Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Education, respect for each other, keys to reconciliation, Senator Murray Sinclair says in powerful keynote at StFX

November 8th, 2016
Senator Murray Sinclair delivers a powerful message in keynote address

Education is how we will heal, teaching our children that we are all equal is how we will stop racism and bring about reconciliation, Senator Murray Sinclair told a full house in StFX’s Schwartz Auditorium on Nov. 8.

Senator Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, concluded a two-day visit to StFX with a compelling keynote “A Conversation on Reconciliation.”

“Education holds the key to reconciliation. It is where our country will heal itself,” he said in a powerful, nearly two-hour address.

We need to tell the story of the Indian Residential Schools, to change the school curriculum so that students can listen, be educated and learn this history, he said. And if we do it the right way, it’s going to change how we feel and how we talk to each other.  

“We have to see this as a Canadian problem. Education has been used to harm everybody.”

Senator Sinclair showed reports that in school textbooks, Indigenous people are not seen as evolved or evolving, they are parked out of the way, out of sight. Their full history is not told. People were educated to believe Indigenous people were less than other Canadians.

“With young people we don’t have to address issues of racism. We need to try to educate our children in ways that doesn’t allow that racism to become part of their life,” he said, so that instead we all learn deep abiding respect for each other.


“That’s the key to going forward – reconciliation turns on a dime. I want to be your friend, I want you to be mine. We need to become mutually respectful.

“That’s what I hope we will see eventually if we change the way we educate our children. We may not see it in my lifetime, but I believe we will see it eventually.”

During the course of his keynote, Senator Sinclair provided a succinct and moving account of the history of the Indian Residential Schools, which existed in Canada from around the 1870s to 1996.

After providing background on how the schools came to be, he said children were disciplined harshly since the beginning. Parents couldn’t do anything to stop it. The government held the upper hand.

That harshness continued throughout the history of the schools, through seven generations. Even when people complained about evidence of physical and sexual abuse, he said there was like a conspiracy of silence.  

Residential school students carried that fear and trauma with them when they came out. “So that does something to you. It renders you a victim, a sense of being victimized.”

We shouldn’t be surprised by the economic despair, the social and political dysfunction that followed, he said.

“Don’t think it would be any different for you,” Senator Sinclair told audience members, if they were forcibly removed from family and put in a different culture.

“It’s really the impact on populations today we have to think about,” he said. “It’s also their children and grandchildren who live with the consequences of their experience.”

StFX President Kent MacDonald thanked Senator Sinclair for the great gift of his time and knowledge while on campus.


“You’ve helped more clearly articulate the direction we need to go as a university.

“StFX is not yet perfect. We have some way to travel down this road," Dr. MacDonald said.

"But it’s also important to recognize we are not at ground zero."

Many at the university have been involved for decades.

There’s also been great momentum of late.

Dr. MacDonald noted that Chief Paul Prosper from Paq’tnkek First Nation has been appointed to the StFX Board of Governors, providing an important voice, input and lens from the Mi’kmaq community.

As well, in the last few weeks alone, StFX has learned from and welcomed Coady Chair in Social Justice, acclaimed Mi’kmaw artist and activist Alan Syliboy, held a President’s Colloquium focused on social justice and reconciliation from Indigenous perspectives; and hosted the signing of the Atlantic Aboriginal Economic Development Integrated Research Program, delivered through a partnership of Atlantic Canadian universities and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chief.

Next week, StFX will welcome former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, a strong advocate for First Nations and Indigenous issues, for the Allan J. MacEachen Lecture in Politics.

Second year B.Ed. student Giselle Stevens and StFX Academic Vice-President & Provost Dr. Kevin Wamsley hosted the evening. Fourth year student Tamara Cremo provided a moving personal introduction of Senator Sinclair.


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