Last night I attended a public forum at the National Archives for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which is being set up for survivors of Indian Residential Schools. Scheduled on National Aboriginal Day, this was an opportunity for the public to learn about TRCs and give input on how a TRC might work in Canada. Other forums have been held around town, at Native centres and at universities.
The TRC is part of the negotiated settlement between government, churches and Indigenous peoples in response to the recognized human rights violations of the Residential School system. I'm taking a spring course right now which is looking at post-colonial, Indigenous issues in Canada - so this discussion is really relevant to what we have been studying. In other course work, and in preparation for my thesis, I have been researching TRCs in Africa and reading a lot about healing and reconciliation. Sometimes reading can seen sterile - removed from experience. So it was exciting last night to watch and listen to how a Commission could be set up in Canada - what are the expectations, the limitations, the hopes and the fears. It seems corny to say, but it was one of those times when I was aware of being part of history.
I also felt like I got a little taste of what a TRC could look like. Two speakers talked about their experience in the Residential School system. Violet Ford, an Inuit lawyer and Residential School survivor spoke through tears about the feelings of anger, loss and frustration that she and her community is working through. "I see the TRC as such huge hope for our people, for our nieces and nephews and those who come after us," she said. She added that she hoped it would not only help heal her community, but also allow the Canadian public to understand "what we've been suffering from." When she talked about the need for Canadians to attend the TRC and "hold out their hands" to survivors, I could see my place in all this.
I am also excited to be finding opportunities to use my role as an academic and researcher. I met someone who recently finished a conflict resolution master's at University of Victoria. She is doing research for this TRC process in order to provide Commissioners (who will be selected in September) with background on TRC process as well as the input received from these forums. I talked to her about the possibility of doing some of my course research on the TRC project and she welcomed the idea. I know that I tend to bite off far more than I can chew when it comes to research papers, but often doing coursework just for the grade seems inefficient to me. If I'm going to be putting in all this time, why not make it count?
That is a huge part of what it means for me to be an academic. How do I make it count? How can I contribute to social justice? Last night I saw an opportunity.