Premier’s Remarks at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Closing Ceremonies
June 2, 2015
I want to begin with the acknowledgement that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinaabe Peoples, and by recognizing the long history of First Nations and Métis Peoples in Ontario, and showing my respect to them.
Chief Dr. Joseph, Justice Sinclair, Mayor Watson, Minister Zimmer, Survivors, Fellow Canadians…
It is an honour to have walked with you all this afternoon.
We are a diverse group, and one that is often separated by our geography, by our cultures, institutions and the troubled actions of our past, but we are together today. We are together because this is a moment that requires us to come together — a moment in which we acknowledge the hard truths of our past…
And a moment to renew our commitment to live together on this land based on principles of trust, mutual respect and shared benefits.
Thank you all for being here.
As the Premier of Ontario, I am here to bear witness — to listen to the stories of the Survivors and thank you for your strength in bringing these dark chapters of our history forward. I am here to reaffirm the province of Ontario’s commitment to reconciliation — our commitment to truly acknowledge past horrors, to support Survivors, to give voice to communities scarred by the residential school legacy so they can rebuild their strength, and our commitment to build trust with Aboriginal partners.
But I am also here as a citizen of Canada, as a descendant of colonial peoples — as a daughter, mother and grandmother.
It is with all of those identities and privileges — and because I occupy the Office of the Premier of Ontario — that I am also here to mourn, to feel remorse and to open my heart to the anguish — the burdens — that for too long indigenous people in Canada have carried alone.
I first want to acknowledge the Survivors — those who suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse at residential schools. With much sadness, I have heard your stories. Thank you for having the strength to share them. In the body of testimony the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has assembled, you have offered all of us a truthful account of this chapter of our shared history.
In doing this, you honour the victims who did not live to see these truths acknowledged or this process of reconciliation begin — and you honour their descendants, because with this testimony we can begin to root out the legacy of disempowerment, violence and abuse that was perpetrated at residential schools — an evil so insidious, so pandemic, that it has burrowed its way through generations.
As Madeleine Dion Stout wrote in the “Speaking My Truth” collection of Survivor reflections, “As Survivors, we ride waves of vulnerability for a lifetime and for generations.”
Indeed, the process of reconciliation is not just about what happened in the past. Survivors were saddled with a burden so overwhelming that, all too often, it was passed on to their children and grandchildren. In burying these truths, we let echoes of abuse and vulnerability resonate across society:
The epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada…
The over-representation of Aboriginal Peoples in our jails and underrepresentation on our juries, in our law schools and on the bench…
The broken promises and failures on the part of the Crown to uphold its treaty obligations…
And the lingering attitudes of racism and marginalization that come from our colonial past — a past in which our country practised state-sanctioned abuse and assimilation as just one of a set of policies designed to disempower and dismantle entire peoples and their ways of life.
As Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said last week, we need to use the language of the 21st century to call this what it was — an attempted cultural genocide. We cannot change any of that past, but by unearthing it and truly understanding its meaning, we give ourselves the power to change the future.
In this way, this moment we are sharing — the closing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself — is an opportunity to connect to more than one another. It connects us across the generations. We are here to keep faith with people who lived before us — people we cannot meet but people no less a part of our journey of reconciliation.
And because it is a journey — one that will make our country a better place for future generations — we are connected in this moment to future generations. In a time distanced from our own, they will hear our echoes. They will hear the echoes of this moment — and all those that will come after. But only if we keep working to make all facets of our society aware not just of these past truths, but aware of the way yesterday’s injustices are manifested in today’s inequalities.
In Ontario, this work has begun. Working with Aboriginal partners, Ontario revised our curriculum to include greater opportunities for students to learn about the residential school experience, and did so from a perspective that honours Survivors, encourages critical thinking, and teaches an understanding of both the short- and long-term consequences of residential schools.
History is a story we tell ourselves to explain how we got here, and offer clues about where we are going. This storytelling is powerful — it creates identity. As a matter of Canadian social policy, identity was stolen from the children of residential schools.
But if we do not teach all children and all Canadians the truth about colonization — the truth about Indigenous people helping Europeans survive and thrive, the truth about treaties, broken promises and broken families — if we do not teach these things, the patterns of distrust and disrespect so firmly entrenched by colonization and residential schools will continue to echo.
So Ontario is also working in partnership to honour the treaties entered into by our ancestors and by the Crown to make everyone aware of the important role treaties continue to play in our lives.
As part of our Treaty Strategy, we distributed the First Nations and Treaties map to every public school in Ontario. In partnership with Aboriginal communities and organizations, a broader education campaign to make all Ontarians aware of treaties and their meaning is being planned. And by building partnerships with Aboriginal communities, we are taking steps to restore your voices within government policy and decision making — steps that are giving Aboriginal partners opportunities to develop community-driven and culturally-based programs and services that are adding to the well-being and resiliency of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Ontario.
It is encouraging to see other provinces taking similar actions, because though our federal government has apologized, a statement of apology will only take us so far. To give meaning to those words — to lift them off the page so they can make a positive difference in people’s lives — governments must be active agents in dismantling the system of repression that they spent centuries building. The Truth and Reconciliation process has better equipped us to do that dismantling — to be that force for good that I truly believe government can and must be.
Our journey of reconciliation encompasses many things: mourning, learning, understanding, healing. But ultimately, it is about respect. It is about walking together — walking together today to honour those who suffered the trauma of Canada’s residential schools, and to thank you for sharing your experiences. And walking together into the future to build a strong partnership based on mutual respect and fairness.
Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.