Push transitional justice for indigenous people: Canadian expert

Pushing transitional justice for indigenous people is intended to create a more harmonious society, a Canadian expert who specializes in the area told CNA on April 5. (NOWnews)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Pushing transitional justice for indigenous people is intended to create a more harmonious society, a Canadian expert who specializes in the area told CNA on April 5, adding that Taiwan and Canada have much room for cooperation in this regard.

“This is about the betterment of society. It is not about losing something but actually about gaining something,” Ry Moran, head of Canada’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) told CNA during an exclusive interview recently.

Moran was invited to visit Taiwan by the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei from March 24-27, to share his experience in promoting truth and reconciliation among indigenous people in Canada as Taiwan walks a similar path.

Indigenous peoples in Taiwan lost their ancestral land rights and had their traditional lifestyles, language and culture restricted under harsh assimilation policies after Han Chinese arrived on the island about 400 years ago.

On August 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) issued a formal apology on behalf of the government to Taiwan’s indigenous people for the discrimination and neglect they suffered over the past four centuries.

Tsai also announced the establishment of a Presidential Office “commission for historical and transitional justice” to hold discussions with representatives of the aboriginal tribes on issues such as national policies toward indigenous people so that their voices can be heard.

According to Moran, the NCTR is responsible for preserving documents gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), which was founded in 2008 to learn the truth and inform Canadians about what happened to Canadian indigenous children placed in Residential Schools from 1870-1996.

According to Canadian government numbers, for more than a century about 150,000 Indigenous children were separated from their families and communities to attend Residential Schools, which were government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture.

Moran noted that what happened in these “schools” in Canada was, in fact, a deliberate attack on the relationship between indigenous parents and children.

“Kids were actually weaponized to perform the act of assimilation on their parents,” he said. The indigenous children were taught that their parents were stupid; their mother tongues barbaric, and all the ways they conducted themselves wrong, according to Moran.

The impact of such institutes has left a sad legacy to several generations of Canadian indigenous people who could hardly form a healthy relationship with their families and peoples, he noted.

In 2015, the TRC released a summary report of its findings on the Residential Schools, while calling for action with a focus on areas of importance to indigenous children and their families, including child welfare, education, language and culture, health and justice.

Moran said the historic report had sent shockwaves through Canadian society as most non-indigenous Canadians were surprised that they knew nothing of this dark history.

However, he was relieved to see that most Canadian were eager to see change.

That is exactly what the NCTR has been doing; educating and asking indigenous and non-indigenous people to engage in conversations to better understand each other, according to Moran.

During the process of searching for truth and reconciliation, Moran, himself a member of the Red River Metis, one of the three largest indigenous groups in Canada, said many have questioned the meaning of doing so, asking why they always look at the dark pages of history instead of looking to the future.

“It is not that we want to live our lives looking only at the dark side, but we have to look at it and acknowledge it, we have to put all of those mechanisms in place to ensure that we don’t go back there,” Moran noted.

Non-indigenous people need to put themselves in the shoes of their indigenous counterparts to better understand the suffering of the latter, he said.

The challenge for all societies is to recognize that indigenous people have had many very dear things been taken away from them for no reason, he stressed.

It is his hope that society can adopt “an attitude of curiosity rather than judgment” and “an approach of respect” to look at indigenous people and their culture with fresh eyes, he said.

While in Taiwan, Moran visited Taiwan Indigenous TV Station; the nation’s Council of Indigenous Peoples and visited eastern Hualien county to speak at National Dong Hwa University on the subject.

During his interactions with local indigenous people, Moran said he saw the same type of experience of colonization in Taiwan as in Canada; namely, the destruction of indigenous languages and the loss of transitional lands; and fundamental misunderstandings or ignorance as to who indigenous people are.

However, he was deeply impressed to see the Indigenous TV Station in Taiwan is working hard to provide programs in all 16 languages.

“What is very clear is that there is a very strong appetite for continued dialogue on both sides,” he said.

Canada and Taiwan are going through similar processes as they seek to become more respectful toward indigenous people as a whole and Moran said he sees great potential for future collaboration in this area.

By Joseph Yeh