Last week on a warm Wednesday evening, I had the very good fortune of attending an event where the Honourable Senator Murray Sinclair spoke to an auditorium full of educators and students. Although he has become a senator, he may be better known for the work he did as Chief Justice Sinclair, head of the recently concluded Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which investigated and made recommendations for the government of Canada, following the documents and testimonies of hundreds of survivors of the sad legacy of the Indian Residential School system.
To start the evening, we were all welcomed by a drum group, followed by greetings and prayers from First Nation, Metis, and Inuit elders. As soon as Senator Sinclair took the podium, there was a standing ovation. Even before he spoke to the audience, there was deep respect shown for him and for all he stands for. The immense and comprehensive task he and fellow members of the TRC were responsible for unveils an unbelievably long and dark chapter in Canadian history – a chapter that has only recently begun to be learned about in Canadian schools. This was at the heart of what Senator Sinclair was to speak about and what we had all come to hear. As he began to speak, however, he completely caught us off-guard with the way he introduced himself. For almost twenty minutes, his speech was hilarious, but never irreverent, as he made fun of himself, revealing a side of his persona which one might not otherwise infer, given the critically important role he played as Chief Justice presiding over the traumatizing and cruel personal histories of Indian Residential School Survivors. Instead, here was a man who, along with the humourous asides and wit, shared a warmth and respect for the world. Even if he had not gone on to speak about the role of education in reconciliation, Senator Sinclair would have, none the less, taught us by example how to lead a good life.
His message was clear – education caused the problems affecting Aboriginal families and communities, and education can now be part of the solution. All Canadian citizens need to learn about the history of Indian Residential School schools in Canada. Senator Sinclair suggests our role as educators is to begin by helping our students to do three things; to watch, to listen, and to show respect. We, too, must do the same. It is a simple recommendation to help bring reconciliation to our classrooms and it will mean so much for all our futures if we are able to model and teach our students how to be good listeners and observers, who show respect for all.