Monday, July 12, 2021

Truth and Reconciliation Quilt Project

TW: Please note that some details in this post may be distressing for some readers. 
This year I didn't really celebrate Canada Day, though I love my country and am usually proud of what we stand for. However. We have a lot of nasty, outright horrific history along with our shining history. We ran residential 'schools' for our First Nations peoples, and forced their parents to send their children, as young as THREE, to these boarding 'schools' which, we have known, but are now finally having to face it publicly as a nation, were anything BUT schools. Rather, they were indoctrination centres, funded by the government, run by the Catholic Church, along with, to a lesser degree of involvement, Anglican and other churches. Indian Agents went around rounding up the children, often by force, and the RCMP enforced all of this. I learned a fair bit about these 'schools' last summer when I took the Indigenous Canada course through the University of Alberta, and also did some extended reading on the subject. The U of A course is a MOOC, a Massive Open Online Course. It is free, eye-opening and mind-blowing, and everyone, but especially white people, should take it, no matter where we live. These 'schools' were not unique to Canada; the US had boarding 'schools' as well, for the same purpose as ours, to commit cultural genocide. I did not learn, nor did I teach when I was a teacher, the true history of Turtle Island, currently known as Canada, America, and Mexico. 

What is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada? Briefly, from June 2008 through December 2015, after six years of research, thousands of interviews of residential 'school' survivors, and over a year of compiling and writing, this commission released their multi-volume report. Within it were 94 Calls to Action. Six years, later, Canada has fulfilled a dismal amount, though many are in process. Many require a lot of work, sweeping changes to education, for just one, and admittedly, some cogs of government do move at a glacial pace. CBC has a great website tracking the work being done, Beyond 94.
  • 14 Complete
  • 23 In-progress (Project underway)
  • 37 In-progress (Projects proposed)
  • 20 Not started

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation continues the TRCs work. With another discovery of a mass amount (751) of unmarked graves last month, this time on the Cowessess Nation, in Saskatchewan, Chief Delorme was asked if Canada should cancel Canada Day. He said he wasn't about to tell anyone what to celebrate or not, but he did suggest that every Canadian make the point of reading the Calls to Action. This is the least any one of us can do; after all, educating oneself is key to growth and understanding.
And real change.

I decided if I could make one temperature block every day this year, one Tula Pink block for 100 days a couple of years ago, 150 Canadian Women blocks for 50 days another year, then for 94 days, beginning July 1, I could make a block a day and read, one per day, every single one of these calls. I needed a very simple block, three or four patches. Orange would be a colour, symbolic for Indigenous peoples. I looked into why, and found the story you may or may not know, about the new orange shirt that Phyllis Webstad was given by her grandmother for her first day at a residential 'school' in BC. The nuns took that nice new shirt, and all of her clothes, and never returned them. We were encouraged to wear orange shirts this past Canada Day to show our compassion for the well over 1000 First Nations children's bodies found these past couple of months, and for support of their families having to go through this. So, orange for First Nations, to whom this continent belongs. Red would be the other colour, for the nation of Canada. I came up with a flying geese block.
A quick but very important note about buying Every Child Matters orange shirts can be found here. The exploitation of First Nations knows no bounds.

Here is the first block, 6" finished. Six patches, five seams. My only rules are that I use scraps first, stash second. I am not purchasing any fabric, and I hope to not repeat any fabrics, though both of these colours are not as plentiful as my blues and greens...  I just LOVE the background, Modern Background Essentials by Zen Chic for Moda. No clue where I got it, but there are two yards, so hopefully enough.
There are six sections in the Call to Action. Some have a lot more recommendations than others. About every five calls, I will post my blocks. I may start posting a block a day on Instagram... I nearly started on July 1, but then wanted it to be private for a while while I 'felt out'. the project Maybe there is or will be some interest in others joining in, and learning. Let me know what you think, in the comments or by email.

I am not going to rewrite the 94 Calls to Action here in their entirety, but, like the Canadian Women project, I will give a brief note to go with each block. I highly encourage you to read what has or has not been accomplished on each of the 94 calls. It is eye-opening.

Sites to bookmark:
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
  • Reports by the TRC - these can be downloaded for free
  • Calls to Action - one of the reports, a free download
  • Also of importance is the fact that my favourite host on CBC Music, Tom Allen, is reading a call a day on his afternoon show, 'It's About Time'. I had had the idea for my project before I heard of his, but the synchronicity of this gives me pause. I hope more Canadians are reading the calls; we can and should do this together.

The first section is Child Welfare.
1. Reduce the number of Aboriginal children in care.
There are five recommendations. Some work has been done.

2. Publish annual reports on the number of children in care.
No work. The last time a report was published was 2011.

3. Implement Jordan's Principle.
It took three non-compliance orders, THREE, from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to make the government have equitable health care for First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, both on and off-reserve. How can this be? We have excellent free health care here in Canada, something any Canadian is damn proud of, and wants to keep, so how come First Nations, Métis and Inuit did not have equal access?
4. Enact child welfare legislation that establishes national standards for Aboriginal child apprehension and child custody cases.
There are three recommendations. Bill C-92 was passed in 2019, but it doesn't address all of these recommendations. Just a few days ago, on July 7, Cowessess First Nations signed an agreement with the federal government to fund locally controlled child welfare services. Eighteen more are currently underway, while over 100 groups have also submitted requests.

5. Develop culturally appropriate parenting programmes for Aboriginal families.
Some federal funding, several provincial and territorial programmes, but basically this has not been developed.

At the end of each section, depending on number of calls, I decided to make an orange heart. I think of these children each day now. I'm aware of what horrors they experienced, and I'm sickened that 'religious' people would do this. This was indeed a cultural genocide, but it also resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent children, and the destruction of the family unit.

Yet, as Jarret Martineau, host of 'Reclaimed', another favourite on CBC Music, stated on his show this week, We are strong, resilient, and there are today more than 500 million of us. We haven't gone away. We are here to stay. I checked that number out. and that number is pretty accurate.

I am not clear yet as to how I will join these blocks, but I do intend to figure it out pretty soon, as I do not want another stack of 100+ blocks just sitting at the end of the project! I know groups of four make the Dutchman's Puzzle layout, but I wanted to create an across-the-quilt movement, so may vary it a bit. And, there are my hearts to work in. Here then is the first section of the 94 Calls to Action.

I may write up the instructions in a tutorial for those who might like to quilt along now or in future. I have a big deadline this week, so it may not happen for a few days. In the meantime, and in real time, I continue to read a call and make a block each day. Today, July 12, is the final call in the Education section, for example.

At the end of each post, I will point readers to more educational sources. One that was exceedingly difficult to watch, but I was able to get through it by splitting it over two days, is We Were Children, a documentary from 2012 on CBC Gem. What makes it so powerful is that not only do two residential 'school' survivors tell us their stories, but those stories are reenacted by actors, so you fall in love with the adorable 4-year-old girl, or sweet 6-year-old boy, and this attachment makes their experiences that much more horrific.


  1. The whole residential school situation is heartbreaking. How can we Canadians not feel even a little bit of the pain these indigenous children and their families have suffered through the years. We as a nation need to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve. Love the blocks you are making.

  2. Just heartbreaking to read this post but so important to do so. Thank you for writing it. I hope the many institutions across the world that have done so much wrong to so many can acknowledge those wrongs and provide some sort of redress. Above all, I hope no other child anywhere will suffer again at the hands of the state.

  3. Sandra, I too was absolutely horrified when I learned about the Residential Schools a few years ago. How could I have been so naive? Now since the unmarked graves have been discovered I have started to read the Truth and Reconciliation report. I started on the "Missing Children and
    Unmarked Burials". It took about two weeks to read those 263 pages. I just could not cope with the pain. I kept thinking of my own children and what I would have gone through. I am in the planning stages of a quilt because that's what quilters do. I know that I can't stand by and say nothing. I will be much more outspoken about this kind of genocide no matter what culture it is done to.

    1. Once I am done reading the 94 Calls to Action, I plan to read the MMIWG report as well, because that has bothered me for many years, and that it doesn't get the public's attention and wrath to the degree it needs. The entire report is something like 6 volumes... I think we all need to be more outspoken, whether it's in conversations with friends family and neighbours, whether it's on any social media, or especially so, with our VOTE. Looking up the way our federal and provincial candidates have voted on Indigenous, women's and LGBTQ2's rights issues is KEY, and very very telling. Just because my parents always voted for a certain party or because I have always should not mean I continue to do so blindly. I hope you see this as you are a no reply and I don't have an email for you.

  4. Oh, not unlike our story here in Australia & have come to realise over time, that invaded countries have gone through similar incidents as far back as history has been recorded. I often wonder that we've not learnt, as it still seems to happen in some places, even though we are such a multicultural world now. I look forward to watching your progress. The QAL I'm participating in is also made up of scraps only for the colour bits & white from the stash for backgrounds. Take care, stay safe & hugs.

  5. When I first read the news several weeks ago about the discovery of these children's bodies at the residential "schools", I knew you would be aggrieved and in pain and I wondered how you would respond. I don't see much Canadian news, but I assume like in the US, there is a segment of the Canadian population who are in denial that such terrible actions occurred. Sadly, as someone else pointed out, such tragic treatment of minority and indigenous peoples are still occurring all over the world.

  6. The crimes against humanity by well meaning individuals always horrify me and even more so when religious and political institutions conspire together to kill children and adults simply because of race. I knew you would be responding to the recent horrific news and think this is a terrific way to do it.

  7. Sandra, I don't know what to say but I wanted to 'check in'. Here in our own country many wrongs have been made through the power of the law - and many people are still suffering today because of it. Kia Kaha.

  8. Sandra your post has inspired me to continue reading and researching both the Truth and Reconciliation Report and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman’s Report. Long have I known of some of the truth about the “schools” but the full extent of the horror was beyond my limited knowledge. I had thought that Gord Downie’s “Secret Path” would start educating Canadians to the truth. We can only hope that this time, the news will start bringing our governments to actually making real effort to Reconcilliation, the churches to releasing their documents finally, and the surviving perpetrators to being held accountable. The other bit of hope is that our American neighbours are now starting their own search and investigation of their residential school properties. As the daughter of a Canadian serviceman who served in several countries I can only say that I, too, love our country but the pride is somewhat diminished by the truth and the lack of action and education in our country. Thank you for putting your thoughts in to such succinct and eloquent words. You have written words from my heart as well.

  9. Wow-- admirable, inspiring on several levels. I hope you don't mind me sharing on SM. Great resources in here too.