now recognised as mental health issue.  It takes a very strong person to be able to bring up or discuss trauma of the past.  

The stories shared in the PSAC Indigenous Panel opened my eyes to what is yet unknown by the modern world.  This is a past which we have only scratched the surface of re-telling.   I am hopeful that we can still record the indigenous history in Canada accurately so all can learn from it.  Like the Holocaust, it’s a horror to never allow again.  Unlike Remembrance Day, of which the tag line is “Lest we Forget”, when it comes to Truth & Reconciliation, we still need to “Remember” to truly honor this day.

I am an ally, non-indigenous so I can’t speak to these issues with any firsthand experience.  However, I am grateful for each Indigenous, First Nation, Metis and Inuit person who has shared part of their life with me in Canada.  As a born Canadian who is learning everyday about indigenous history, I must remind myself and others to stand with our Yukon First Nations:

  1. Don’t assume that reported indigenous abuse is false or overexaggerated.  Why would any of us make up stories of losing our own children or enduring horrific conditions.  In reality, we really don’t even know the whole truth yet. 
  2. You may wonder if things were so bad, how come you haven’t heard sooner?  Similar to soldiers who don’t speak about the war, the elders who experienced residential school trauma also avoid speaking about it.  This is natural, we avoid bringing up trauma of our past, sometimes our mind can block our memory of significant trauma.   Imagine also being desensitized to never bring up anything connected to your culture or history for fear of punishment. 
  3. Don’t judge on the numbers, particularly if you are concerned, they don’t add up.  15 potential grave sites, 33 recorded deaths at Carcross…when in reality there are hundreds of records missing for this school, and the records that are available are incomplete at best. Many records did not care enough to note where the child came from when taken to a school. What you should care about is that children were taken, children are missing–these are unsolved cases still haunting indigenous families today.

But most of all, be patient and kind and offer support any way you can as our Indigenous neighbours continue to uncover the past that they have known or suspected all along.  For many First Nations, this is already “Old News”, but for the world, its still “New headlines”.

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