- Category: news
- Created: Wednesday, 11 September 2013 13:24
- Published: Wednesday, 11 September 2013 13:24
- Written by Administrator 3
- Hits: 1060
What needs to take place is deep dialogue in communities across Canada
VICTORIA, BC, Sep 10, 2013/ Troy Media/ – The racial tension in post-Apartheid South Africa was palpable. Living in South Africa during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission over 15 years ago, I saw value for a similar process to take place in my native Canada.
After the negotiated settlement of the Struggle against Apartheid, South Africa’s legislated racial segregation policy, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was initiated to bear witness to human rights violations under Apartheid. South Africa was the first country to embark on this disclosure process under the inspired leadership of Nelson Mandela.
What I recall most vividly from South Africa’s TRC was Mandela’s vision to maintain peace in South Africa by acknowledging “We all have blood on our hands”. The TRC at the very least provided a catharsis and dialogue to build a positive future.
Canada is currently engaged in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the mandate to address Indian Residential Schools (IRS).
In 1997, Phil Fontaine was elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and began negotiations with the federal government and the churches for a settlement for IRS survivors. This eventually led to the IRS Settlement Agreement, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.
These actions by indigenous leaders in Canada also lead to the memorable apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday June 11, 2008: “A cornerstone of the Settlement Agreement is the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This Commission presents a unique opportunity to educate all Canadians on the Indian Residential Schools system. It will be a positive step in forging a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward together with a renewed understanding that strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us.”
The most recent news on the TRC has been the Supreme Court decision in favour of the TRC resolving that the Government of Canada must hand over archived documents which recently revealed medical and nutritional experiments having taken place on Aboriginal children.
One question remains, however: how will the TRC directly impact struggling Aboriginal communities in Canada? Aboriginal child poverty rates are a staggering 50 per cent, over 60 per cent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, according to a recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Save the Children Canada. This level of poverty is far greater than with any other specific demographic in Canada, bringing into question the usefulness of the Indian Act. Has the Indian Act essentially constructed the current state of poverty within indigenous communities across Canada? The Indian Residential Schools were not the only Indian Act policy to impact the traditional way of life.
Some indigenous Canadians wonder if the TRC will provide true reconciliation. According to Dawn Smith, a Nuu-chah-nulth Doctoral student at UBC and former Chief Councillor of her home community Ehattesaht. “In Canada, colonization continues and under these circumstances real or true reconciliation is almost impossible given most people remain unaware of colonization.”
Reconciliation means that we all must bear witness to what lurks in the dark shadows of Canada’s past. It was Indian Act policy to forcibly take Aboriginal children from their communities, to ban spiritual and cultural ceremony, and to imprison those who practiced their beliefs. Reconciliation means creating a genuine understanding among all Canadians of the profound impacts colonization has had on indigenous Canadians, and to redefine this relationship, moving forward to create a more equitable and positive outlook for all Canadians.
On September 22, 2013 in Vancouver, Reconciliation Canada is sponsoring a Walk for Reconciliation as a culmination of a Reconciliation Week. The vision of Reconciliation Canada is “To promote reconciliation by engaging Canadians in dialogue that revitalizes the relationships between Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians in order to build resilience.”
What is needed for true reconciliation to take place is deep dialogue in communities across Canada. There lies the opportunity: for each of us as Canadians to reconcile how we can contribute to a positive outlook for indigenous Canadians.
Lee White is a Senior Advisor with GMG Consulting (Good Medicine Group), which works with Aboriginal communities and organizations, as well as government and resource-based industries, to support Aboriginal self-determination.