"The two or three Mi’kmaq women who sat with Nora Bernard around her kitchen table in Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1987 strengthened us all. They believed in themselves. They believed they could find many more men and women of good will to stand with them and fight the good fight for dignity and justice for all Indigenous people. And they did. This strengthens us all." — James Clancy, NUPGE National President
Ottawa (21 Dec. 2015) — “We give ’em tax-free tobacco don’t we. That’s enough.” That was my neighbour Ralph’s personal solution to what he called “the Indian problem.” His mind was made up. I could never get him to change it.
Ralph and I lived side by side for many years. He worked for the phone company. He was a solid union man. His vegetable garden was always the best on the block. He always shared his bumper crops with all of us. He was a good neighbour. He just had this thing about “them Indians.” Most people did then. Polls show that most people do even now. That’s what makes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so important.
TRC gives us a chance to break free of twisted thinking
The TRC gives us a chance to end all that. It gives us a chance to break free of all that twisted and mangled thinking about greater rights and greater wrongs—things that could somehow be fixed with tax-free tobacco.
It gives us a chance to do a great deal of practical good for Indigenous peoples—just because we want to, because it fits better with our idea of who we are and who we want to be. And so, in doing a great good for others, we do a great good for ourselves. It is a lesson as old as humankind. It is the greatest gift the TRC offers us. And we deserve little credit for it. This is as great a truth as any the TRC revealed.
It was Indigenous people themselves who made this happen. They came up with the idea. They put in the effort. They took on the government.
The opportunity to redeem ourselves comes from those who we had harmed so much
They went to court. They paid for it all. The first great truth about the TRC is the opportunity to redeem ourselves comes from those we had harmed so much.
If we do not acknowledge that truth, if we let it be buried or overshadowed by our high hopes and enthusiasm for all the rest, we will be flirting with all the bad old ways of racial superiority. This was not something given by the white man to “the natives.” This was something given to us by our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
It is this, more than anything else about the TRC, that gives us leave to hope. The fact that those with no friends in high places, those who were invisible, those who were abused and forgotten, those who had no reason to believe or hope, did anyway. This strengthens us all.
They believed in themselves
The two or three Mi’kmaq women who sat with Nora Bernard around her kitchen table in Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1987 strengthened us all. They believed in themselves. They believed they could find many more men and women of good will to stand with them and fight the good fight for dignity and justice for all Indigenous people. And they did. This strengthens me. This strengthens Ralph. This strengthens us all.
This, more than all the fine words and noble promises rolling around the halls of parliament and in TV studios, justifies all our hopes. It is a truth that is close to my heart. It guided me long years ago when I went to my first union meeting. It guides me now. It is the one truth that will make all our hopes of reconciliation a reality. It is the truth that we are still, and always have been, the ones we have been waiting for. It is the truth that not only is there reason to hope, but that we ourselves are the best reason for hope.
NUPGE National President
James Clancy is the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE