The truth eventually emerges. Regardless of skillful deceit and the amount of time and manipulation to manufacture the lie. Sometimes it only takes someone brave enough to champion the truth. Sometimes the truth is revealed in a series of puzzle pieces over time. All the time, it requires an audience that is ready to embrace the truth, regardless of the ugly underbelly that may coexist with the lie.
Once the truth emerges, it is sometimes followed by a long period of silence. A myriad of questions unfold. Will anyone believe me? Is it worth the stress of bringing it up? Should bygones be bygones? Does the perpetrator of the lie still have the power to make my life miserable? Are the people who were most damaged by the lie still alive? Does the truth really matter after so much time? Is the damage irreparable?
The truth may bring up painful memories or challenge the very basis of the life that you have led. The lie may be fabricated to save face for a poor choice or assume power or undermine a perceived enemy. The problem is that there is never really a solid basis for lying. Lies create a power imbalance and fostered the anger of those who know the truth but feel powerless. With any lie, there is at least one loser. Sometimes it is the person who lives under the injustice of the lie. Sometimes it is the moral integrity of the liar and those who choose to look away from the truth. Sometimes it is the physical, emotional and financial damage that results from the perpetuation of the lie.
There was never an upside to removing children from their homes and placing them in church run residential schools. As a mother, my heart breaks when I consider the pain. The premise was based on a notion of the cultural supremacy of the people arriving from Europe and the desire for power. Although Indigenous cultures had existed for thousands of years in Canada, there was an assumption that the people with the weapons and power could decide on the best way for everyone to live or not live. Residential schools were the fastest, most expedient way “to remove the Indian from the child” – the proclamation of the day and the instrument utilized to attempt to decimate Indigenous culture in Canada.
The process of justification took many the form of several lies, over many years: Indigenous spirituality was not a pathway to God. European education was superior to learning Indigenous ways of knowing. Maintaining family ties, culture and language was not best interest of the Indigenous child. As with most lies, it is in everyone’s best interest to stand on the side of truth. As Canadians, we demonstrate maturity as a country when we are able to look back in our history and identify poor policy choices and human rights abuses.
Residential schools were an example of how poor policy can be implemented and continued despite the fact it is fundamentally wrong. Indigenous children removed from their families suffered. The communities who had no power to stop the removal of their children suffered. The people perpetuating the lie suffered the fate of any liar. As a country we failed to move forward with integrity as defenders of social justice.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been profound. Telling the truth has been embraced as something that matters in our country. The reconciliation is about people being ready to hear the truth and accept it. It’s not about accepting blame. It’s not about living with shame. It is about the realization that in the earliest years of our history, it was decided that Canada was better off without embracing the pre-existing Indigenous culture. It was a lie. The reconciliation comes in recognizing that we are better off with the rich fabric of all the cultures that come together to form Canada. The hope lives in our ability to listen, to learn and to move forward together with integrity.