by Frank LaRue
“Canada is a test case for a grand notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony. But there cannot be peace or harmony unless there is justice.” ~ Georges Easmus
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a 382 page report in June that referred to the Residential schools as cultural genocide. The report also made 94 recommendations on health, education, child welfare, language and culture, business community, and many other issues. A national council for reconciliation (with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal board members) would oversee the “post apology progress on reconciliation” and a statutory holiday, The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, to honour the survivors.
The report was specific on what was pivotal if government was going to respond to the recommendations: “An awareness of the past, acknowledgment of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.” The reaction among Native leaders was optimistic and shared by Aboriginal people across Canada.
Former Prime Minister Joe Clark was called upon as honorary witness. He said, “I’m in a situation like so many now in Canada that know there was a wrong. We have not known until this Truth and Reconciliation Commission began the nature of that wrong, the deep, deep wounds it left, and the need that continues to try to address those problems.”
Mr. Clark also threw in a few words of wisdom on the implementation of the recommendations. “Unless we all carry it forward, it will not happen,” Clark told the CBC. “Goodwill alone isn’t enough unless progress becomes a very real priority for all Canadians. I’m going to make a point that I don’t want too much read into, but there is a difference between a promise and a priority.”
AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde said, “I believe reconciliation is about closing the gap, the gap in understanding First Nations and Canadians and the gap in the quality of life between us. We must restore the original relationship of respect, partnership, and sharing wealth of this land. Governments must respect our right to determine what happens in our traditional territories and our responsibility to care for the lands and waters.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not responded as to what recommendations they intend to implement. Harper’s silence may speak louder than any press release. He has yet to launch an inquiry on missing Aboriginal women, but since this is an election year, we can expect some kind of implementation though it is doubtful all 94 recommendations will be sanctioned. Education cuts, lack of decent housing and water are not new problems, and they have yet to be addressed.
John Ralston Saul in an article in the Globe and Mail is not so optimistic. The Harper government doesn’t have a history of doing the right thing, as Saul points out. “Over $100 million of your money is spent every year to fund federal lawyers to fight against indigenous people being treated with respect. At the same time, $1 billion allocated by Parliament for spending on Aboriginal social programs was simply withheld over the past five years. The combination of these two sums tells you what our policy is.” There are several months before the election. It will be interesting to see how Harper handles the recommendations and if they become a crucial election issue.