Racism in Canada must be acknowledged and addressed, says Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
“Racism is a hard word for us to grapple with, but it’s one we must embrace,” said Sinclair in his August 14 keynote address at a TRC-hosted event in Toronto called Shared Perspectives, An Evening of Reconciliation. The goal, he added, is to make it possible for future generations of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians to “…talk to each other with respect.”
He also pointed out that some Africans in North America share experiences-such as “…being torn away from their lands, taken away from their families and stripped of their rights…” that make them “natural partners in the struggle for social justice.”
Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, echoed Sinclair’s message. While there has been “a lot of progress” since the passage of the Ontario Human Rights Code 50 years ago, “persistent racism” continues, said Hall.
“Having laws on paper is no guarantee of change or respect,” Hall told those attending the TRC event, which was part of Toronto Harbourfront Centre’s 10-day Planet InidgenUS Festival. “If those laws are going to mean something, we need to take…the words off the paper and translate them into a lived reality for all of us.”
Hall urged Canadians to have “many conversations” around racism saying though they may be uncomfortable at times, they will lead to respect “and the possibility for all of us to reach our potential.”
Two well-known Canadian authors-Richard Wagemese and Itah Sadu-offered their reflections on reconciliation in a dialogue hosted by Shelagh Rogers, veteran broadcast journalist from CBC.
Wagamese, an Ojibway journalist and author of eight books, spoke about the power of stories in helping people reshape their narratives. He spoke of his own need to “embrace all my stories,” including the “bruised…hurtful parts” in order to heal. Finding the truth, embracing it, and letting it go allowed him to “create my own freedom, my own empowerment and my own path into the future,” said Wagamese.
Wagamese has written about how his parents and extended families attended residential schools and in turn inflicted violence and abuse on their children.
Sadu-storyteller, social worker and co-owner of the Toronto bookstore, “A Different Booklist”-stressed the need to encourage interactions between aboriginal and non-aboriginal young people saying it is not enough for them to read about each other.
Sadu, who was born in Canada and raised in Barbados, has helped initiate exchanges between a steel band composed of young Canadians of Caribbean descent and native youth drummers from Manitoulin Island, Ont. “Now we have understanding, strength and excellence,” she said.