The first in a series of year-long events to address how St. Thomas University can fulfill the Truth and Reconciliations Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action was held Monday evening in Kinsella Auditorium.
STU president Dawn Russell said the university has heard the Calls to Action and this particular event was “just a beginning.”
“Collectively and individually, we have much to do at St. Thomas,” said Russell.
The university has planned several events to come this year focusing on the implementation of the Calls to Action. There will be a film series about the history and plight of Indigenous peoples in Canada, a speaker series featuring community leaders from First Nations and a conference on what indigenization means for the university.
Indigenization refers to incorporating the cultures, histories, languages of Indigenous peoples at the university.
Russell said the university will work towards “practical steps with accountable timelines” to fulfil the Calls to Action.
“We have to be honest, we have to be ambitious, optimistic and determined as we turn words into what has been called actionable deeds,” she said.
Russell quoted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair, Murray Sinclair, who said, “Education is what got us into this mess, but education is also the key to reconciliation.”
Student volunteers read the 94 Calls to Action and were followed by a reception outside the auditorium that featured an art exhibit courtesy of Mawi’art: Wabanaki Artist Collective.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, created as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, gathered written and oral testimonies from survivors of residential schools and their families. Its aim is to work towards reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada.
The 94 Calls to Action, released in 2015, urge the federal, provincial, territorial and Aboriginal levels of government to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”
The Calls to Action are grouped into two categories: legacy and reconciliation. Legacy focuses child welfare, education, language and culture, health and justice. Reconciliation focuses on several different areas, including Canadian governments and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, equity for Aboriginal people in the legal system and church apologies and reconciliation.
Approximately 150,000 children were stolen from their homes and forced to attend residential schools run by Christian churches and the Canadian government. Between the 1880s and 1996, when the last residential school closed its doors, the churches and federal government separated children from their families. They were subjected to deplorable conditions and stripped of their languages, cultures and traditions.
More than 6,000 indigenous children died as a direct result of the residential school system. An estimated 3,200 died from tuberculosis, malnutrition and other diseases due to poor living conditions in the schools. The schools were designed to not only assimilate indigenous children, but to eliminate Indigenous peoples.
The event concluded as it began, with three sisters singing onstage. For the closing song, the sisters invited the students who read the Calls to Action on stage, joined hands with them and began singing and swaying their arms together.
“It’s our responsibility to help educate and have our love and our knowledge spread out into this world,” said one of the sisters.
“By coming here tonight, you have that knowledge and now it’s what you do with it.”
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