WINNIPEG — As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its findings in Ottawa June 2, stirring feelings of hope for the future, a gathering in Winnipeg heard sobering words from the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Derek Nepinak.
“We’re still suffering,” Nepinak said. “There are thousands of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, there are so many Aboriginals incarcerated. The atrocities of yesterday are happening right now. The colonial patterns are still there. How can we talk about truth and reconciliation with this going on? It’s going to take more than just this moment in history.”>
Nepinak joined speakers from political, community and educational spheres at the University of Winnipeg to talk about the work of the TRC and the completion of its five-year mandate, prior to the broadcast of TRC findings from Ottawa. Winnipeg hosted the TRC’s first national event in 2010 and is home to the TRC’s offices, its archives and ultimately its report.
“Each of us, as Anishinaabe, need to reconcile our experiences with the strong spirit of our people that will never go away,” Nepinak said. “The eternal strength of our people, that’s where reconciliation will come from. Do not think this is the end of something,” Nepinak said. “This is the beginning of something. Let’s make sure we make changes in this lifetime. Let’s make the difference now.”
Mayor of Winnipeg Brian Bowman said the city “sits at the crossroads of an ancient Aboriginal meeting place” and “has an Important role to play to advance reconciliation, it’s important to the health of our community and our country.”
“We honour those who have demanded justice and demonstrated true courage. We must all hear their stories. I thank Justice Murray Sinclair for his guidance, his leadership and his strength. Thank you to the survivors. You have shared your experience so we can all learn.”
In September the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg will host the first National Anti-Racism summit, eight months after Bowman’s press conference responding to the Maclean’s magazine accusation that Winnipeg is Canada’s most racist city. Bowman said the conference “will bring Canadians together as a think-tank of compassion and inspiration to brainstorm about how to eradicate racism.”
Treaty commissioner James Wilson said “young people in Manitoba and across Canada need to know our true history and Indian residential schools is a part of that. They have to know that history but they also have to be given hope. The work doesn’t stop today, it continues after today.” Wilson quoted Sinclair, saying, it is time “to turn our greatest shame into our greatest source of pride.”
University of Winnipeg president Annette Trimbee reminded all that the university is on Treaty One land in the heart of the Métis nation. “While growing up in Manitoba, and earning a master’s degree, I didn’t know that,” Trimbee said, “and that’s kind of amazing.”
“This university has a role as a convenor,” Trimbee said, “as a place that invites all people in to have a conversation. The U of W is committed to thinking through how to indiginize our academy. To deconstruct our institution and see how we do things.”
In the wake of the Maclean’s article, the university has considered a proposal from its student associations to have all undergraduates fulfil an indigenous studies credit before graduation. The university’s senate has passed the proposal in principle after hearing widespread support from students, faculty and administration, while a small faction has argued against it.
The morning’s moderator, Stan McKay, a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation and well-known spiritual leader and teacher, invited all to be “mindful of the three TRC commissioners and the burden of the last five years that they carry. They, too, are in need of support and healing and it’s not over yet. We give thanks to the creator that we can gather in this way. We know the pain can lead to new possibilities.”