Last week, I participated in an event sponsored by the Institute of Public Knowledge at NYU and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). It was an honour to share the presentation stage with Marie Wilson, Commissioner of the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Virginie Ladisch, Head of the Children and Transitional Justice Program at the ICTJ. The presentation included a screening of a short, documentary film (introduced by Tamara Cremo) made by several high school students who attended the Halifax national gathering last year. Commissioner Wilson spoke eloquently about the work done thus far by the commission and Virginie Ladisch shared her knowledge about both the opportunities and challenges in engaging youth in processes of transitional justice.

I think a video of the talk may be available shortly so for now, I’d like to focus on a conversation that happened after the talk. The panelists, organizers and budding filmmakers/students went out to dinner after the presentation. The conversation touched on everything from the challenges of motherhood and work/life balance, transitional justice in other international settings, and the importance of creating more awareness about the IRS legacy. We also spoke briefly about Antjie Krog’s work. A journalist and author who covered the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Krog wrote about the work of the commission throughout its mandate and eventually wrote the award-winning book, Country of My Skull. In discussing the lack of national media coverage about the IRS TRC in Canada, Marie Wilson asked, “Where is our Antjie Krog?” Her question made me pause. It’s true. Why hasn’t there been more national coverage about the reconciliation process? Why haven’t journalists and/or media outlets offered sustained media coverage of the IRS TRC? Where is the journalist who has taken up the reconciliation process to portray all its political and personal complexities?

A few years ago, when the commission was still in its early days, I gave a talk at the American Comparative Literature Association Conference at Harvard University. During the Q and A, a member of the audience, a scholar writing about the TRC in Sierra Leone, asked me whether the IRS TRC and the process of reconciliation had galvanized the Canadian public. I answered quickly and with disappointment that it had not. In fact, there are still many Canadians unaware that such a commission even exists. Although there has been some excellent media coverage, it has been sporadic and often appears in local presses. The national newspapers and broadcasters may run a short story on it from time to time, but there hasn’t been any sustained coverage of the reconciliation process. Why is there no weekly or even monthly column that regularly covers the TRC in the Globe and Mail or National Post? Why doesn’t the CBC have a regular radio or TV segment on Canadian reconciliation?

Some people are quick to point out that there are, of course, differences between the South African TRC and the Canadian one. In South Africa, the system of apartheid implicated and effected everyone and it happened in the immediate past. But, I would argue that the same is true in Canada. The Indian Residential Schools and their legacies implicate every Canadian, not just Aboriginal peoples. The last school closed in 1996, suggesting that this history is still fresh and its repercussions are playing out in the present.  More national media coverage is necessary for a greater and deeper awareness of how the reverberations of the IRS system reach out through Canadian society.

Incomplete Archives

September 27, 2011

Balloons for Canada Day and birthday celebrations in Inuvik.

I am still sifting through the notes I took in Inuvik. I spent the last few days listening to recordings and watching footage on the TRC’s website. Unfortunately, many of my own recordings are of poor quality. During the giving of testimony, I didn’t want to be intrusive with my audio recording device. Even though it’s small, I felt that it marked me as an outsider, a researcher there to observe as opposed to participate. So, for the most part, I pressed record and left it on my lap. Because the room would get cold or warm or stuffy, the sound of doors opening and closing, and the periodic whirring of a fan muffle some parts of the testimony. But even when deciphering exact words is difficult, I can hear the emotion and strength of the Survivors come through.

The recordings are an incomplete archive of what I heard and saw in Inuvik. But I suppose that all archives are incomplete. Sometimes it is in filling in the absences of these archives where the most productive work is done. In the meantime, it reminds me of the courage of those who participated in the Inuvik event.

The IRS TRC’s next national event will be held in Halifax from October 26 – 29, 2011. More information is available here.

UPDATE: Some of the presentations are available online. Click here to watch.

For those people (like me) who couldn’t make it to the “Sharing Truth – Creating a National Research Centre on Residential Schools” Forum in Vancouver, you can watch the proceedings online here.

Catherine Kennedy at the Sharing Truth event in Vancouver

At the moment, Catherine Kennedy, the Executive Director of the South Africa History Archives is discussing some of the challenges regarding the compilation, interpretation and accessibility of the TRC archives in South Africa. Tom Adami, Chief of the Archives and Records Management United Nations Mission in Sudan is scheduled to speak next.

The program for the rest of Day One of the Forum is available here.

e-misférica: After Truth

February 22, 2011

A special edition of e-misférica, focusing on truth commissions, has just been published. The articles and reviews cover a diverse range of issues related to truth commissions around the world. I have two short pieces on the IRS TRC in this issue: Contexualizing Truth: Recent Contributions to Discourses of Reconciliation in Canada, and The Nation Gathers. Looking forward to reading more of this special edition.

1. Reconciliation in Ontario:

February 9th – 10th, Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, 16 Spadina Road

From the symposium’s flyer:

Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada is not just about the legacy of residential schools. It is a multi-faceted process that restores lands, economic self-sufficiency, and political jurisdiction to First Nations, and develops respectful and just relationships between First Nations and Canada. Although a history of colonization has deeply impacted all Indigenous peoples across Canada, and decolonization requires significant change at the federal level, the process of reconciliation is also unique to each region. This is because of cultural and historical differences among the more than 630 First Nations in Canada, varying settler populations, different ecosystems and economies. And there are different legal regimes in each province because of the jurisdictional separation of provincial and federal powers. The questions can then be asked: What does reconciliation look like in Ontario? What are the concrete ways it is being realized?

For more information and to register click here.

2. Sharing Truth: Creating a National Research Centre on Residential Schools

March 1 – 3, 2011 at the Sheridan Wall Centre in Vancouver

Over three days, information will be shared that will help to inform decision making for preserving and archiving survivor statements, as well as materials created and received during the Commission’s work.

Stakeholders attending this forum will include representatives from:

• Human rights advocates
• Aboriginal rights researchers
• Archivists
• Residential school survivors
• Aboriginal organizations
• Governments and agencies

For more information and to register click here.

Reconciling Several Pasts

December 20, 2010

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recently announced a conference to take place in Vancouver (March 2 – 4, 2011) to discuss the proposed National Research Centre on Residential Schools. I recently visited the Nikkei Place / Japanese Canadian National Museum (JCNM) in Burnaby whose funds partially came from the reparations awarded for the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. I wonder if the Research Centre on Residential Schools will take their cue from the JCNM, which aims to be a site for both the sharing of information as well as the creation and fostering of a strong Japanese Canadian community.

Raymond Nakamura gave me a tour of the exhibit on the internment and we discussed some of the similarities between the Japanese Canadian experience and the Indian Residential Schools. A few months ago, I posted a short excerpt from Thomas King’s short story, “Coyote and the Enemy Aliens,which draws connections between these two histories. It seems fitting to post it again here:

“I know the story of the Japanese internment in Canada. I know it as most Canadians know it.

In pieces.

From a distance.

But whenever I hear the story, I think about Indians, for the treatment the Canadian government afforded Japanese people during the Second World War is strikingly similar to the treatment that the Canadian government has always afforded Native people, and whenever I hear either of these stories, a strange thing happens.

I think of the other.

I’m not suggesting that Native people have suffered the way the Japanese suffered or that the Japanese suffered the way Native people have. I’m simply suggesting that hatred and greed produce much the same sort of results, no matter who we practice on.”

Model of Japanese Canadian Internment Camp in Lemon Creek, BC

Image at Internment Exhibit

To watch the live webcast of Public Education Initiative, presented by the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, connect to the IRSSS site and click on the webcast link. The event is scheduled to run from 8:30am – 4:30pm PST and is hosted by Squamish Nation at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre in North Vancouver.

The audience listens to Grand Chief Stewart Phillip the Public Education Initiative.

Grand Chief Edward John addresses the audience via video link