Walk for Reconciliation – Ottawa, ON – May 31, 2015Jun 19, 2015
It’s a cool, overcast Sunday morning, and thousands have gathered at the École secondaire de l’Île in Gatineau, Quebec to participate in the Walk for Reconciliation.
The final, closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has officially begun. The theme of the opening day is “we are all in this together,” an idea perfectly symbolized by this diverse and well-attended gathering.
As anyone who has ever run the Ottawa marathon will tell you, Gatineau is a rippled terrain of hills. Just north of the Ottawa River, it was once the border where Lower and Upper Canada met. Jaques Cartier Park, the Macdonald–Cartier Bridge, and numerous other nearby landmarks recall the figures of Canada’s early history. From the northern shore of the river, where the Metis architect Douglas Cardinal’s Museum of Civilization sits, you can gaze upward to the commanding presence of Parliament Hill. In this part of the country, History is inscribed into every brick, bench, and boulevard.
“It was absolutely exhilarating,” says Chief Dr. Robert Joseph of the day. The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he notes, has been six years in the making. Many years before there even was a TRC, survivors were working toward this day. It’s been almost twenty-five years, for example, since Phil Fontaine told his story to a reporter from the Globe and Mail. Roughly twenty-five years since the Royal Commission on Indigenous Peoples released its final report. At that time, Chief Joseph was involved in the dialogues which would give rise to Canada’s Alternative Dispute Resolution process—the precusors to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
At the end of the Walk for Reconciliation, in the plaza of Ottawa City Hill, Chief Joseph is looking forward. He has been looking forward for decades now, dreaming of the day when survivors stories have been heard across Canada. It was “so moving to be there,” he says. “So powerful and compelling. The TRC report has laid bare the truth of the residential schools and legitimized the truth that we’ve all been taking about.”
The media are all here. So are Canadians from all walks of life. The mood of the participants is positive and hopeful. Chief Joseph gives a speech which concludes by saying that reconciliation “begins with you—so the call goes out to you this day to join in the journey of reconciliation.” His brief but powerful speech is followed by music and dancing. Inside Ottawa’s city hall, the residential school Witness Blanket has been installed. People gather around it, sharing their stories.
The first Walk for Reconciliation took place in Vancouver in September 2013 to coincide with the TRC British Columbia National Event. It’s purpose was to transform and renew the very essence of relationships among Indigenous peoples and all Canadians—to find a new way forward in our relationships with each other. Following the success of this walk, co-hosted by Reconciliation Canada and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, discussions were undertaken with the TRC Commissioners to have a similar event in Ottawa. Everyone agreed that this was a great idea.
Reconciliation Canada is honoured to have had this opportunity. We express our gratitude to the many people of goodwill who participated, and who also joined survivors in gestures of solidarity all across Canada. The walk was a simple but profound expression of caring for one another. “I was just really moved,” reflected Chief Joseph. “All of this work has culminated in something that will allow us to redefine this country, hopefully with other Canadians.”
A sincere heartfelt Thank-you to everyone who participated! We at Reconciliation Canada acknowledge and honour the courage and resilience of survivors whose unwavering commitment to truth, healing and reconciliation made the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission possible.
Reconciliation will mean many things to many people. It will be big. It will be small. It will be simple. It will be complex. But remember this—that it all begins with you.