On Monday, June 11, the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) hosted its first public event, the book launch of Speaking My Truth: The Journey to Reconciliation.
A sizeable crowd gathered in the airy basement of the IRSHDC to listen to the co-editors of the book, IRSHDC director Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, President of Nippising University Mike Degagne, and UBC Professor of Social Work Grant Charles discuss how the book came into being, as well as its significance in relation to the launching of the IRSHDC.
UBC President Santa Ono opened the discussion, followed by comments from a local Musqueam elder and survivor of the residential school system. The event was marked by the tenth anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s official apology in the House of Commons to the survivors of the residential school system, as well as their families.
For the co-authors of Speaking My Truth, the book is an attempt to make the stories and histories of residential schools more accessible to Canadians, complimenting the numerous reports released in the previous years. Among the most prominent of the reports released is that of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
Organized by parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, launched in 2008 and concluded in 2015, the Commission ultimately released an executive summary of its findings and a number of “calls to action.” Yet, reports and recommendations often go unread, languishing in the archival basements of Ottawa, as described by Professor Charles.
Though the work completed by the committee is laudable and wide-ranging, for many people, the academic nature of the texts compiled is not always immediately accessible. Compelling survivor stories are often tucked away among the pages.
During her opening remarks, Director Turpel-Lafond commented on the role of reconciliation today, saying that “reconciliation is a kind of mot du jour that doesn’t mean much to many, but speaking truth is the first step in this long process of reconciliation.” Books such as Speaking My Truth which engage directly with survivor experiences and testimonies go a long way towards changing the entrenched views of Canadians towards our history and assist in the dispersion of individual memories.
President Degagne described the book as “a follow-up on important work done over a decade by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. It reflects the voices of Elders, survivors, academics and other allies who come together to give us a more nuanced understanding of what speaking our 'truth' really means.”
For Professor Grant, Speaking My Truth is “meant to make connections between peoples as a way of contributing to the building of the kinds of relationships we must have to be able to hold the tougher discussions needed to achieve reconciliation." The book also “lays the groundwork for a study underway on peer—to—peer violence that occurred at the schools, and the impact this has had on previous, current and future generations.”
Director Turpel-Lafond emphasized that “the task of addressing the legacy of these schools is continuing, especially for the children and youth who continue to struggle because of the experience of their families and communities.”
The IRSHDC strives to act as a nexus in the discussion and process of healing and reconciliation for survivors of the residential school system. The launch for Speaking My Truth represents a step in the long road towards reconciliation at UBC.