Another local First Nations leader has weighed in on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings.
Karen Ogen, chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, said last week that the commission’s findings are “a step in the right direction.” This country’s residential school system did significant harm to First Nations peoples, she says, and it’s something that all Canadians need to better understand and accept.
“It (the residential school system) has affected how education is perceived, the parenting, the bonding between parents and children,” she said. “It instilled corporal punishment and nowadays children are taken into care for that reason. It has caused multi-generational trauma and syndrome of our children being taken into care… Some of them become chronic alcoholics because of the severe abuse and trauma, and not receiving the proper counselling and treatment.”
Ogen fully agrees with commission’s statement that Canada practiced cultural genocide against its First Nations peoples for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. “Look at the stats on how many of our children died trying to run away from those schools in the winter,” she noted. “Some were murdered, some of the young girls were pregnant for the sexual abuse in those schools. Some have killed themselves because of the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) of the abuse.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its findings June 2 after six years of investigation into Canada’s residential school system. It also made 94 recommendations in its ‘Calls to Action’, and Ogen hopes elected officials act on them.
“As a leader, we see the generations impacted by this,” she said. “I am hoping that the follow-up with the recommendations (will) be done. This will showcase Canada’s sincerity to part of its genocidal behavior, (and) that they are making their wrongs right with our people.”
Ogen, who attended the Prince George College residential school in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, believes education should be a key component of any reconciliation program. Courses about the residential school system and the impact it had on aboriginal people should be mandatory for all Canadian students, she says.
“I believe more education and awareness (is needed), and a complete and true understanding of the history of our people and how the Canadian government and the churches played a huge role in the genocide of our people,” she said. “(The commission has helped), but I believe Canada can make that even bigger, and make it an everyday part of Canadians’ education.”
The Wet’suwet’en chief says this country’s policies toward aboriginal people have changed in the past 20 years, but only at “a very slow snail pace.” Federal and provincial governments, she suggests, still don’t treat this country’s First Nations as equal economic partners.
“Look at the revenue-sharing distribution models for mining and forestry,” she stated. “It should be a one-third, one-third, one-third, but First Nations are lucky to get five per cent of the pie. The Tsilhquo’tin case should help rectify this and change up the landscape on how revenue distribution should be done, according to the level of impact on our lands and territories. It’s about time we get our fair share, especially if they are cutting through our backyards for pennies.”
While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helped make Canadians more aware of the wrongs done to First Nations peoples in the past, she suggested that much work remains to be done. Reconciliation and healing will only happen, she said, if Canadians work together.
“We need to find positive, proactive, meaningful ways to move forward and heal and reconcile our peoples’ past,” she said. “Healing is the foundation to our successes as First Nations.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2007 with a mandate to tell Canadians about the 150-year history of the country’s residential schools. The commission’s three members – Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson, and Chief Wilton Littlechild – heard more than 6,750 survivor and witness statements prior to releasing their findings.
When complete, the commission’s final report will consist of six volumes and more than two million words.