Time for Reconciliation?

Is it time for “truth and reconciliation” in America? Most Americans who know what this is, think this is a process that took place in South Africa after the end of apartheid. But a truth and reconciliation process has recently completed in Canada, without any American news coverage I know about.

In Canada the indigenous peoples, mainly concentrated in the western provinces of the country, have been discriminated against since the early days of British settlement when they were viewed mainly as sellers of animal furs to the Hudson Bay Company, and otherwise viewed as savages to be contained on reservations and in need of rehabilitation to the British, then later Canadian, way of life. In short, the indigenous peoples of Canada have always been considered second class citizens…until relatively recently.

A process of truth and reconciliation to address this societal problem began in Canada in 2007 with a significant report published in 2014 outlining 94 recommendations to make the indigenous peoples of the country equal citizens.

These peoples are now referred to as First Nations peoples, reflecting their place as the original occupiers of the land. Today a resurgence of interest in First Nations cultures is taking place as members of the various tribes of the First Nations peoples are re-learning their cultural dances, languages, and ways of life…things that they were intentionally stripped of by prior political powers in Canada.

As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, the recommendations of the truth and reconciliation process are being examined three years after their publication…and First Nations cultural sites are being developed to promote the culture.

In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Province, Canada, the local University of Saskatchewan recently opened a beautiful new cultural center for studying First Nations culture. And a half-hour outside Saskatoon, the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, is a protected nature reserve devoted to preserving the First Nations culture.

At the site of Wanuskewin, indigenous peoples would congregate during the harsh Canadian winter months in a valley along the South Saskatchewan River to gain protection from the winter winds. It is here that buffalo jumps were performed…indigenous peoples enticing buffaloes to chase them until the buffaloes fell off a cliff into the river where their remains were able to be used for food and hides for tepees and clothing.

Winuskewin is a great place to learn about indigenous cultures through its programming of camps, dance demonstrations, movies, exhibits, sculptures, reconstructed indigenous villages, and other educational activities. At various times, special commemorative programs allow for free admission.

Winuskewin is an exceptionally good place to go for hikes along the same paths that the First Nations peoples walked six thousand years ago. You can experience the spirituality and beauty of the landscape firsthand, to see the same vegetation that the First Nations people became experts at exploiting for their survival.

Winuskewin is also a great starting point for learning about Canada’s unique process for dealing with an historical wrong in its treatment of the First Nations people.

It had been Canada’s policy in the past to raid indigenous villages and remove all children to be forcibly placed in special schools, sometimes hundreds of miles from their parents; where speaking their native language was prohibited, and the students were forced to assimilate into Canadian ways, all without any reward, as no matter how assimilated they became, they were still treated as second-class citizens, with higher unemployment and greater poverty levels than others. Many of the people responsible thought they were doing what was best for their First Nations neighbors, including the many religious institutions that ran many of the special schools. The process of confronting this wrong and truthfully recognizing the strength of diversity is making Canada a better nation today.

Is it time for the US to follow suit?