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Chancellor Murray Sinclair shares thoughts on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Chancellor Sinclair, former chair of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, discusses Indigenous history, TRC progress, and where we go from here.

On Sept. 30, Canada will mark its first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a countrywide day of learning and reflection born out of one of the calls-to-action made by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Today, Queen’s Chancellor and former TRC chairperson, the Honourable Murray Sinclair, shares his thoughts on Indigenous history and experiences, the commission’s work, and what must be done to continue the advance of truth and reconciliation. 

“The call to action that gave rise to this national holiday was an important one,” says Chancellor Sinclair, reflecting on what the TRC revealed. “When we looked at the entire work that we had done, we came to a realization that most of the people that we had spoken to in the general public told us that they knew nothing about (Canada’s residential school system).”

Indigenous children were taken from their homes, often against the wills of their families, to attend residential schools, and the TRC discovered that a wide number of Canadians weren’t aware of this history, or of the abuses endured by those who survived.

“The survivors… had been trying to get their message out for a long time,” says Chancellor Sinclair. “They were talking to the media. They were talking to the general public. They would talk to whoever would listen to them, but no one picked up on that message. Partly, I think, because there were so many people who just didn't believe that it could happen in this country.”

Chancellor Sinclair says that, through the TRC’s work and efforts thereafter, he thinks now people believe and have come to understand that these things did happen; that they are part of Canada’s history.

“When I was chairing the TRC, I realized that getting to the truth was hard but getting to the reconciliation is going to be harder,” he says. “We are not only calling for people to understand this truth and to accept it, but we're also calling on people to recognize that, there came with it, benefits and privileges that now are bestowed upon the settler population; that were bestowed at great cost to Indigenous people.”

Chancellor Sinclair continues, elaborating on some of the ways the residential school system’s harms continue to reverberate through Indigenous communities and Canada at large. He discusses the country’s public education system which, for decades, extolled the virtues of colonialism and diminished Indigenous peoples. He talks of the generational and emotional trauma felt by Indigenous communities, the poverty, and how systemic prejudices persist.

“We have to learn how to talk to, and about, each other, with greater respect than has been the case in the past,” Chancellor Sinclair says. “We may not achieve reconciliation within my lifetime, or within the lifetime of my children, but we will be able to achieve it if we all commit to working towards it properly. Part of that commitment is that every year [on September 30] we will stand up together and we will say never again. What we did in this country was wrong, and we will never allow that to happen again.”

Get involved on Sept. 30

Chancellor Sinclair’s remarks precede several commemorative events, learning opportunities, and educational resources available tomorrow across the Queen’s campus that will underline the university’s own commitment to Indigenization and reconciliation.

A sacred fire gathering taking place on campus will reflect on the legacy of Indigenous residential schools in Canada and seek to re-affirm the university’s commitment to advancing reconciliation. The gathering is set to include remarks by Queen’s Elders-in-Residence and other senior university leaders and a moment of silence at 2:15 pm. With respect to COVID-19 safety rules, in-person attendance will be limited. To ensure everyone can participate, the event will be livestreamed online from 1:30-3:30 pm ET.

The university asks that all members of the campus community wear orange on Sept. 30, in support of truth and reconciliation. Thousands of orange shirts and commemorative wall decals were provided to staff, faculty, and students, who were asked to sign a commitment to ongoing learning and efforts to advance reconciliation in return.

All Queen’s community members are also urged to download themed Zoom/Teams backgrounds that can be used to show your support in meetings or classes on Sept. 30. The Centre for Teaching and Learning also has information for faculty members to assist in facilitating classroom conversations about the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Learn more about how you can get involved on the Office of Indigenous Initiative’s website.