Truth. That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality. (Oxford dictionary).
Reconciliation. The restoration of friendly relations. The action of making financial accounts consistent; harmonization. (Oxford dictionary).
A commission born on July 1, 2009 to unearth the realities of Canada’s residential schools and their impact over 125 year period on the 150 thousand Aboriginal peoples who were forcibly removed from their homes, beaten, abused, sexually assaulted, and denigrated until the Indian was extinguished from their body, mind, culture and souls.
A commission necessitated as a result of the negotiated and funded settlement of several class action law suits brought by residential school survivors against the federal government and several churches.
A commission that shed light on the six thousand plus Aboriginal children who died while in the care of the Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United Churches entrusted with delivering the assimilation of all Aboriginals into Canadian society.
A commission tasked with finding a pathway for Canada and our Aboriginal peoples. A pathway that would recognize, respect and commence the healing for the three plus generations of residential schools survivors and their families.
That commission delivered an interim report last week. Noting Canada had subjected its Aboriginal peoples to a cultural genocide, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) defined this as the “destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group.”
In seizing Aboriginal land, banning use of their languages and cultural practices, restricting movement and the forcible removal of children from their families, Canada not only destroyed Aboriginal political and social institutions, but left the survivors as broken people.
The report recommended 94 conduits to reconciling Canada’s actions. I strongly urge all Canadians to read, consider and share the findings surrounding Aboriginal truths. TRC’s recommendations are framed around:
- education, equal to that afforded all other Canadians
- language and traditional knowledge for any Aboriginals unfamiliar with their spiritual, cultural and linguistic heritage
- parenting skills, not learned previous generations and survivors
- expansion of comprehensive healthcare support services, especially in mental health services
- settlements for those Aboriginal individuals excluded from the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
- a communication to all Canadians of today and tomorrow, of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s June 11, 2008 Statement of Apology to students of residential schools
- Canada’s formal acceptance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- creation of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation
Justice Murray Sinclair, Chief Wilton Littlechild and Marie Wilson’s eloquent and transformative conduits, unfortunately, met with resounding silence from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government. Other than suggesting a response would be forthcoming once the full report is delivered in the fall, a collective muteness has befallen the Conservative ranks.
The Conservatives also spoke loudly when they chose to build a monument in Canada for survivors or victims of communism. Communism that did not take place on our lands, I might add.
Fortunately, opposition leaders, and provincial premiers stepped into the chasm.
Premiers Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard and Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May quickly accepted Canada had subjected our Aboriginal peoples to cultural genocide. Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair spoke of working with all parties in bringing to bear TRC’s recommendations, yet sidestepped the notion of cultural genocide.
Manitoba took only one day after the delivery of the interim report, to implement three of TRC’s recommendations: they will recognize and incorporate traditional healing, hire more Aboriginal health care providers in the delivery of health services to Aboriginal communities, while amending provincial education curriculum to incorporate residential schools and other Aboriginal history.
Other programs that meet the criteria of one of the 94 recommendations incl:
- The Toronto District School Board recently proposing a new Aboriginal education program school, encompassing kindergarten to grade twelve, that values Aboriginal history, skills, culture and spirit.
- British Columbia Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nation Health Governance, signed in 2011 allows for First Nations to be involved in the design and development of their healthcare services. Services like 5 new clinical telehealth sites to improve remote access for primary care and specialists, or Wellness 2025 to build healthier, stronger First Nations communities.
No one suggested the federal government accept all 94 recommendations on the day the report was released without seeking consultation or negotiation. But considering we’ve been trying for years to improve living conditions on First Nations reserves and access to education for all Aboriginal people, some acknowledgment to bring forth one or two recommendations in short order, while promising better consultation processes with First Nations on energy development, would have gone a long way to sparking the reconciliation road-map flame on a national level.
Bernie Farber, former CEO of Jewish Congress was correct to call the acceptance of cultural genocide a process.
Last week was the first step.
Where do we go from here?
Could the next national steps include the establishment of a National Council on/of Aboriginals and, what many have called for, a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women? Or special funding to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Aboriginal arts and cultural groups to build a historical vault to share stories of residential schools survivors and their families? What of a museum dedicated to Aboriginal history, rather than having it included as part of the Canadian Museum of History.
Or developing a curriculum framework that encompasses Aboriginal history in an age-appropriate manner. Curriculum that would be enhanced with stories told directly by Aboriginal elders or families of residential school survivors.
A brief history of the residential schools could also be included in the educational kit provided to all immigrants who go through the citizenship process.
The same institutional racism found in the Ontario Child and Family Services agencies against black families, exists nationally against First Nations families. Rather than removing the children and placing them, in the case of Manitoba, in hotels, with little family access or community nurturing, why not remove the parents, figuratively speaking. Help them build parenting skills, provide them with addiction or mental health support and services, and create a path to job prospects using their traditional skills, as TRC recommended.
Incarceration of Aboriginals in the federal and provincial justice system must also transition to a restorative justice model. When Aboriginals represent 3.3% of the overall Canadian population, but 18% of those incarcerated, the time is now to throw the doors open to a new approach that involves traditional practices, community elders, supportive housing, and their communities.
Provincial premiers can also form a collective committee that includes Aboriginal elder or leaders, to examine BC’s Tripartite Framework agreement as a model for their respective provinces’ Aboriginal healthcare systems.
Now that Canadians are aware of residential schools history, of the racism, denigration, abuse, and cultural genocide suffered by Aboriginal peoples, we are individually and collectively responsible for everything we say and what we do from this point forward.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative caucus, Conrad Black, Jeffrey Simpson, Rodney Clifton, Hymie Rubenstein included.
In remaining mute, Mr. Harper stands to be painted alongside President Erdogan of Turkey, another genocide denier. Ironically, Mr. Harper is one of only a handful of leaders who do recognize the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkey a century ago.
To be fair, while Turkey has done everything in its power to keep the truth of its history hidden from its population, Canadians now know the truths of our history.
Perhaps this government that, at the best of times, has a difficult relationship with truth, cannot see past the fact that the Aboriginal segment of the Canadian population will never be a voter segment that supports the Conservatives. Or that Aboriginal lands and Aboriginal claims against original seizures of those lands, stand between the successful development and transport of Canada’s energy sector, Conservative’s egg-in-a-single-basket moonshot, and their perceived reputation as grand economic stewards.
But it’s time.
Time for all Canadians, who proudly point to a land rich with immigrants, to stand on guard with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. To tell our political leaders nothing short of reconciliation will do.