By John Hampson
The Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary is hosting their fourth annual Truth and Reconciliation Peace Walk.
Four years ago, on June 11 Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a historical statement of apology in the House of Commons towards Aboriginal Canadians. The apology was for the abuse that many Aboriginals endured in residential schools for over a century.
Since Harper’s apology, organizations across the country mark the anniversary locally with community events.
Harper spoke in a sombre tone when delivering the statement back in 2008. In his apology, he acknowledged that “the treatment of children in residential schools is a sad chapter in [Canada’s] history.” Harper went on to explain that “the Government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.”
On June 11 the walk will begin at the Harry Hayes Building and finish at Fort Calgary.
“It will mark the fourth anniversary of Harper’s apology,” said Calgary Friendship Centre administrator Diane Fiddler. “The Walk will be followed with a drum and honour song at Fort Calgary and a feast at noon.”
Short films on residential schools will also be screened.
Although these festivities have occurred the past three years, turnout has been lower than expected.
“They hold something every year and I believe their turnout has been relatively low,” said Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership intern Charlotte Kingston.
Originally the Sheldon Chumir Foundation was partnered with the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary for this event.
“We were planning a youth dialogue on issues of reconciliation,” said Kingston.
This dialogue targeted youth studying in high school. Due to a lack of registration from Calgary high school students, the Sheldon Chumir Foundation cancelled their part of the event.
“I’m disappointed for youth not having an opportunity to get together and have a dialogue,” said Kingston.
With the event occurring on a weekend and final exams for students quickly approaching, it was difficult to increase attendance.
Kingston believes that the Indian residential schools policy is an issue deserving increased awareness. “Individual Canadians have a responsibility to learn about their own history,” she said.
According to a 2008 survey by the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, only about one-third of Canadians are familiar with the issue of residential schools. Only one in 20 are “very familar.” The report also states more than 80 per cent of Aboriginal people personally know somone or personally have been a student in a residential school.
“The real problem is that Canadians see Aboriginal communities through an incomplete and incorrect lens,” said Kingston.
Fourth year U of C Bachelor of Communications student Jessica Chawrun agrees with Kingston’s sentiment.
“The average citizen doesn’t really understand what residential schools were, what they stood for and what effects they had on Aboriginal culture,” said Chawrun.
Chawrun believes that increased awareness needs to occur with all Canadians.
“The solution is multi-faceted. There needs to be more awareness all around, even within the culture itself,” said Chawrun. “Also, there needs to be a more positive movement forward, without simply promoting anger and hate.”
Although Chawrun is well versed on issues affecting Aboriginal Canadians, she admits that a large majority of her peers are not.
“Most of my friends aren’t even aware of the fundamentals surrounding Aboriginal culture, let alone what residential schools were about,” explained Chawrun.
“Aboriginal culture and the tragedy of residential schools are such a significant piece of our heritage,” said Chawrun. “At the end of the day we as Canadians should be embracing the richness that native culture has to offer.”