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Cities must play crucial role in truth and reconciliation: Danielle Paradis

With more than half of Canada's Indigenous populations living in urban centres, our cities must take on a bigger role in the healing process.

Hundreds gathered on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver in April to raise the 17-foor Reconciliation Pole carved by James Hart. The pole tells the story of the time before, during and after the residential school system. Thousands of copper nails representing thousands of Indigenous children who died in the schools were hammered into the pole by survivors, affected families, school children and others.

The Canadian Press

Hundreds gathered on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver in April to raise the 17-foor Reconciliation Pole carved by James Hart. The pole tells the story of the time before, during and after the residential school system. Thousands of copper nails representing thousands of Indigenous children who died in the schools were hammered into the pole by survivors, affected families, school children and others.

More than half of the country’s Indigenous population now lives in cities, according to the 2006 census, and the numbers are rising.

As Indigenous people move, their stories must move with them, including the dark ones.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission uncovered stories of residential school abuses and 6,000 deaths — a history previously unknown to many Canadians.

The TRC made almost 100 calls to action, largely focused on the federal government. But cities can join the effort.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said the “gut-wrenching stories of survivors” he heard at the TRC inspired him to act.

“I knew everything in me had changed, and that our city had to change too,” he wrote in a blog post for the Edmonton City as Museum Project.

As a result, Edmonton has introduced an Aboriginal youth leadership initiative and committed to training city staff about residential schools and keeping reconciliation top of mind in their “work as city builders.”

More concretely, the TRC called for monuments to be erected in Ottawa and every provincial and territorial capital city.

It’s one of the easiest aspects of reconciliation, and it should happen everywhere. Winnipeg and Ottawa have unveiled their monuments. At the same time Edmonton accidently removed community-made art.

These don’t have to be abstract statues with a dull plaque. In Berlin, Germany an artist has installed Stolperstein, or stumbling blocks, which bear the names of holocaust victims right in the streets of the city. In Toronto, programmers at the TIFF movie theatre begin each screening by thanking the Indigenous groups who have laid claim to the land where the theatre sits.

Monuments and gestures like this start to raise awareness of the schools and their multigenerational affect. There is still a lot of work to be done with reconciliation. But it starts with listening, and with sharing.

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