Law Society throws support behind reconciliation initiatives

Posted: 12/11/2014

Frontrunners Dinner 2014A recent Law Society event celebrated the first appointment of an Aboriginal community as co-host of the upcoming Pan-Parapan American Games.

Underlining the Law Society’s commitment to renewing its Aboriginal initiative strategy, Treasurer Janet E. Minor acknowledged sport as a powerful agent for healing and reconciliation for residential school survivors.

“We are alive to the spirit of this time for Aboriginal people,” Treasurer Minor said. “We are guided by our commitment to participate in the broader reconciliation process.”

The Mississaugas of New Credit will be the Host First Nation for the 2015 Games. Their traditional territory includes Toronto where many of the PanAm sporting venues are to be located.

A Nov. 18 dinner and multi-faceted presentation at Osgoode Hall highlighted the experience of Aboriginal athletes who were denied entry to the 1967 Pan American Games stadium in Manitoba.

Their story of redemption — as depicted in a film excerpt shown to guests — reflects a chasm that organizations such as the Law Society and the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada aim to help bridge.

The FrontRunners, also known as the Niigaanibatowaad —  Patrick Bruyere, Bill Chippeway, Fred Harper, William Merasty and Charlie Nelson — are residential school survivors who were selected to run the 1967 Games torch from Minnesota to Winnipeg only to be denied entry when they arrived.

Following the film excerpt, the FrontRunners were honoured in a traditional blanketing ceremony.

Guests included TRC chair, Justice Murray Sinclair, and commissioners as well as many of the Honorary Witnesses.

Chief Bryan LaForme, of the Mississaugas of New Credit, as well as dozens of community members joined Toronto 2015 Pan-Parapan American Games Committee chair, The Hon. David Peterson, in applauding the accomplishments of the FrontRunners.

Wab Kinew, an Honorary Witness for the TRC and a CBC radio personality who emceed the event, invited attendees to share their visions of reconciliation.

“I invite everyone to be an Honorary Witness for life,” he said, challenging them to a “wise and insightful meditation … on what it means to be an Honorary Witness.

“This is a lifelong commitment. We, as witnesses, cannot go and hang it up.”

Chief LaForme acknowledged the significance of an alliance between the TRC, the Law Society and the Pan-Parapan American Games.

“We are in a historic position,” he said.

“This is the beginning of our athletes and communities being recognized through sport.”

Through its mandate, the TRC is committed to “establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a brighter future. The truth of our common experiences will help set our spirits free and pave the way to reconciliation.”

The TRC is tasked with coordinating the collection of individual statements from residential school survivors about their experiences to ensure that these stories are preserved for future generations.