Acknowledging genocide will move relationship forward, says Gary Moostoos

The most powerful element of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report released today is to label Canada's past relationship with aboriginal people as cultural genocide, says Edmonton indigenous spiritual leader Gary Moostoos.

'We’re the first generation that hasn’t been taken from our home,' says Aaron Paquette

“We’re the first generation that hasn’t been taken from our home, so the work for us is to continue this work of reconciliation," Edmonton-based artist Aaron Paquette told Mark Connolly on Tuesday. (Caitlin Hanson/CBC)

The most powerful element of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report released today is to label Canada's past relationship with aboriginal people as cultural genocide, says Edmonton indigenous spiritual leader Gary Moostoos. 

"If you can't identify what the issue is, then you really don't know what you're working with," he told Edmonton AM host Mark Connolly Tuesday. 

"It's going to open so many doors. Once it's identified as this is what it was; now the work can begin."

After years of hearings and testimony from thousands of residential school survivors and many others affected by government policy, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report Tuesday.

The report includes 94 bold and potentially costly recommendations for change in policies and programs — not just to the different levels of government, but to schools, societies, churches and aboriginal governments.

The commission's goal is to repair the relationship between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada.

The report's description of past policies as cultural genocide will help in that goal as much as the apology issued by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008, Moostoos said.

"Even though for many the apology was not sincere, it opened the doors for people to start thinking of the possibility of forgiveness," he said. "Six years later, I have seen a lot of improvement in a lot of the people I work with. 

"A lot of the anger has dissipated; a lot of the fear and the frustration has dissipated because that apology was said."

The acknowledgement of genocide will see similar results, Moostoos said.

Moostoos, the cultural advisor at Boyle Street Community Services, was among 7,000 people who marched in Ottawa over the weekend. He carried a feather he uses in healing ceremonies with victims of the residential school system.

"The most powerful moment was when we walked through the downtown core of Ottawa and … we walked in front of the Parliament and across the street from the Parliament was a big church and the doors of the church were all open and people were waving their hands to [us] and the bells were chiming," he said.

"That was very powerful to see." 

Moostoos and artist Aaron Paquette shared how their lives were shaped by past racist policies of the Canadian government.

Moostoos' parents grew up together in the same residential school. Wanting to escape, they made a pact to marry — starting a family without knowing what that really meant, Moostoos said.  

Paquette's father was taken away from his family at the age pf seven and placed into the forced adoption program. Paquette said his father's separation from his family at such an early age made it hard for him to know how to parent, leading him to walk out on his own children.

Today, Paquette says stories like his are common among the aboriginal community.

"We're the first generation that hasn't been taken from our home, so the work for us is to continue this work of reconciliation."

The last residential school closed in 1996.