Nelson book club takes on the Truth and Reconciliation Report

“Take as long as you need to read it,” states the challenge website. “It’s a commitment, not a race.”

Nelson's Truth and Reconciliation Report reading group: back row from left: Devon Caron

A group of eight local residents has taken the pledge.

They’ve signed on to the TRC Reading Challenge, along with another 3500-plus people across the country, pledging to read the 535-page introductory volume of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report and logging their reading progress for all to see at trcreadingchallenge.com.

“Take as long as you need to read it,” states the challenge website. “It’s a commitment, not a race.”

The purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools. The commission was established in 2008 and was completed in December, 2015. Its central premise is that the challenges aboriginal people face today can be traced back to the schools.

Devon Caron, a student in the Peace Studies program at Selkirk College, started the group and he’s busy reading.

“I am 150 pages in,” he told the Star.

Caron says the report’s language is very accessible but the content is difficult for him, emotionally.

“It is talking about abuse of children for 150 years. We have subjugated indigenous people through the residential school system.

“I could talk to you about some of the horrendous stuff I have found in here, about the child who spoke his own language and got slapped in the mouth with a ruler for that, every time I think about it I flinch. There is one thing after another like that, for 150 years.”

He said he has learned how the legacy of the schools has led to the current gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians. He quotes from the report:

“‘These events do not bring the residential school story to an end. The legacy of the schools remains. One can see the impact of a system that disrupted families in the high number of Aboriginal children who have been removed from their families by child-welfare agencies. An educational system that degraded Aboriginal culture and subjected students to humiliating discipline must bear a portion of responsibility for the current gap between the educational success of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. The over-incarceration and over-victimization of Aboriginal people also have links to a system that subjected Aboriginal children to punitive discipline and exposed them to physical and sexual abuse.'”

He says there is very little knowledge in Canadian society about the residential schools.

“Somebody said to me, ‘How long do I have to continue paying for those people,’ and I looked at her and said, ‘Are you kidding me? The last residential school closed when I was a teenager.”

Asked how a few thousand people reading the report will help, Caron said, “It has got to start somewhere, so several thousand people will be a bit more educated. They can go out and talk to their friends and family and then there is that many more people. We hope it spreads, a chain reaction, exponential growth.”

At each meeting the group goes around the circle, each member talking about what struck them in their most recent reading.

“And we decided to read aloud the ‘Calls to Action’ section,” Caron said. “It is new stuff for all of us.”

Selkirk College anthropology instructor Lori Barkley is a founding member of the group.

“It’s a great way to work through the book and a great incentive to get together as a book club,” she said. “The online pledge makes us more accountable. It is outside the college, so I try to be just another one of them rather than the teacher.

“This is our history, the foundation of our country,” she continued. “I have worked with this and heard the story but it never gets easier. I never stop being shocked at the level of degradation they were subjected to for generations. It’s a good thing it still shocks me: it means I have not become jaded.

“Students in my ethnic relations class, once they get over the shock, many of them get angry: ‘Why has no one talked to me about this, why has no one told me about Oka or explained to me about what ‘unceded’ means?’”

“But there is more awareness now than there was 20 years ago,” Barkley said. “I attribute that to social media. Students who are on social media tend to be a little less naive.”

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