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.
When my son was young, Bart Simpson hit the air waves. I hated how the characters on the show talked and how they disrespected each other. It incensed me to the point that I refused to let my son watch it, despite a considerable amount of begging. The conversation ended briefly. I soon discovered that he would go to his friend Dennis’ house to watch the show. It wasn’t until that point that I agreed to watch the show with him. It opened the conversation. We would discuss what he found funny and what offended me. Although he still preferred to watch it at Dennis’ house without my commentary, at least he understood my perspective about the importance of respectful interaction.
The election of Donald Trump to the position of President Elect of the United States has stopped many conversations. Coming from a Canadian stance, it is largely incomprehensible how someone who has overtly disrespected and discredited woman, Latinos, Muslims, Immigrants and the LGBTQ community could be selected for public office, in part by the people he targeted. I needed to step away from being personally offended by his hateful rhetoric, in order to come to the conclusion that this was not just a win for misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and a fixation on the gun culture. This was a democratic election and the leader was chosen by the 55.6% of the population who opted to exercise their democratic right to vote.
It has pushed the need to ask questions about what is happening south of the border that has created the palpable anger and commanding voice for change? What is a “protest vote”? What is the “status quo” that has created such a reaction? Who voted for Trump? Did gender play a part in preventing the election of a woman? How did the close alignment with bankers and sizeable payouts to prevent bank failure impact public opinion? How much impact would Bernie Sanders have been able to make on what happened in a Clinton government? What was the impact of the votes garnered by Jill Stein and Gary Johnson? The list goes on.
As a vice principal in a school, I spend a large chunk of my time engaging in conversations about respectful interactions. The rules of the game in school are intended to prepare them for life.
Tell the truth.
Tell the other person your thoughts in a respectful way.
Take responsibility for your behaviour.
Empathize with the other person you are in conflict with.
Don’t make yourself feel big by intimidating others with words, physical proximity or force.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a letter to third graders at Tecumseh thanking them for their work to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada earlier this year. In the letter he told them that their voices and what they do matter right now. I believe our children internalize these messages that their voices matter, just like they internalize the rules of respectful engagement when they live it. My hope is that our children fully participate in the democratic process by voting and holding elected officials accountable for their conduct, actions and decisions. My dream is for them to assume roles and responsibilities in the future where they are able to conduct themselves with integrity, intelligence and kindness to create a world based on respect for peace and justice.
It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015. Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis. Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety. They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.
This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia. With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada. With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.
Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board. Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts. Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home. They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style. Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.
The response to participation in any “unpleasant” business in many families, mine included, has been to put it all behind and go forward with a smile on your face. The problem with this, speaking from personal experience, is that it doesn’t really go away. Family secrets that are buried, are talked about in hushed tones or recorded in diary entries, as the people who have experienced the negative fallout, try to make sense of it on their own. Some people cope better than others. Those people from outside the fray muse about lack of character or fortitude.
Isn’t this the same case with historical travesties that are never acknowledged as wrong. They are glossed over and the people struggling to cope on the other side are judged wanting. It matters that the Japanese Internment has become part of our collectively understood history. It matters that the Chinese head tax has become part of our collectively understood history. It matters that turning away Jewish refugees in World War II is becoming part of collectively understood history. And yes, it also matters that understanding the policy to assimilate Indigenous people in North America is becoming part of our collectively understood history. I highly recommend Thomas Kings’ (2013)unconventional and gripping book:, An Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People In North America. He brings clarity and humour to a historical synopsis of Indigenous – White relations from pre-contact to present day in North America that we certainly never learned in school.
The discourse of the last election made it clear that many Canadians vocally endorsed the role of Canada as a society where social justice is a key tenet. That being the case, it matters that we don’t allow history to repeat itself. Our history paints the picture is of a society that has allowed fear of differences to be combined with self interests for land and wealth, to culminate in practices that have not been socially just. We have the analytical skills and socially motivated conscience to carefully consider our motivations and intentions before we empower politicians to act on our behalf. The bad news is we need to stare down history and identify the rationale for past decisions, no matter how horrendous. The good news is it allows us to carve out the path of a Canada that we want in the future.