Hard Truths and the Duty to Remember, to Do Better

On this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, we come together.

By Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General of Canada

As published in The Hill times, September 30th 2021

We join our voices to say that we can’t stop thinking about the children who never returned home after leaving for residential schools, children who died from the abuse they suffered, from the grief of being torn away from everything that anchored their lives, cut from their deep roots within their native land.

We think of all those children who were scooped from their parents, their families, their communities.

By the thousands and over several generations, they were violently robbed of their languages, their memory, their vital emotional ties, their rich tangible and intangible heritage, their cultural traits, their freedom, their dignity, their identity and their pride.

See the graves, long kept hidden, of children disappeared from their parents, now coming to the surface like so many distant screams of distress and cries for help.

We stand in solidarity, holding our hearts to those who survived an ordeal of such harrowing magnitude that one can’t emerge unscathed, forever carrying the scars and the trauma.

Our thoughts also go out to the inconsolable relatives, forever burdened by the wound of grief and the pain of being denied the truth, the whole truth.

A National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30 will not be enough. It should not obscure nor absolve, nor even ease our conscience. The day should be used for reflection, dialogue, sharing, awareness, education, and action. Conscientiously, collectively, we must engage fully in the truth-telling exercise.

The confession offered this week in an act of contrition by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops constitutes an important step to move the overdue truth-telling process forward, with determination of facts and the heavy chain of responsibility.

Additional investigations must also be conducted, those responsible, decision makers and executioners for the deaths identified, brought to tell the truth and admit to the misdeeds, to recognize the devastating impact of what was done, to be made legally accountable.

This history concerns us all, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It shatters the trust we placed in the institutions that became accomplices in the criminal abuse, lies, silence and negligence. It speaks to the general indifference that allowed such crimes to be committed, and to endure.

On this day dedicated to the quest for truth and reconciliation, let us pay tribute to the relentless advocacy of Indigenous women and their unstoppable valour on this painful path.

I salute their courage and perseverance, including the large gathering on Parliament Hill and the march to Confederation Park in Ottawa on September 30 called by the women of the Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada. With great merit, they work tirelessly to safeguard the culture, the arts and the memory of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and thus for their fundamental human rights to be recognized. With profound emotion, the Michaëlle Jean Foundation supports the initiative and calls on everyone to spare no effort so that truth may prevail.