Solaye Snider, Blog Writer

Released last week, the summary report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada gives the nation “a rare second chance to seize a lost opportunity for reconciliation.” The TRC’s report confirmed that Canada’s past policies towards Aboriginal people, especially the Residential Schools Program, amounted to “cultural genocide” in that the policies aimed to destroy Aboriginal people as distinct peoples through a program of forcible assimilation.

The report is the culmination of six years of research with over 6750 residential school survivors and their families, sparked by the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and conducted with the mandate of revealing the truth about the history and legacy of harms perpetrated against Aboriginal peoples.  The extended version, to be released later this year, will be translated into six Aboriginal languages.

Acts of cultural genocide included seizing aboriginal land, forcibly moving populations and restricting their movement, banning Aboriginal languages and spiritual practices, and separating children from their parents by forcing them to attend notorious residential schools. The report emphasizes the strength of Aboriginal peoples who maintained their unique identities in spite of the hardships that have been faced for generations.

Reconciliation is defined by the TRC as the “ongoing process of establishing and maintaining a mutually dependent relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.” It is the first suggested step towards opening up new conversations and processes of healing through education and action. To support this, the TRC makes ninety-four recommendations addressing all three levels of government that would entail “a complete rebuild” of the Canadian government’s relationship with Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. Recommendations span areas of child welfare, health, education, justice, language, funding, and commemoration, and include the advised establishment of a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and of strategies to eradicate the gaps in education and employment that still exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

In 1996, similar recommendations for reconciliation were made by the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal peoples but were largely ignored by the government. Canada also refused to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007. The official apology to residential school survivors in 2008 has so far not been followed up by any concrete actions, and the Conservative government has not yet made any commitment to the recommendations of the TRC. In the meantime, NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau have already challenged Harpers’s government by speaking out in support of the TRC’s guidelines for action.

Political differences aside, the authors of the report are quick to mention that the recommendations and calls to action are aimed equally at the general public, who carry the same multi generational burden to work towards a “national shift in consciousness.” In this way, the general public may drive reconciliation quicker than the slow-to-respond government.

In the words of the TRC report:

“The Survivors acted with courage and determination. We should do no less. It is time to commit to a process of reconciliation. By establishing a new and respectful relationship, we restore what must be restored, repair what must be repaired, and return what must be returned.”

To read the full summary of the TRC report click here.

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