Discussing reconciliation at Champions for Change conference

SIX NATIONS ‑ Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair was keynote speaker at the Champions for Change Indigenous Education Conference hosted at Six Nations Polytechnic Tuesday and Wednesday. Although unable to attend in person, Justice Sinclair was able to deliver his message and answer questions via Skype projected onto two large screens.

Attendance was large and at times overflowing into the lobby, with every table and chair available occupied by educators, and indigenous family, health and wellness professionals.

The two-day event began Tuesday morning with welcoming remarks to the community, a breakfast and speaker Rebecca Jamieson, who spoke on “Looking to the Future”, and a poignant theatrical performance by A Little Red Barns Productions skit entitled “Stuck in the Mush Hole.”

Justice Sinclair explained the importance of the TRC exercise in setting Canada’s history right and recognizing the traumas residential schools created for multiple generations.

“It is important for us to understand the importance of the residential schools legacy of trauma and violence that individuals, as well as family members, have undergone,” said Sinclair. “I think the most important question is understanding what the experience that individual and his or her ancestors have had with residential schools, because one of the issues is how residential schools, through multi-generations negatively, affects the home. That is the ongoing legacy for residential schools survivors.”

He says the “reconciliation” needs to be done in context with the individual and cannot be accurately or fairly done as a one size fits all remedy.

Sinclair stressed that educators need to take these things in consideration when educating a young person whose parents or grandparents came through the system.

He calls for the Justice system and his fellow judges and lawyers to educate themselves on these matters as well.
“Its not about sentencing someone with a lighter sentence, but rather an appropriate sentence that takes into account those kinds of factors,” he said.

This is the purpose of the Gladue reports, which most courts use in making sentencing decisions.

“Right now in the criminal justice system, Aboriginal people are grossly over-represented and it is not doing its work properly in that area to address those needs,” said Sinclair.

He also referred to the number of Aboriginal children within the Child Welfare System.

“The Child Welfare System we know that Aboriginal kids represent almost 50% of all kids in care,” he said. “The child is taken from the family environment and community environment and often they are placed in culturally inappropriate environments.”

He was also critical of past practices where CAS tries to hide an adopted child’s heritage.

He related to many cases where an adopted Aboriginal child does not even know what his or her heritage is, which creates an atmosphere of loss, not knowing who they are or where they belong.

“It’s important to keep stressing the historical family,” says Sinclair. “If you read the summary report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission will see that our first set of recommendations are aimed at the child welfare system because we see the growing number of Aboriginal children. Inappropriate cultural placements by institutions is the largest single problem that needs to be addressed at this time. Probably exceeding the problem we are seeing with the incarceration rates within the justice system.

“All of this is a reflection of the historical legacy of the residential school and the problems which have occurred,” said Sinclair. “Also in regards to reconciliation, I think it is most important for the family.”

He says that reconciliation also includes talking with parents about their lives and beginning to understand where they came from.

“Many second generation victims of residential schools when interviewed have said that they can now understand why their parents are the way they are,” Sinclair says.

It was a full agenda with many interesting speakers dealing with the issues facing Aboriginal families including discussion on Cultural Competency and Fluency in Progressive Aboriginal Relations; Ron Lester’s Bundled Arrows Initiative; the Gathering of Good Minds Summit; Traditional Medicine and Cultural Competency; Feed Your Brain Indigenous Nutrition; Flowing with the Phases of Grandmother Moon, and more.

Wednesday, the conference continued with other topics of interest until closing at 3 pm with the “Celebrating Our Resiliency Luncheon” at the Six Nations Community Hall.

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