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TRC offers Canada a second chance

TRC Commissioners with Phil Fontaine
Author: 
By Shari Narine Windspeaker Contributor OTTAWA
Volume: 
33
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2015

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has slammed the federal government for not implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. On May 6, the Conservatives voted down a bill that would ensure that the laws of Canada were in accordance with the declaration.

“The Canadian government’s rejection of the
implementation work with respect to the declaration sends an unfortunate message to Aboriginal people in Canada at a very sensitive time as well as to all Canadians and to the world,” said TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair.

The TRC has directed the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt the declaration as the framework in moving forward with reconciliation.

It has also recommended that the churches, who are party to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, formally adopt and comply with the declaration.

These were some of the 94 recommendations put forward by the TRC on June 2 when it delivered a nearly 400-page summary of its final report.

“Our 94 recommendations endeavour to confront the complexities associated with reconciliation,” said Sinclair.

The recommendations are all-encompassing, making it clear that the legacy of residential schools has impacted every aspect of Aboriginal life. There were seven generations of Aboriginal children, or 150,000 students, that attended residential schools.

The federal government and churches began operating the schools in the 1870s, with the last one closing in 1996.  If
the schools had operated for 20 or 30 years, said Sinclair, the devastation would not have been so far-reaching. But the depth of loss over the generations made it impossible for communities to reach out to their children and help them heal.

“We’re calling on you to open up your mind, to be willing to learn these stories, to be willing to accept that these things
happened,” said Commissioner Chief Wilton Littlechild.

“Our recommendations should not be seen as an itemization of the national penance, but as an opportunity to embrace a second chance at establishing a relationship of equals, which was intended at the beginning and should have been continued throughout,” said Sinclair.

The TRC has also recommended that the federal government work with Aboriginal peoples to develop a Royal Proclamation and Covenant of Reconciliation. This proclamation, said Sinclair, would build on the proclamation of 1763, which promoted a nation-to-nation relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples, and which successive governments have
ignored.

The creation of a National Council for Reconciliation has also been recommended. The NCR would be an independent,
oversight body that would monitor and report annually to the public and Parliament “to ensure that government accountability for reconciling the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown is maintained in the coming years.”

The TRC has called for a statutory holiday marking a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as well as a Residential
Schools National Monument, to be installed in a highly visible, publicly accessible space in Ottawa. It calls for similar monuments to be installed in provincial and territorial capitals.

The TRC also wants the Pope to issue an apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. On June 11, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with Pope Francis. A news release issued by Harper’s office stated, “Harper also drew attention to the letter sent by Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, to the Holy See regarding the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

With no indication that Harper specifically spoke about the apology, Bellegarde said in a statement, “It is deeply disappointing to learn that the Prime Minister met with Pope Francis today and did not ask the Pope to come to Canada to formally apologize to survivors for the role of the Catholic Church in the residential schools.”

The TRC also calls for a national inquiry into murdered and missing women and girls

Other areas the recommendations covered include child welfare; education; language and culture; health; equity in the legal system; professional development and training for public servants; community-based youth programs; national review of museums and archives; equitable access to jobs, training and educational opportunities in the corporate sector; more Aboriginal-inclusion in media and media-related schools; support for Aboriginal peoples in sports; and treaty information for all immigrants to Canada.

In response to the recommendations, Anglican Archbishop and Primate Fred Hiltz, who also represented the United and
Presbyterian churches and the Catholic Entities, said the TRC’s recommendations were both acknowledged and accepted.

“We will continue to share in the work of healing and reconciliation respectfully following the lead of Indigenous
communities and leaders and to offer leadership among non-Indigenous Canadians where and how that is appropriate,” said Hiltz.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Minister Bernard Valcourt, who was present when the summary was presented, said, “Since the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada has worked to fulfill its response and obligations under the settlement agreement and will continue to do so.”

But that hasn’t been the case, which has been demonstrated by repeated court action by the TRC to have the federal government release relevant documentation, as directed by the IRSSA.

TRC Commissioner Dr. Marie Wilson said that the 2008 apology, although delivered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was an all-party undertaking.

“There hasn’t been enough action by our country. That doesn’t belong to any one party,” she said, pointing out that statistics presented in the TRC’s summary indicate that life for Aboriginal people has not improved over the course of the commission.

The summary was a topic of discussion in the House of Commons the day it was released.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau committed his party to implementing the recommendations and challenged the Conservative government to do the same.

“(The TRC) has issued a large number of recommendations. We are still awaiting the full report. The government will examine all of these and, obviously, read them before deciding what the appropriate next steps are,” said Prime
Minister Stephen Harper.

The full report is to be delivered by the end of the year.

 

Photo: About to deliver their findings of six years of work are (from left) Truth and Reconciliation Commission members Chair Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild, with Phil
Fontaine, who spoke for the residential school survivors.

 

Photo Gallery: trc-ottawa-events-june3

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