'Reconciliation is restoration': Town hall speakers emphasize relationships between, within communities

Peter Yellowquill from Long Plain First Nation stood in an auditorium at St. John’s High School and told the largely non-Indigenous audience that he doesn’t blame them for the residential schools.

CBC Asks town hall focuses on how to build bridges between and within Indigenous, non-Indigenous communities

Freedom Smith-Myron, a Grade 11 student at St. John's High School, said she wants people to stop telling Indigenous people to "get over" the trauma of residential schools. (CBC)

Peter Yellowquill from Long Plain First Nation stood in an auditorium at St. John's High School and told the largely non-Indigenous audience that he doesn't blame them for the residential schools.

"I wasn't sure who was going to be here, but you're here because you care," he said.

The survivor of residential schools spoke about the devastating effects that system had on his family and those of his people. He talked about how many young people, including his own son, are in jail and linked it back to the fact that many of his generation did not learn how to properly parent their children.

"What you're seeing is the cancer we brought home from the residential schools, the generational cancer, it's a cancer that eats at our souls. We brought home the sexual abuse, we brought home the physical abuse, we brought home the neglect. And we're having a horrendous time wrestling with ourselves," he said.

Excerpt from remarks by the former chief of Long Plain First Nation at CBC Asks reconciliation event March 22, 2018. 1:19

Yellowquill was one of several residential school survivors who shared their stories in a video that played at the beginning of a CBC Asks event on Thursday.

The evening featured a panel of speakers who discussed what reconciliation is worth to them, as well as comments and questions from the audience.

One of the featured speakers was Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Marie Wilson. She said she's heard people complain that the word reconciliation has become a "buzzword" devoid of meaning.

"We cannot afford to get sick of talking about something that we've barely begun," she said.

Marie Wilson is one of the three commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is an excerpt of her remarks at the CBC Asks event in Winnipeg 2:31

Canadians need to actively work at building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, but Wilson said she doesn't waste energy trying to reach people who can't be reached.

"You have to make a difference where you know you can make a difference," she said. "You have to, I think, look for opportunities, look for chances of collaboration."

One audience member who introduced herself as Laurie spoke about the toll trying to build those relationships has taken on her. Her family comes from the Battleford region of Saskatchewan, and after Gerald Stanley was acquitted for the killing of the young Cree man Colten Boushie, Laurie said she posted on Facebook expressing her sorrow and sympathy for Boushie's family.

Laurie says she had to sever some relationships after she expressed sympathy for Colten Boushie, a young Cree man who was shot and killed by Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, after Stanley was acquitted of second-degree murder. (CBC)

"And the amount of hate that came back at me from family members and friends of family members, yeah it was tough. I had to sever some relationships, which is fine with me, 'cause those aren't those relationships I want to keep. But it's a struggle to be a settler ally, when I feel like all I'm doing is bashing my head against the wall," she said.

Several other people spoke about the role of relationships in advancing reconciliation. Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, said that although he sometimes feels like the word reconciliation has become a buzzword, it still has value.

"What we're talking about doing is establishing respectful relationships and that's a process, but we need a reason to come together and have that conversation ... and if that's framed through the language of reconciliation, that's OK," he said.

Grade 11 student at St. John's High School made influential video. Part of what she said at CBC Asks event on reconciliation at her school in Winnipeg March 22, 2018. 1:58

Freedom Smith-Myran, a Grade 11 student at St. John's High School, said she wants people to stop telling Indigenous people to "get over" the trauma of residential schools.

"I hope they just realize that a lot of us are still struggling. Even the generation that is happening now," she said.

"As we go forward we have to teach our children to be accepting of each other, that we are all equal ... We need to restore our languages, our way of life, our respect for one another, our respect for the land." 0:20

Before beginning her closing prayer, elder Marge Roscelli said that to her, "reconciliation is restoration."

"As we go forward we have to teach our children to be accepting of each other, that we are all equal ... We need to restore our languages, our way of life, our respect for one another, our respect for the land."
Join our panel as they explore the possibilities of moving reconciliation forward and how Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians can work together on this path. This is for a special project called Beyond 94: Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. 2:06:22

This town hall was part of our project Beyond 94: Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. Read more stories in the series and look for further coverage this week.