Truth and Reconciliation

By: Ralph Eldridge, Indigenous Engagement Lead, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster

Truth and Reconciliation are two very powerful words in the modern Canadian lexicon. Separately, they sit as idle words but when paired they represent a dark past, a painful present, and a country’s continuing effort to make reparations with its Indigenous peoples.

This week, for the first time, we pause as a country to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to commemorate the lost children of residential schools, survivors, and the generations of those who continue to be affected by this legacy of trauma. It was first proposed, nearly six years ago, as one of 94 Calls to Action of the TRC’s final report. Although a long time in the making, the creation of this new federal statutory holiday was announced quickly after the very painful confirmation of an estimated 200 burial sites at a former BC residential school on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and later followed by further evidence by the Cowessess First Nation of an additional 750 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Saskatchewan.

It is estimated that over 150,000 Indigenous children were ripped from the grips of their loving families to face a severe indoctrination that robbed them of their identities. Like most Canadians, I shudder to comprehend the legacy of this trauma and how it has resulted in so much of the disparity and desperation faced by Indigenous communities coast to coast to coast. It’s hard to imagine how this can ever be reconciled any time soon, but without a doubt, it has to begin with the truth, the truth from Indigenous voices, the way they choose to tell it, and that describes the true measurement of forced assimilation.

I have to admit, I have not read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s full reports. I have read scholarly articles and summaries of findings and have read the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action. These calls are a blend of actions that attempt to rebuild what has been lost for Indigenous peoples and are concrete measures for which all Canadians can advocate. These Calls to Action, along with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of indigenous Peoples are good starting points for Canadians to begin to educate themselves on the historical injustices, apartheid, and genocide of Indigenous peoples, and reconciliatory paths forward.

I had the privilege, in a previous role, to be connected with top Indigenous Educators in Newfoundland redeveloping curriculum that would better represent Indigenous perspectives. Through these conversations, I began to appreciate that learning outcomes for Indigenous people must be based in Indigenous teachings that are reflexive, reflective, intergenerational, spiritual, and interconnected. I think all Canadians can apply this in how they approach their own understanding of Indigenous world views. We can do a better job of listening, not with our western linear mindset, but with a circular understanding that what has happened in the past will affect the present, and what we do now will affect the future seven generations. Through understanding there is opportunity.

Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall first conceptualized Etuaptmumk – Two-Eyed Seeing. It is based on an integrated approach to learning – to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledge and ways of knowing. Indigenous communities are natural collaborators in ocean resource management, innovation, and research which is rooted in their historical, traditional, and cultural connection to the ocean. For ocean sector participants this wisdom can be the guiding principle to forge relationships with Indigenous communities and build partnerships that identify community priorities that benefit both parties. Certainly, for the Ocean Supercluster this is where our work begins. Stay tuned.

Ralph Eldridge
Indigenous Engagement Lead,
Canada’s Ocean Supercluster