“Missing the Mark” is a phrase that has been incorporated into our lives and readily understood. The concept of “being close but not quite there,” has its roots in archery. Your arrow has almost hit the bullseye, but it is still a little off the mark. It is a rallying call to continue the practice. An encouragement that the goal of hitting the centre of the target is possible. For Canadians, it could serve as a catalyst in our work towards truth and reconciliation.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was brilliant for two reasons. The first reason is that it allowed the truth about the experiences of the Indigenous people who initially welcomed colonizers on arrival from Europe. Initially some mutually beneficial relationships were developed. At the Vancouver Art Gallery, beadwork by Attatsiaq, is on display. She was a Padlirmiut Inuk from the vicinity of Arviat, Nunavut (formerly Eskimo Bay, Northwest Territories). The glass beads perceived of as worthless by fur traders were valued and combined with wool flannel cloth, musk ox and caribou teeth, cotton and sinew threads, and caribou skin, to create intricate and enduring artwork. The art was obviously appreciated because much of it can be found in museums all over the world, most often without the name of the artist. Early historical documents express the willingness to accept glass beads as a lack of intelligence rather than appreciating it as a difference in world view. This so called primitive culture that had already met their basic needs and was able to focus on artistic expression. The colonizers came from a worldview in Europe that people wanted to escape, yet they di not understand the need to change for the better. These conflicting world views worked to the advantage of those with the weaponry to take what they wanted despite treaties or unwritten agreements.
Much of the focus of Truth and Reconciliation has been focused on the horrors of residential schools. Certainly, for many, there has been a lack of awareness of our history of the cruelty inflicted on children to eradicate difference in the population. The colonizers brought a worldview that was transported from Europe. Incidentally a worldview that had many people were flocking to escape. Yet they set about recreating it in the “New World” with a new bully in the playground. The travesty of justice for the Indigenous people began long before residential schools. It began when people adopted the stance that informal and formal agreements need not be honoured. It began when the perspective that one worldview was superior and was beyond incorporating new learning. A missed opportunity to learn from Indigenous people who had survived on this continent for thousands of years was lost and the devastation of the environment guaranteed.
In our society, it has become readily apparent that hearing information based on facts does not result in accepting truth. The truth seems to have gotten lost because the conversation has gotten lost in a quagmire. It has become focused on our responsibility for the “sins of the father”. If truth is perceived as an accusation or a guilt inducing exercise, people seem willing to do anything to discredit it. The focus becomes on who to blame for the situation or how my truth is worse than your truth. Treatment of Indigenous people, persecution of Jewish people, internment of the Japanese people, the Chinese Head tax, and racist policies have been put in place by governments, but they have been facilitated by the citizens of countries. People may claim they didn’t know what was happening but when your neighbours or their kids disappear, someone had to notice. When poverty, suicide, homelessness, and death by drugs impacts people with a specific profile, something is amiss. Yet, collective guilt is not the goal. Collective action motivated by a worldview that values divergent voices and possibilities for new learning will be far more enduring.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission came out with 94 actionable items. Kevin Lamoureaux refers to these recommendations as the “The Roadmap home” in his TEDx (University of Winnipeg) talk. We must be acting from a place of truth. However, there is more than enough data that shows that we missed the mark in the formation of Canada. I’m proud of being a Canadian. I have benefitted from living in a democracy where there is a willingness to respect, accept and learn from opinions different from one’s own. Yet, to quote Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
It is the responsibility of Canadian citizens to hold our democratically elected governments feet to the fire, to take on the actionable items that are going to make the biggest impact. It would seem readily apparent to me that clean water, dealing with the opioid crisis through adequate treatment programs, housing and education would be the primary targets for funds. One walk in the downtown east side is all that is needed to identify that we have a crisis requiring immediate action. Indigenous people may incorporate other priorities. But government responsibility is to ensure equity of access.
Truth and Reconciliation cannot be treated as one day that you have a day off, wear an orange shirt. It needs to be actionable. For some people that action will be to listen to the stories. For some people it will be to become more informed. Not to embrace guilt but to incorporate new learning into our own worldviews. Taking a look at the 94 recommendations is a good start. Once we are knowledgeable, action is imperative to help Canada to meet the mark in becoming a place of equity, justice, and pride for all Canadians. There is work to be done.