CFLA, Libraries, and A National Day of Truth and Reconciliation
December 6, 2020
The Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA) appeared last month before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as part of that committee’s review of Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation).
The opening statement by Stacy Allison-Cassin, chair of the CFLA Indigenous Matters Committee, and her responses to questions from committee members is available from the committee website:
Stacy Allison-Cassin’s Opening Statement:
Good afternoon, members of the committee and fellow witnesses. I guess maybe it’s good morning for some of you.
I’m Stacy Allison-Cassin, assistant professor, teaching stream, at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, and I’m chair of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ Indigenous Matters Committee. I am appearing today on behalf of the CFLA.
I’m a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario, and I am speaking from Oakville, Ontario, which is the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinabe. I also acknowledge the current treaty holders, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
I want to thank the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage for the opportunity to speak on Bill C-5 on the proposed national day for truth and reconciliation.
I want to start off with a brief story. Like many families right now, we are working and learning from home. My youngest daughter is in grade 3, and she currently does her schooling from the kitchen table. On September 30, as in recent past years, we wore our orange shirts. As I came in and out of the kitchen on that day, I was continually struck—being sort of able to listen in on a day of grade 3—by the lessons and discussions that were taking place on the topic of residential schools. The teacher read them Phyllis Webstad’s story of her orange shirt, and the children in the class were invited to reflect on the story in different ways, really reflecting on it as children listening to a story about another child.
I found it particularly moving. Throughout the day, they watched videos and did orange shirt-themed artwork, and the teacher led the group of seven- to nine-year-olds through some very difficult conversations.
After school that day, we had further conversations within our own family about residential schools and Canada’s role. My child had a one-word question that I think many parents are familiar with: Why?
Although I’ve not had a family member who has experienced residential school—as far as I know, at this point—I have had to talk to my children about why my grandmother hid her identity and why she did not teach my dad her language. I’m hopeful and encouraged that my children and their classmates are learning about residential schools and indigenous peoples in Canada. I know that we have more work to do, and I am really so grateful for all of those and for Phyllis for sharing their stories to bring us to this point.
As a librarian, a parent and an indigenous person, I was struck by a great number of things that day. Among them are the following. Stories are important for truth and understanding and conversations. Facts are important. Creating deliberate space—time apart from the contours of work and school and our busy days in the lives that we all lead—is really vital to ensuring learning, awareness and remembrance of residential schools and the ongoing impacts of colonization, as well as learning about the vibrancy of indigenous peoples and cultures.
September 30—what is now known as Orange Shirt Day—has in many schools, libraries and other sites become an important day of learning and remembering. Creating a national day of truth and reconciliation will create further weight and impetus for a day of remembering and learning for all Canadians.
This is important because, as we know, the first step of reconciliation is the truth part, which includes learning facts, hearing stories and understanding the ongoing impacts of colonization. That will ultimately lead to reconciliation.
As a librarian and educator, I recognize the importance of access to materials, as well as the importance of infrastructure in the delivery of such materials and learning. As we know, access to online materials is particularly important right now in the pandemic. This includes access to the Internet, to materials that are both age-appropriate and culturally appropriate, and to materials in an appropriate language.
As a parent, I have found myself seeking books and guides to help me have conversations with my children and sharing these with other parents.
Libraries exist in schools, communities, hospitals and higher education, making them key hubs for accessing information, programming and technology across the spectrum of age, location and social position. They enable learning outside the bounds of formal education.
Libraries play an important role in ensuring that people have the ability to learn about not only the residential school system, the Indian Act and treaties, but also about indigenous art, literature, language and culture and the experiences of indigenous people in Canada.
Creating a national day for truth and reconciliation would encourage and support the development of programming and the collection of materials, and it would bring greater learning and awareness to all people in Canada.
In 2017 the Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ working group on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report that set out detailed actions for libraries to take to implement the calls to action. Since the release of the CFLA’s TRC report, the Indigenous Matters Committee has formed a major component of the work of the CFLA. Numerous calls to action relate to education, language, and programming, and speak to the availability of reports and documentation. Furthermore, calls to action numbers 69 and 70 highlight the importance of compliance with UNDRIP regarding indigenous peoples’ rights to know the truth of what happened and to access information regarding human rights violations. It is thus vitally important that infrastructure be present to support both control of and access to documentation.
To return to the story I told at the beginning of these remarks, it’s my hope that with a national day of truth and reconciliation, learning and discussion will be amplified across Canada. In this, libraries are able to act as a key component to help ensure that we will not have another generation that will not know the truth and that we will acknowledge and honour the survivors and remember those who have died.