SASKATOON – The June 22nd sessions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s National Event here saw the induction of five new honorary witnesses, including two youth witnesses. As TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson explained, honorary witnesses are prominent people from all walks of life whose commitment to the common weal and informed opinions are respected. Importantly, they can spread the message of truth and reconciliation and the work of the TRC in the widest circles.
“We need help to face the facts of the past and the potential of the present and the future,” Wilson told those assembled. “You are here to bear witness to what will happen in the coming days. We need helpers to…commit to taking this forward and teaching others and spreading the word.”
Before introducing the new witnesses, Wilson gave thanks to the Creator for the beautiful day and then recounted the words of a Roman Catholic priest who attended some of the TRC hearings. It had occurred to the priest that the closing phrases of the marriage ceremony-“What God has joined together, let no man put asunder”-also applied to the sacred bond between parent and child. In the residential school system, that sacred bond was broken thousands of times. “Though humbly expressed, those words were a profound moment in that hearing,” noted Wilson. “That is the great harm that the residential school system did. And that is why we are here.”
Andy Scott, a former minister of aboriginal affairs who was inducted as a witness at the Atlantic event in Halifax last year, introduced the new inductees. Before doing so, however, he recalled the testimony of an aboriginal woman called Ruth who said, “I never thought I’d be able to talk about this. Now, I think I’ll never stop. But Canada is a big country; I will need help.”
Noting that many survivors do not have the means to travel to TRC events, Scott stressed that we must continue to keep survivors at the centre of our reconciliation endeavours. “We must be available to engage with them and protect the integrity of the project,” he said. “There is hole in the soul of our country, a dark place too frequently denied. We can only remove it by accepting our collective responsibility and the debt we owe to those who survived and those who did not.”
Scott welcomed the three new honorary witnesses: Sheila Fraser, former auditor general of Canada; Tina Keeper, a Cree actress, producer, activist and former MP; and Jim Scarrow, a broadcaster and mayor of Prince Albert, Sask. On July 23, Joe Clark, a former prime minister, will join the group of honorary witnesses.
Two young people also were welcomed into the witness circle: Samantha Tait and Dene Cree Robillard.