“The residential school story is a Canadian story,” Dr. Paulette Regan remarked during a Nov. 3, 2014, talk in which she argued that decolonizing public memory, national history and ourselves is critical to truth, justice and reconciliation. The senior researcher for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Regan is also the author of Unsettling the Settler Within, a book about her personal journey through the process of decolonization, one she urges all non- Indigenous Canadians to undergo themselves.
How can we break down myths to re-think Canada’s history? Regan focused on re-writing national histories and establishing pubic commemorations as central in the progression towards reconciliation. She argues that many of today’s conflicts involving Indigenous communities have deep historical roots, reflecting a long legacy of settler colonialism. More importantly, many Canadians have either ignored this colonial history or have not been properly educated about it. She states, “how people learn about historical injustices is as important as learning the truth of what happened.” Regan argues that “in Canada’s collective public memory, colonization seems to be in the past, but how do we go about transforming a past that is still present?”
Regan argues that non-Indigenous Canadians can practice reconciliation and that for “real socio-political change to occur, it’s up to people who are willing to take up the struggle of living in truth” by challenging the historical myths. She says that “reconciliation is not a goal to be achieved, but a way of living together.”
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has been criticized for not naming Indian Residential Schools as genocidal. What would you recommend?
It’s such a complex story; we do not have to come up with a definitive answer. We need to create public spaces where people can come together and have conversations about these issues. Public memory is a process and it needs to be understood that there are many perspectives, and that they need to be respected and acknowledged.
There seems to be a tension between past and future within political apologies in Canada, with many state-delivered apologies focused on a kind of determined future. How do we mediate the distance between past and future in an ethical way?
There is a very future-orientated way of looking at things, and this does create tension. People have this checklist approach to reconciliation and in regards to the Indian Residential Schools they were able to check off the settlement agreement, apology and commission. It’s not just about the apology but the actions that follow the apology.