First steps to Truth & Reconciliation at Affinity Bridge

First steps to Truth & Reconciliation at Affinity Bridge

Jennylee Bellatrix
Truth and Reconciliation Lunch and Learn at Affinity Bridge

What does Truth & Reconciliation mean?

From the 1870s until 1996, over 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their homes and placed in Indian Residential Schools designed to assimilate them into the majority (European) culture. It was done with the intention to prevent or minimize Indigenous families’ ability to pass down their language and cultural heritage to their children, under the guise of providing education and ‘civilizing the savages.’

The repercussions of the Indian Residential Schools have been both long-reaching and difficult to acknowledge. Former students came forward to bring attention to the neglect and physical, psychological, and sexual abuse they were subjected to, and spoke of the scars they carried from their experiences at the Residential Schools. With the breaking of their silence, the Truth & Reconciliation Commission was created in 2008 to respond to both the accusations of abuse and the consequences for First Nations Children and their families from the residential school legacy. It was completed in 2015.

The Truth & Reconciliation Commission

The Commission gathered statements from over 6,000 former residential school students and others who were impacted by the legacy of the schools, including relatives or individuals who worked in the schools. When the Commission ended, they produced a final report of their findings and a series of Calls to Action to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”

These calls to action are split into two categories: Legacy, to redress the harms caused by the Indian Residential Schools; and Reconciliation, to reconcile federal and provincial governments with Indigenous nations of Canada today and into the future.

In my opinion, everyone should read the Calls to Action. It’s not a long read, and it’s worthwhile. Go ahead; we’ll still be here when you’re done.

Knowing the Legacy of the residential schools is important. We learned nothing of this in history class when I was in school, in part because, for me finishing high school in 1994, there were still some schools running. It wasn’t part of the curriculum to study much about First Nations other than how they interacted with the early explorers from a colonial point of view. Knowing what happened is heartbreaking, but we need to learn about it so we can understand why it’s important. Change is already happening in our school system — those of us with school-aged children have noted that our kids are learning about these topics, where we never did.

Almost more important than acknowledging the Legacy, however, is Reconciliation. The more we learned, the more we recognized the resilience of Indigenous cultures through difficult times. We began to see the opportunities that we, as individuals, as a company, and as Canadians could benefit from by engaging in Reconciliation. We can’t change the past, but we can let what we’ve learned about it help us come to a place where we understand the challenges facing Canada’s First Nations. It can be difficult to stop ourselves from comparing our experience with that of others; Reconciliation seems to be more about finding common ground than it is about comparison.

What I mean to say is that the challenges other groups of people face are different, and we may never understand them completely, but we can acknowledge them, we can hear them, and we can learn to see how the things we say, do, and think can affect and change things; for worse or for better.

How Affinity Bridge came to Truth and Reconciliation

We have a long history of partnering with First Nations clients on web and development projects and our work happens on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh First Nations. But when we paused to consider our role in Truth and Reconciliation, we suddenly didn’t feel equipped as individuals or as an organization to address the issues and findings of the Report or the Calls to Action. It was an uncomfortable realization.

We wanted to do better; to take action on the Report’s findings as an organization and as individuals, to add legitimacy to the work we are doing, and to recognize and support the work that others are doing in this area. But we knew we couldn’t do it on our own.

Thinking about how to respond to a call for reconciliation—even writing about it—is unsettling, uncomfortable; I didn’t (and still don’t) feel qualified to say or know exactly what it means. Hayden King, in his post about the recent Secret Path performance with Gord Downie in Ottawa, has summarizes our feelings on the subject:

“The decision to determine and articulate what is and is not reconciliation belongs to survivors.”

But how do we, as non-survivors, fit into this narrative of reconciliation? As we learned more, we came to understand that we didn’t know how to take action respectfully on our own.

Truth and Reconciliation lunch & learn

We invited Reconciliation Canada into our offices for a Lunch & Learn presentation and discussion. They offer resources and programs to help us, as individuals and organizations, learn more about the residential schools’ legacy and our roles in reconciliation. Besides the Lunch & Learn presentations, they offer Dialogue Workshops, National Gatherings, Speakers, and toolkits for individuals to lead discussions in their own circles.

I still don’t quite know the answer to what our role is in reconciliation; it doesn’t feel like there’s an end goal to reach for, and there’s no clear path. In our socially and politically charged world, our efforts feel like an incremental step towards a difficult change. This is the first step on a path we're taking together; as individuals, as an organization, and as a country. What's next?