The commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which probed Canada’s residential school legacy, are calling on governments and all Canadians to renew their commitments toward healing with Indigenous peoples five years after the release of their report.
Senator Murray Sinclair, Chief Wilton Littlechild and Marie Wilson said in a joint statement that the foundations of reconciliation have yet to be implemented despite government commitments, and they noted there is danger in some jurisdictions of losing gains that have been made.
Canadians from all walks of life embraced the TRC’s 94 calls to action, designed to redress the legacy of the schools and advance the process of reconciliation in the country, with a sense of urgency, purpose and unity, the commissioners said.
But the commissioners said they are concerned about the slow and uneven pace of implementation.
“We have reconvened for the first time in five years because we feel strongly that this sense of urgency, purpose and unity must be renewed,” they said in the statement.
Mr. Littlechild, who is a former member of Parliament, pointed to the example of Alberta looking to remove the residential school story from the elementary curriculum as an example of a step back.
In October, a leaked document indicated that an advisory panel appointed by the United Conservative Party government had presented the education minister with a package of recommendations for the kindergarten-to-Grade 4 social studies curriculum. The document argued that information about residential schools should not be taught to children in Grade 3.
“That was one of our calls to action,” Mr. Littlechild said. “That’s a very giant step backward if you ask me.”
In December, 2015, the TRC released its report after six years of investigating the history of residential schools that operated in Canada for more than 150 years.
More than 150,000 Indigenous children attended the schools and many never returned. The commission documented how the institutions were used as a tool of assimilation by the Canadian state and churches and that thousands suffered physical and sexual abuse.
In their joint statement, the commissioners also said truth, reconciliation and healing are matters of urgency.
“If anything, that urgency is greater and more apparent today than ever,” they said, noting that many of the survivors have died since the TRC’s final report was issued five years ago.
“If you think of them as we do, and as we have, as our country’s resident experts, we are losing the benefit of that expertise,” Ms. Wilson said.
“We are also losing our ability as a country to respond to all that they have done for our country with dignity, so that they can see the impact, the practical impact of their courage and all that they offered to us in sharing their childhood experiences.”
Ms. Wilson also pointed to pressing matters that remain, including suicide, food insecurity and the need to address systemic racism that led, for example, to the death of Joyce Echaquan.
Ms. Echaquan was a 37-year-old mother of seven from the Atikamekw Nation of Manawan who died in a Quebec hospital in September after she live-streamed her cries for help and the abuse she experienced in her final moments.
“She is one example,” Ms. Wilson said. “She is absolutely not the only example. We cannot afford to backslide, much less not move forward.”
Mr. Sinclair, who chaired the TRC, said all Canadians must recognize that reconciliation includes them.
“This is not just an Indigenous story. This is about us all as Canadians. This is about how we have been educated. This is about how our ancestors acted and interacted and therefore, we need to figure out how our participation will move this conversation forward.”
The Globe and Mail, December 15, 2020