Senator Murray Sinclair, a former judge who also served as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015, speaks to a crowd of Okanagan Nation members on his work and overcoming the challenges of residential schools. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Okanagan Nation talks healing from residential schools

Former Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Murray Sinclair keynote speaker at Penticton event

A mix of humour and sober reflection filled a room of the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre Tuesday morning as Senator Murray Sinclair addressed a room full of Okanagan Nation Alliance members.

Sinclair, a former Manitoba judge and lawyer and the chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015, spoke to a crowd of a couple hundred ONA members of his work and overcoming the impacts of the residential school system.

In his speech, Sinclair noted that United Nations declarations on rights of children and on genocide “clearly brought to the attention of Canada that they may be, in fact, participating in genocide.”

“An act of genocide includes the forcible removal of children from one cultural group to another cultural group for the purpose of eliminating their race as children. And that’s what residential schools were all about, were about eliminating children’s connection to their race,” Sinclair said.

That was one aspect of Sinclair’s speech that resonated with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, ONA chairman and president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“That profound statement is what stands out,” Phillip said, a survivor of the ’60s Scoop which he called the “flip side” of residential schools.

A member of the audience asks Senator Murray Sinclair, who served as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015, who he expects will hold the government to account on implementing the TRC's 94 calls to action since his departure.
Dustin Godfrey/Western News
A member of the audience asks Senator Murray Sinclair, who served as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015, who he expects will hold the government to account on implementing the TRC’s 94 calls to action since his departure.

Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Jennifer Lewis, ONA wellness manager and organizer of Tuesday’s event, said after Sinclair’s speech that the all-day conference on Syilx resilience and healing from residential schools had gone well so far.

“There’s quite a few of our nation members here. Our residential school committee asked specifically for Justice Murray Sinclair to come, Senator Murray Sinclair to come, to share the very important work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Lewis said.

Sinclair shared some humour from his personal and professional life before talking about how the Indigenous communities across Canada can heal from residential schools.

“We have to understand that self-respect comes before mutual respect. You have to understand that Indigenous people have to be shown that they have a validity. That they have a validity to their existence,” Sinclair said.

“While it seems that it’s going so far back to basics that it’s unnecessary, the reality is that there is so much out there in terms of information and misinformation about who we are and what we have and what we’re entitled to that they can be overwhelmed by that, by those stories.”

That’s particularly important when it comes to Indigenous youth, according to Sinclair, who said they can feel “so challenged by it that they sometimes give up trying to pursue their sense of identity.”

Sinclair pointed to four questions of self-identity — why am I here, where am I going, where do I come from and who am I? — that adults should be helping youth to answer.

Senator Murray Sinclair, a former judge who also served as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015, speaks to a crowd of Okanagan Nation members on his work and overcoming the challenges of residential schools.
Dustin Godfrey/Western News
Senator Murray Sinclair, a former judge who also served as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015, speaks to a crowd of Okanagan Nation members on his work and overcoming the challenges of residential schools.

Dustin Godfrey/Western News

The need for those answers, Sinclair said, stems from over a century of misinformation about Indigenous Peoples from the federal government, starting with Canada’s first prime minister John A. Macdonald.

“The truth about us is broken,” he said, noting that even the “truth needs healing.” He added there are still people out there who don’t believe the hard truths of the residential schools, believing instead the claims are an attempt to get money from the government.

“I say any amount of money that people would have asked for for the truth of what happened to them, nothing can compensate them for what happened. Even though many of the stories, most of the stories are documented through facts, through medical evidence, through medical reports, through assessments, we know there are people who will continue to deny.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was important, Sinclair said, to preserve that history so future generations are not able to say that the atrocities committed against Indigenous Peoples did not happen.

Here in the Okanagan, Lewis said the ONA has been working to begin the healing process for survivors of residential schools and their descendents.

“They’re very committed to looking at healing as a nation from the impacts of residential schools,” Lewis said. “They feel that nation survivors are just beginning to really talk about it. There are a lot of intergenerational survivors, too, that want to talk about the impact on them as well, so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, still.”

While the conversation is largely just beginning in the Okanagan Nation, Lewis said there has been some drive since the TRC began its work and ultimately produced its report with 94 calls to action. And Phillip said the residential school system has been “deeply traumatic” for the community.

“Our people here in snpíntktn, Penticton, either went to Cranbrook by rail, by passenger train, or in cattle trucks, open cattle trucks, to the residential school in Kamloops,” Phillip said.

“Both events were deeply traumatic for those children. They were very, very young at the time, and they were being ripped away from their families and their community, and they were totally alienated.”

A mix of humour and sober reflection filled a room of the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre Tuesday morning as Senator Murray Sinclair addressed a room full of Okanagan Nation Alliance members.
Sinclair, a former Manitoba judge and lawyer and the chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015, spoke to a crowd of a couple hundred ONA members of his work and overcoming the impacts of the residential school system.
In his speech, Sinclair noted that United Nations declarations on rights of children and on genocide “clearly brought to the attention of Canada that they may be, in fact, participating in genocide.”
“An act of genocide includes the forcible removal of children from one cultural group to another cultural group for the purpose of eliminating their race as children. And that’s what residential schools were all about, were about eliminating children’s connection to their race,” Sinclair said.
That was one aspect of Sinclair’s speech that resonated with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, ONA chairman and president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
“That profound statement is what stands out,” Phillip said, a survivor of the ’60s Scoop which he called the “flip side” of residential schools.
Jennifer Lewis, ONA wellness manager and organizer of Tuesday’s event, said after Sinclair’s speech that the all-day conference on Syilx resilience and healing from residential schools had gone well so far.
“There’s quite a few of our nation members here. Our residential school committee asked specifically for Justice Murray Sinclair to come, Senator Murray Sinclair to come, to share the very important work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Lewis said.
Sinclair shared some humour from his personal and professional life before talking about how the Indigenous communities across Canada can heal from residential schools.
“We have to understand that self-respect comes before mutual respect. You have to understand that Indigenous people have to be shown that they have a validity. That they have a validity to their existence,” Sinclair said.
“While it seems that it’s going so far back to basics that it’s unnecessary, the reality is that there is so much out there in terms of information and misinformation about who we are and what we have and what we’re entitled to that they can be overwhelmed by that, by those stories.”
That’s particularly important when it comes to Indigenous youth, according to Sinclair, who said they can feel “so challenged by it that they sometimes give up trying to pursue their sense of identity.”
Sinclair pointed to four questions of self-identity — why am I here, where am I going, where do I come from and who am I? — that adults should be helping youth to answer.
The need for those answers, Sinclair said, stems from over a century of misinformation about Indigenous Peoples from the federal government, starting with Canada’s first prime minister John A. Macdonald.
“The truth about us is broken,” he said, noting that even the “truth needs healing.” He added there are still people out there who don’t believe the hard truths of the residential schools, believing instead the claims are an attempt to get money from the government.
“I say any amount of money that people would have asked for for the truth of what happened to them, nothing can compensate them for what happened. Even though many of the stories, most of the stories are documented through facts, through medical evidence, through medical reports, through assessments, we know there are people who will continue to deny.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was important, Sinclair said, to preserve that history so future generations are not able to say that the atrocities committed against Indigenous Peoples did not happen.
Here in the Okanagan, Lewis said the ONA has been working to begin the healing process for survivors of residential schools and their descendents.
“They’re very committed to looking at healing as a nation from the impacts of residential schools,” Lewis said. “They feel that nation survivors are just beginning to really talk about it. There are a lot of intergenerational survivors, too, that want to talk about the impact on them as well, so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, still.”
While the conversation is largely just beginning in the Okanagan Nation, Lewis said there has been some drive since the TRC began its work and ultimately produced its report with 94 calls to action. And Phillip said the residential school system has been “deeply traumatic” for the community.
“Our people here in snpíntktn, Penticton, either went to Cranbrook by rail, by passenger train, or in cattle trucks, open cattle trucks, to the residential school in Kamloops,” Phillip said.
“Both events were deeply traumatic for those children. They were very, very young at the time, and they were being ripped away from their families and their community, and they were totally alienated.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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