February 27, 2020

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We are far from a reconciled society

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/6/2016 (1366 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A year ago, thousands of people jammed into a hotel ballroom in Ottawa for the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s summary report and calls to action. In a room filled beyond capacity, and with tens of thousands tuning into the webcast, the three commissioners unveiled 94 wide-reaching and comprehensive calls to action intended to shift the nation onto a new path. This path, as they saw it, would be one of mutual respect and understanding.

They were standing in a room alongside colleagues who had shared in the work and surrounded by teary-eyed survivors and families that had waited so long for recognition. The event felt like a family reunion but June 2, 2015, was one of the most important days in recent Canadian history.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair (centre) and fellow commissioners Marie Wilson (right) and Wilton Littlechild discuss the commission's report on Canada's residential school system at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on June 2, 2015.</p>


Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair (centre) and fellow commissioners Marie Wilson (right) and Wilton Littlechild discuss the commission's report on Canada's residential school system at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on June 2, 2015.

And yet, as much as the event was one of hope and jubilation, it also revealed deeper tensions shaping the national journey of reconciliation. This was, after all, the event where then-aboriginal affairs minister Bernard Valcourt refused to stand and applaud with the rest of the room when TRC commissioner Murray Sinclair (now a senator) called for the immediate creation of an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

Looking back at the whirlwind of a year that has passed, I think it’s quite remarkable what this country has achieved in such a short period.

The new Trudeau government has announced its intention to adopt all 94 calls to action. Further, the prime minister has laid out, in the mandate letter for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, a series of critical steps towards reconciliation. The country recently took the historic step of fully adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and, just this past week, Ontario officially responded to the TRC’s calls and issued a formal apology. These bold steps are mirrored in Manitoba with the passage of the Path to Reconciliation Act, which binds the government to action on implementing relevant calls and reporting on the success of it to the legislature.

Businesses, cultural institutions, educators, individual citizens, and a host of other groups are also rallying to the call. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star has performed to sold-out shows across the country, while ever-growing events such as the Bell Tower gatherings in the North End are celebrations of reconciliation in action. Our own journey at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has also evolved during this time, officially opening its doors in November.

These are exciting times and the future is bright… right?

I don’t want to pour water on the fire that has been lit across the country. But it is critical to understand a big piece of the work toward reconciliation will be closing the shocking and deplorable gaps in the quality of life that exist between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

Indigenous languages are endangered. Indigenous children remain far over-represented in the child-welfare system and indigenous people remain the fastest-growing segment of the prison population. Indigenous people are far more likely to suffer from a variety of diseases and die young; the galling rates of suicide are a national source of shame. These are complex issues and hard signs that we are far from living in a reconciled society.

To truly know whether these gaps are closing, careful monitoring, regular reports, and diligent scrutiny are required. Without transparent accounting on this, we, as a country, are at risk of feeling like we are doing the right thing but accomplishing little in the way of making the large-scale systemic change that is necessary.

In that accounting, indigenous peoples must have a say in what is being measured and what the markers of success look like. Done incorrectly, measurement and monitoring based on underlying assumptions of assimilation may actually perpetuate an unreconciled state by leading us down a path of misguided intentions.

From where I sit, I see there have been some amazing strides made. Levels of understanding and empathy are increasing.

But reconciliation must be more than platitudes and announcements.

Canada needs a strong body to track progress on the elements that can signal whether life for indigenous people is getting better. That, too, was among the calls to action. It’s time to get started.

Ry Moran was director of statement gathering for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is now the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.


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