Reconciliation Is Never Easy

“Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.”

The words are part of the introduction to the voluminous report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published in December 2015 and still producing shudders of embarrassment in Canada as details of years of practiced cultural genocide continue to be revealed.

The latest shock wave came a few days ago when it was revealed that the graves of 215 children have been located on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School for indigenous children.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, made public after several years of cross-country study and thousands of interviews with former students arbitrarily confined to the schools, defined cultural genocide as: “The destruction of those structures and practices that allow a group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.


During many months of listening to testimony from more than 6,000 witnesses the Commission said it was often difficult to believe that what they were hearing had happened “in a country such as Canada which has so long prided itself on being a bastion of democracy, peace and kindness …”

TypicaI of hard-to-believe-but-horribly-true was the story I wrote in June 2014 about an inquest into the deaths of four children from Lejac Indian Residential School back in 1937.

The four lads were runaways who had decided New Year’s Day would be a good time to be home with their family on the Nautley Indian Reserve some six or seven miles away. It was nine o’clock in the evening of January 1 before the boys – Alan Wylie, 9, Andrew Paul and Justa Maurice, 8, and John Michael Jack, 7, were reported missing. The temperature was below zero and falling.

At the subsequent inquest into their deaths BC Police Constable H.J. Jennings testified he had found the four bodies roughly three quarters of mile short of the Nautley Reserve where their families lived. He estimated they had been walking for about six hours before they fell and froze to death.

Const. Jennings testified they were wearing “underwear, blue denim shirts, overalls, heavy woolen socks, low rubbers, no hats. One boy had lost a rubber and a sock. His foot was bare. Three were lying huddled together; the fourth, some 80-feet away, died alone.”

But the most telling and disturbing testimony came from School Principal Father Patrick MacGrath who, according to press reports, “expressed surprise that the four dead children had fled the school unprepared” and added that “they could and should have helped themselves to more clothing.”

Father MacGrath was also reported to have filed a signed a statement saying: “Ninety per cent of our children are present at the school against their parents’ wishes and are not disciplined by their parents when they do run away so that it is hard (for us) to prevent them.”

The coroner’s jury was not impressed. It found: “More definite action by the school authorities might or should have been taken … and that more cooperation between authorities and parents would lessen the incidence of runaways.” It also decried the use of excessive corporal punishment and strongly recommended there would better understanding between disciplinarians and pupils “if the latter were English speaking.”

The Inquest had revealed that the teaching staff strictly enforced the “no native language rule” for students even though they had only limited knowledge of English.

Truth and reconciliation still lie just beyond our reach. But, not without hope.


  1. The story of the four runaways exposes the many problems of the residential schools and their policies.

    In light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and more recent discussions it may seem strange to readers that the Indian headmen during treaty negotiations actually requested schooling for their people.

    Their way of life was disappearing and they were wise enough to know they had to adopt the white man’s economy to survive.

    Of course they did not envisage the residential schools and the cultural genocide they embodied.

    This original hope is described in “The Treaties of Canada With the Indians of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories” by Alexander Morris.

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