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Truth and Reconciliation

Aboriginal Peoples Week sessions seek to inform and educate

special feature: Aboriginal Peoples

Part of a special feature focused on celebrating and recognizing the contribution and impact of Aboriginal Peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador and highlighting contemporary topics and opportunities related to Aboriginal Peoples worldwide. This feature coincides with Aboriginal Peoples Week running March 21-24.

By Jennifer Batten

From March 21-24, faculty members, researchers, students, staff and guests will present a variety of sessions for the university community and the public as part of Aboriginal Peoples Week: Truth and Reconciliation.

The series of events, presented by Memorial University’s Office of Aboriginal Affairs, in partnership with the Aboriginal Resource Office, is intended to inform the community, spark dialogue and discussion and respond to the release of final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Catharyn Andersen is the special advisor to the president on Aboriginal affairs at Memorial University.
Catharyn Andersen is the special advisor to the president on Aboriginal affairs at Memorial.
Photo: Chris Hammond

As the only university in the province, Memorial plays a vital role in not only helping to safeguard Aboriginal history, cultures and languages, but ensuring that all students gain a deep understanding of the history, cultures and languages, and carry forth their awareness and education to future generations of students.

“We strongly believe that Memorial plays a key role in educating the people of the province and facilitating the dialogue of this important aspect of Canadian history.” — Catharyn Andersen

The significant role of education and post-secondary institutions in reconciliation was highlighted in several recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report, including a focus on increased access to post-secondary education for Aboriginal youth and the need for courses and programming on Aboriginal culture, language and history, as well as issues relevant to Aboriginal peoples, culture and language.

Importance of education

“We planned this week around the theme of truth and reconciliation as part of the university’s response to the release of the Truth and Reconciliation report,” said Catharyn Andersen, special advisor to the president on Aboriginal Affairs at Memorial University. “Several recommendations in the report emphasize the importance of the education system, including the k-12 system and post-secondary institutions, in the truth and reconciliation process, and we strongly believe that Memorial plays a key role in educating the people of the province and facilitating the dialogue of this important aspect of Canadian history.”

The week will begin with Memorial Presents: The Impact of Aboriginal Residential Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, a public forum hosted by the Harris Centre and featuring panellists Chief Wilton Littlechild, Truth and Reconciliation commissioner, Cree chief and residential school Survivor and lawyer who has worked to advance Indigenous rights and treaties, on all levels, including the United Nations; Toby Obed, Labrador residential school Survivor; Ches Crosbie, personal injury lawyer with Ches Crosbie Barristers representing approximately 1,000 survivors of Labrador residential schools in a class action trial against the Government of Canada; and Ms. Andersen.

Other events include a presentation by Dr. Anne Godlewska from Queen’s University on the findings of an Aboriginal Awareness Survey, which was conducted among first-year students at Memorial in 2013; a session hosted by Dr. Tom Gordon as part of the Tradition and Transition Research Partnership, with Dr. Hans Rollmann and Inuit Elder Johannes Lampe, that will focus on the story of Abraham Ulrikab, an Inuk from Hebron who was persuaded to leave Labrador in 1880 to take part in anthropological exhibitions—human zoos—in cities across Europe; and a session with Dr. Trevor Bell, Department of Geography, and Tom Sheldon, Nunatsiavut Government, on the health risks of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

There are more than 20 informative and thought-provoking sessions happening over a four-day period during the week, and most are open to the public as well as to faculty, staff and students. For details, please visit here.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, established in 2008, is mandated to tell Canadians about the 150-year history of residential schools and their ongoing legacy, and to guide and inspire a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships. On June 2, 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released a summary report of its findings and 94 calls to action following a six-year mandate. The final report was released on Dec. 15, 2015.  The report highlighted the role of education in reconciliation, and stressed the need to educate Canadians on residential schools and their impacts.


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