KAMLOOPS — I read with interest yesterday the raising of a Reconciliation totem pole at UBC, a lasting reminder of a horrible time in our history, the time of the Residential School system that was a defining moment, not only of the history of the First Nations, but of those who built the schools, perhaps with the thought that teaching the “savages” the white man’s culture was the way to go. That symbolic Totem reminds both cultures forever what can happen to an oppressed society, and what can take place even though some of the original intentions might have been considered noble at the time. The abuse, the humiliation, the degradation, that occurred in many of those schools, cannot be brushed under the carpet for future generations to ignore. Some survived relatively unscathed, many, if not most, were not so fortunate. As Barney Williams, one of those who spoke at yesterday’s ceremony, put it ““This is real folks, this is not something we make up because we want sympathy.” And anyone who doesn’t think it was real only needs to talk to some of those who lived through it. Virtually noone was unscathed in some way.
So what now? My concern is that this cannot be the defining moment for a proud culture that has withstood this dark period in our history, and is once again asserting its strength and resiliency, through its fight over rights to its traditional territories, preserving its background, and reclaiming its’ heritage. If it is defining in any way, it is as a starting point for a new life, a new beginning, and a new hope. While the darkness of the past can never be forgotten, it cannot be the cloak that prevents a new era from starting, with new dreams, new visions, built on a history that is a strong foundation for what lies ahead.
Not all the issues surrounding reconciliation are complete. Some things still have to be resolved. But at some point, this reconciliation phase must give way on both sides to a new friendship and a new trust that will pave the way for a brighter tomorrow. We can never put the past totally behind us, but we can use it as a step to the future. And that’s where we have to go now. No future can ever be built without trust, and at some point, we need to build that relationship to the point where we work together side by side, and sadly, we’re not quite there yet. It’s going to take leaders who can put aside the political and philosophical differences, and find common ground to resolve the enmity once and for all.