I came to this land as a guest fifty some years ago and stayed without fully understanding the devastation perpetrated by the settlers before me to the culture, language, traditions and more importantly the children, of the First Nations community. Over the years, my First Nations friends have taught me the truth of losing one’s identity and land.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission inducted Patsy George as an Honorary Witness; following are the comments she made on Sept 21, 2013 at the National Hearings held in Vancouver. Patsy is the Past President of UNA Vancouver.
I am deeply honoured by your acceptance of me and for offering me this significant experience of my life to be a witness on what has occurred at the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in Vancouver. I recognize that I am called upon to be a keeper of history as it is taking place and to share it with everyone I come in contact with.
Today’s experience has had a deeper impression on me and has moved me to tears and taught me to take personal responsibility for making changes without which we can not move forward.
The courage with which people shared their experiences of survival in the residential schools must be celebrated. The truth of these experiences must be shared with other Canadians who cannot be with us today. It is obvious to me that we have not even begun to address the persistent casualties of the history we both share. I commit myself today to make certain that every person in my network, every group and organization that I am associated with will be reminded of our collective responsibility for the suffering of thousands of people over the last 150 years.
We must create a racism-free Canada without which we cannot live as brothers and sisters. Eradication of poverty and racism must become part of our agenda in order to protect the First Nations children. Generation after generation we have watched families falling apart; children committing suicide, young men spending years in jail and young women being murdered. As we heard today, the root causes of all of this has to do with losing one’s identity and losing the dignity and spiritual capacity to feel good about oneself. This was forced upon you by government policies and actions by institutions, which were responsible for your care.
Your voices have been heard internationally more strongly at the United Nations, an organization I promote locally. Many Nations have signed on the Declaration of Indigenous People’s Rights. It took embarrassingly many years before the Canadian Government saw the light. We must work together so that the Declaration is implemented in Canada for the First Nations peoples of Canada.
Today, the 21st of Sept, is set by the UN as the International Day of Peace. I have learned through my work and from the testimonies of many speakers today, that victims of abuse and violence often absorb the shame that should really belong to the perpetrators. We cannot fall into that pit of depression and continue to suffer as the survivors of the residential school have done for generations. There will be peace among Canadians when we take the steps of forgiveness and reconciliation. But real peace and justice will come when we work together to settle our differences, acknowledging the past and respecting the principle of self-determination and collective rights.
It is with overflowing respect for all those who have spoken during the Commission Hearings and with gratitude for allowing me to participate, that I commit myself to working with you and others to find peace and justice in our communities.
The extraordinary strength, protective and nurturing role of the women have always been a beacon of hope for me. The role of mothers and grandmothers in the lives of our children and in the lives of our communities must be recognized and supported.
The justified rage we all feel and share today must be turned into instruments of transformation of our hearts and souls, clearing the ground for respect, love, honesty, humility, wisdom and truth. We owe it to all those who suffered and we owe it to the children of today and tomorrow.
May this day and days ahead bring us peace and justice. May we continue to work together until that day arrives.