Statement from the Chair: Treaties, Truth and Reconciliation

Sep 29, 2021

September 30th marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to commemorate those who lost their lives to Canada’s Indian Residential Schools, those who survived, their descendants, and all Indigenous families and communities whose lives continue to be impacted by the harmful effects of colonialism.

Establishing this day of recognition is one of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Events in Nova Scotia and elsewhere across Canada invite us to reflect on this tragic aspect of our history and consider how we can take steps together toward reconciliation. The road to reconciliation requires Canadians to face difficult truths. We must remember that no matter how difficult these conversations will be they do not represent even a fraction of the pain suffered by residential school victims.

September 30th is also Orange Shirt Day at which time we wear orange in solidarity with Indigenous peoples in Canada, a movement that originated with Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor. Orange Shirt Day calls upon us to see the inherent value of every child.

These opportunities to reflect and seek to understand the violence perpetrated onto Indigenous persons are followed by October 1st - Treaty Day in Nova Scotia, and the beginning of Mi’kmaw History Month.

Treaty Day honours our relationships with – and the important contribution of – the Mi’kmaw Nation in Nova Scotia. Throughout October we are invited to explore the treaties and treaty relationship at the foundation of our cohabitation on Mi’kma’ki, the unceded Mi’kmaw territory which Nova Scotia is a part of.

Discoveries of the last year of the bodies of Indigenous children whose lives were lost under the residential school system shook every Canadian and gave us a glimpse of the depths of sorrow carried by Indigenous peoples in Canada. To participate in reconciliation each of us must enter a dialogue, acknowledge and speak truth, and extend our hands to welcome one another on a shared path to a better future.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is committed to reconciliation and will continue working to help Nova Scotians understand the rights of all Indigenous people, through education and community dialogue.

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Cheryl Knockwood is the Chair of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. She is a lawyer and currently works for the Membertou First Nation as its governance coordinator. She has taught Aboriginal and Treaty Rights at Cape Breton University.