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Public forum claims progress made on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples

But the event, held at Dalhousie University, heard that there remain impediments to the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations
Truth and reconciliation ministers column

Progress has been made on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada, a public forum at Halifax's Dalhousie University heard Thursday.

But the event was told there remain impediments to the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.

Racism, politics and government underfunding have contributed to the less-than-swift following of part of the commission’s advice, speakers said during a panel discussion.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission filed a report years ago that included 94 recommendations, or, Calls to Action. It spent six years crisscrossing the country to hear from residential school survivors. 

The recommendations covered such issues as child welfare, health, education and language and culture.

One barrier facing the Calls to Action has been anti-Indigenous bigotry, a panelist said.

“There still is a large degree of racism throughout all of our structures,” said Chief Robert Joseph, the ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, a member of the Assembly of First Nations’ elders council and a hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation in British Columbia.

Joseph, who spent 11 years in a residential school, said people need to get to know one another and become “more embracing of each other,” while finding “our common humanity.” 

The cross-generational legacy of this country’s residential school system harmed Joseph to the degree that when he finally left school, he said, “I was completely broken.”

Panel member Kimberly Murray, a lawyer and member of the Kahnesatake Mohawk Nation in Quebec and the former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is currently leading a group managing an investigation into deaths at the former Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford, Ont.

She said politics can interfere with progress needed to be made on the commission’s recommendations.

“What inevitably happens is ... the politicians rush to get something done before election time,” said Murray, “and don’t want to take the time to do the proper consultation with community members, with (residential school) survivors about how to properly implement the Calls to Action.”

Panelists at the Dalhousie event, which was streamed online, said improvements in Canada’s education system, regarding curriculum and students’ knowledge of Indigenous history and culture, have happened since the commission’s report was filed.

As well, Canadian municipal governments have developed better and close relationships with their local Indigenous communities, the Dalhousie forum heard.

Panel member Naiomi Metallic, a Halifax lawyer and Dalhousie law professor originally from the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation in Quebec’s Gaspé region, said she’s seen progress, too, on the child welfare front.

“Canada has acted on that,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

One thing that needs to be committed, Metallic said during Dal’s webinar, is government accountability “in the fiscal area.”

She said “a little pot of money” has been used “for the easiest thing that (politicians) can think of.”

Meanwhile, Metallic said, “years and years of systemic underfunding in housing and social assistance” and other services have gone by. “That really has to be looked at.”

The commission released its final report in 2015. Established in 2008, the commission was created as part of a class-action settlement reached between Canada’s residential school survivors and the federal government and churches.

Thousands of children died at residential schools, although it’s unknown exactly how many students didn’t survive the system because burial record-keeping was poor.

There has been public criticism about the pace of progress, regarding promptly attending to the commission’s Calls to Action.

Last December, the Trudeau government said 76 of the report’s recommendations were the sole or shared responsibility of Ottawa, and 80 per cent of them were completed or well underway, CBC News reported.

The remains of hundreds of Indigenous children in unmarked graves were discovered months ago at former residential school sites in the West. They were students in a forced assimilation program, funded by the federal government and operated by churches, that lasted more than 100 years.

Earlier this year, the government said it will distribute $27 million to help Indigenous communities with their searches for the remains of youngsters buried on the grounds of former residential schools.

Nova Scotia researchers looking for unmarked graves of children who died while attending the former Shubenacadie residential school didn’t find any. Evidence of unmarked graves had been detected, but the graves predated the founding of the school in 1930.

Dalhousie’s talk was the first in a series of public events under the Implementing Indigenous Reconciliation speaker series put on by the university’s MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance. The next discussion is scheduled for Oct. 20.

Survivors and others affected by residential schools can call a toll-free, crisis phone line at 1-866-925-4419.

Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth


About the Author: Michael Lightstone

During a general-news career lasting close to 30 years, Michael LIghtstone has covered such things as politics, health matters, courts, labour issues and jazz concerts
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