Reconciliation & pictures of my family in public

albumsWinding down from my first day of talks at the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Reviewing the day, I note how much of Congress’ programming is linked to reconciliation this year. I thought about how many sessions have Blackfoot Elders providing opening ceremonies, and panel participants and attendees from various Indigenous nations. I thought about how, elsewhere, there are panels taking place on Japanese Canadian history of internment and how Japanese Canadians are chairing, participating, and listening to these talks. I remembered the time that I attended the TRC’s Atlantic National Event where I witnessed an elderly man gazing at black and white class photos from a residential school exclaim: “THAT’S ME! …and that’s my buddy John… and that’s…”, to which the TRC reps came running and had the man write his name and those of all the students that he could identify by name on the print. I thought about how I often feel my heart clench when I read academic articles, attend talks, see new projects’ websites on Japanese Canadians because I am scared to see pictures of MY family in there.

archivesIs there enough talk/consideration given to the effects of encountering photos of one’s family in the public eye? While, I would guess, the vast majority of people have their childhood and/or family memories contained in plastic photo albums or boxes in their private homes, some have at least a portion of them them in institutional archives, museums, databases, and as part of public records. While, I would guess, the vast majority have the choice of pulling out those old photos of self, relatives and ancestors at their leisure, many thousands of Indigenous, Japanese Canadian and other peoples who’ve been corralled by the Canadian state at one time or another might encounter these photos for the first time at public events such as those mentioned above. I would like to know what you feel about seeing or potentially seeing your family/friends in these moments of public speaking or remembrance and what you do with it? I find it very difficult.

Reflections on the TRC Urban Inuit Statement Gathering Session in Ottawa

The poster for this event can be viewed here:  TRC Urban Inuit Statement Gathering Event

Yesterday, August 16th, 2012, I attended a Truth and Reconciliation of Commission of Canada (TRC) statement-gathering event for Urban Inuit survivors of the Indian Residential Schools System and their families.  Held in downtown Ottawa at the Sheraton Hotel, this gathering was open to the public and encouraged the sharing of experiences surrounding the residential schools.  I sat and listened to statements in the afternoon session.  The majority of the statements I heard were from former students who attended these schools as recently as during the 1960s.

As listened to the painful stories that were nevertheless expressed with strength, hope, and at times humour, I noted how many of the stories were told as two distinct moments: My life before I went to residential schools and my life since I went to residential schools.  These stories express the violent and multiple losses of childhood innocence and experience that many, if not most, in the “western” world have the fortune of enjoying until they feel ready to “be an adult”.  Put otherwise, survivors shared experiences that went from innocence, security, unity, freedom, and love to confusion, danger, separation, confinement, and fear…  And everything in between.

Interesting, I thought to myself, that the federal discourse on residential schools incorporates a dual-moment narrative, but in reverse.  As Prime Minister Harper expressed in his apology, Canada has gone from “a policy of assimilation that was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country” to forging “a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward with a renewed understanding that strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us” (Statement of Apology).

I worry that this assertion of Canada’s progress, its new-found respect for and understanding of Indigenous peoples, overpowers the stories of IRS survivors.  The history of the Indian Residential Schools System risks becoming more about Canada finding its way to better and more just policies and relations, than about how it betrayed and failed First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and even less-so about the struggles they face today.