Canada has a long history of colonialism in relation to Aboriginal peoples. That history and its policies of cultural genocide and assimilation have left deep scars on the lives of many Aboriginal people, on Aboriginal communities, as well as on Canadian society, and have deeply damaged the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. It took a long time for that damage to have been done and for the relationship we see to have been created, and it will take us a long time to fix it. But the process has already begun.
An important process of healing and reconciling that relationship began in the 1980s with church apologies for their treatment of Aboriginal peoples and disrespect of their cultures. It continued with the findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, along with court recognition of the validity of the Survivors’ stories. It culminated in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the prime minister of Canada’s apology in Parliament in June 2008, along with the apologies of all other parliamentary leaders. That process of healing and reconciliation must continue. The ultimate objective must be to transform our country and restore mutual respect between peoples and nations.
Reconciliation is in the best interests of all of Canada. It is necessary not only to resolve the ongoing conflicts between Aboriginal peoples and institutions of the country, but also in order for Canada to remove a stain from its past and be able to maintain its claim to be a leader in the protection of human rights among the nations of the world. Canada’s historical development, as well as the view held strongly by some that the history of that development is accurate and beneficent, raises significant barriers to reconciliation in the twenty-first century.
No Canadian can take pride in this country’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples, and, for that reason, all Canadians have a critical role to play in advancing reconciliation in ways that honour and revitalize the nation-to-nation Treaty relationship.
At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Traditional Knowledge Keepers Forum held in June 2014, Chief Ian Campbell said, “Our history is your history, as Canada … until Canada accepts that … this society will never flourish to its full potential.”1
The history and destructive legacy of the residential school system is a powerful reminder that Canada disregarded its own historical roots. Canada’s determination to assimilate Aboriginal peoples, in spite of the early relationship established at first contact and formalized and maintained in Treaties, attests to that fact. As Gerry St. Germain (Métis), then a Canadian senator, said,
There can be no doubt that the founders of Canada somehow lost their moral compass in their relations with the people who occupied and possessed the land.… While we cannot change history, we can learn from it and we can use it to shape our common future.… This effort is crucial in realizing the vision of creating a compassionate and humanitarian society, the society that our ancestors, the Aboriginal, the French and the English peoples, envisioned so many years ago—our home, Canada.2
Aboriginal peoples have always remembered the original relationship they had with early Canadians. That relationship of mutual support, respect, and assistance was confirmed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaties with the Crown that were negotiated in good faith by their leaders. That memory, confirmed by historical analysis and passed down through Indigenous oral histories, has sustained Aboriginal peoples in their long political struggle to live with dignity as self-determining peoples with their own cultures, laws, and connections to the land.
The destructive impacts of residential schools, the Indian Act, and the Crown’s failure to keep its Treaty promises have damaged the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. The most significant damage is to the trust that has been broken between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples. That broken trust must be repaired. The vision that led to that breach in trust must be replaced with a new vision for Canada; one that fully embraces Aboriginal peoples’ right to self-determination within, and in partnership with, a viable Canadian sovereignty. If Canadians fail to find that vision, then Canada will not resolve long-standing conflicts between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples over Treaty and Aboriginal rights, lands, and resources, or the education, health, and well-being of Aboriginal peoples. Reconciliation will not be achieved, and neither will the hope for reconciliation be sustainable over time. It would not be inconceivable that the unrest we see today among young Aboriginal people could grow to become a challenge to the country’s own sense of well-being and its very security.
Reconciliation must become a way of life. It will take many years to repair damaged trust and relationships in Aboriginal communities and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Reconciliation not only requires apologies, reparations, the relearning of Canada’s national history, and public commemoration, but also needs real social, political, and economic change. Ongoing public education and dialogue are essential to reconciliation. Governments, churches, educational institutions, and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking action on reconciliation in concrete ways, working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples. Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.
The Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth of our country have told the Commission that they want to know the truth about the history and legacy of residential schools. They want to understand their responsibilities as parties to the same Treaties—in other words, as Treaty people. They want to learn about the rich contributions that Aboriginal peoples have made to this country. They understand that reconciliation involves a conversation not only about residential schools, but also about all other aspects of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
As Commissioners, we believe that reconciliation is about respect. That includes both self-respect for Aboriginal people and mutual respect among all Canadians. All young people need to know who they are and from where they come. Aboriginal children and youth, searching for their own identities and places of belonging, need to know and take pride in their Indigenous roots. They need to know the answers to some very basic questions. Who are my people? What is our history? How are we unique? Where do I belong? Where is my homeland? What is my language and how does it connect me to my nation’s spiritual beliefs, cultural practices, and ways of being in the world? They also need to know why things are the way they are today. That requires an understanding of the history of colonization, including the residential school system and how it has affected their families, communities, their people, and themselves.
Of equal importance, non-Aboriginal children and youth need to comprehend how their own identities and family histories have been shaped by a version of Canadian history that has marginalized Aboriginal peoples’ history and experience. They need to know how notions of European superiority and Aboriginal inferiority have tainted mainstream society’s ideas about, and attitudes towards, Aboriginal peoples in ways that have been profoundly disrespectful and damaging. They too need to understand Canada’s history as a settler society and how assimilation policies have affected Aboriginal peoples. This knowledge and understanding will lay the groundwork for establishing mutually respectful relationships.
In the summer of 1990, at Oka, Québec, the Mohawks of Kanesatake, the government of Québec, the Québec provincial police, and the Canadian military became embroiled in a violent confrontation over the town’s plan to develop a golf course on Mohawk burial grounds located in a forested area known as “The Pines.” The Mohawks’ claim to that land and demands for the recognition of their traditional territory had gone unheeded for years by the federal government. The resulting confrontation, according to historian J. R. Miller, was “proof of Canada’s failed Indian [land] claims policy.”3 What had begun as a peaceful act of resistance by Mohawk people defending their lands took a violent turn.4 The “Oka crisis,” as it became widely known in the media, led to a seventy-eight-day standoff and involved armed resistance led by militarily trained Mohawk warriors.5 It was an event that shook Canada’s complacency about Aboriginal demands to the core. Shortly after an end to the siege had been negotiated, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney wrote:
The summer’s events must not be allowed to over-shadow the commitment that my government has made to addressing the concerns of aboriginal people.… These grievances raise issues that deeply affect all Canadians and therefore must be resolved by all Canadians working together.… The government’s agenda responds to the demands of aboriginal peoples and has four parts: resolving land claims; improving the economic and social conditions on reserves; defining a new relationship between aboriginal peoples and governments; and addressing the concerns of Canada’s aboriginal peoples in contemporary Canadian life. Consultation with aboriginal peoples and respect for the fiduciary responsibilities of the Crown are integral parts of the process. The federal government is determined to create a new relationship among aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians based on dignity, trust and respect.6
The Government of Canada subsequently created a Royal Commission to look into the state of affairs of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The Royal Commission provided a glimpse into just how bad things had become.
In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) put forward a bold and comprehensive vision of reconciliation. The RCAP report observed that if Canada was to thrive in the future, the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown must be transformed. The report concluded that the policy of assimilation was a complete failure and that Canada must look to the historical Treaty relationship to establish a new relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, based on the principles of mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing, and mutual responsibility.7
The Royal Commission emphasized that Aboriginal peoples’ right to self-determination is essential to a robust upholding of Canada’s constitutional obligations to Aboriginal peoples and compliance with international human rights law. In other words, the RCAP report saw reconciliation as placing a heavy onus on the Government of Canada to change its conduct and to see the validity of the Aboriginal perspective of how the relationship should be in the future.
In the years following the release of the RCAP report, developing a national vision of reconciliation has proved to be challenging. In principle, Aboriginal peoples, governments, and the courts agree that reconciliation is needed. In practice, it has been difficult to create the conditions for reconciliation to flourish.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, including the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, was an attempt to resolve the thousands of lawsuits brought against the government for cases of historical abuse. Its implementation has also been challenging. Canada and the churches have made apologies to Survivors, their families, and communities. Yet, Canadian government actions continue to be unilateral and divisive, and Aboriginal peoples continue to resist such actions. Negotiations on Treaties and land-claims agreements continue with a view to reconciling Aboriginal title and rights with Crown sovereignty. However, many cases remain unresolved. The courts have produced a body of law on reconciliation in relation to Aboriginal rights, which has established some parameters for discussion and negotiations, but there remains no ongoing national process or entity to guide that discussion. What is clear to this Commission is that Aboriginal peoples and the Crown have very different and conflicting views on what reconciliation is and how it is best achieved. The Government of Canada appears to believe that reconciliation entails Aboriginal peoples’ acceptance of the reality and validity of Crown sovereignty and parliamentary supremacy, in order to allow the government to get on with business. Aboriginal people, on the other hand, see reconciliation as an opportunity to affirm their own sovereignty and return to the ‘partnership’ ambitions they held after Confederation.
Aboriginal peoples in Canada were not alone in the world when it came to being treated harshly by colonial authorities and settler governments. Historical abuses of Aboriginal peoples and the taking of Indigenous lands and resources throughout the world have been the subject of United Nations’ attention for many years. On September 13, 2007, after almost twenty-five years of debate and study, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As a declaration, it calls upon member states to adopt and maintain its provisions as a set of “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.”8
The Commission concurs with the view of S. James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who observed,
It is perhaps best to understand the Declaration and the right of self-determination it affirms as instruments of reconciliation. Properly understood, self-determination is an animating force for efforts toward reconciliation— or, perhaps, more accurately, conciliation—with peoples that have suffered oppression at the hands of others. Self-determination requires confronting and reversing the legacies of empire, discrimination, and cultural suffocation. It does not do so to condone vengefulness or spite for past evils, or to foster divisiveness but rather to build a social and political order based on relations of mutual understanding and respect. That is what the right of self-determination of indigenous peoples, and all other peoples, is about.9
Canada, as a member of the United Nations, initially refused to adopt the Declaration. It joined the United States, Australia, and New Zealand in doing so. It is not coincidence that all these nations have a common history as part of the British Empire. The historical treatment of Aboriginal peoples in these other countries has strong parallels to what happened to Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Specifically, Canada objected to the Declaration’s
provisions dealing with lands, territories and resources; free, prior and informed consent when used as a veto; self-government without recognition of the importance of negotiations; intellectual property; military issues; and the need to achieve an appropriate balance between the rights and obligations of Indigenous peoples, member States and third parties.10
Although these four countries eventually endorsed the Declaration, they have all done so conditionally. In 2010, Canada endorsed the Declaration as a “non-legally binding aspirational document.”11 Despite this endorsement, we believe that the provisions and the vision of the Declaration do not currently enjoy government acceptance. However, because Canada has accepted the Declaration, we hold the federal government to its word that it will genuinely aspire to achieve its provisions.
In 2011, Canadian churches and social justice advocacy groups who had campaigned for Canada’s adoption of the Declaration urged the federal government to implement it. However, Canada’s interpretation of the Declaration remained unchanged. On September 22, 2014, at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) in New York, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an action-oriented “Outcome Document” to guide the implementation of the Declaration. Member states from around the world committed, among other things, to the following:
Taking, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, appropriate measures at the national level, including legislative, policy, and administrative measures, to achieve the ends of the Declaration, and to promote awareness of it among all sectors of society, including members of legislatures, the judiciary and the civil service.… [para. 7] We commit ourselves to cooperating with indigenous peoples, through their own representative institutions, to develop and implement national action plans, strategies or other measures, where relevant, to achieve the ends of the Declaration [para. 8] … [and also] encourage the private sector, civil society and academic institutions to take an active role in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. [para. 30]12
The “Outcome Document” represented an important step forward with regard to implementing the Declaration in practical terms. The development of national action plans, strategies, and other concrete measures will provide the necessary structural and institutional frameworks for ensuring that Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination is realized across the globe.
Canada issued a formal statement at the WCIP, objecting to certain paragraphs of the document related to the principle of obtaining the “free, prior and informed consent” (fpic) of Indigenous peoples when states are making decisions that will affect their rights or interests, including economic development on their lands. Canada said,
Free, prior and informed consent, as it is considered in paragraphs 3 and 20 of the WCIP Outcome Document, could be interpreted as providing a veto to Aboriginal groups and in that regard, cannot be reconciled with Canadian law, as it exists.… Canada cannot support paragraph 4, in particular, given that Canadian law, recently reaffirmed in a Supreme Court of Canada decision, states the Crown may justify the infringement of an Aboriginal or Treaty right if it meets a stringent test to reconcile Aboriginal rights with a broader public interest.13
In a public statement, Indigenous leaders and their supporters said that Canada’s concerns were unfounded, noting that
the notion that the Declaration could be interpreted as conferring an absolute and unilateral veto power has been repeatedly raised by Canada as a justification for its continued opposition to the Declaration. This claim, however, has no basis either in the UN Declaration or in the wider body of international law. Like standards of accommodation and consent set out by the Supreme Court of Canada, fpic in international law is applied in proportion to the potential for harm to the rights of Indigenous peoples and to the strength of these rights. The word “veto” does not appear in the UN Declaration.… Canada keeps insisting that Indigenous peoples don’t have a say in development on their lands. This position is not consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, decisions by its own courts, or the goal of reconciliation.14
Reflecting on the importance of the Declaration to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada, Grand Chief Edward John, Hereditary Chief of the Tl’azt’en Nation in northern British Columbia, explained,
We have struggled for generations for recognition of our rights. We have fought for our survival, dignity and well-being, and the struggle continues. Canada’s denial of First Nations’ land rights falls well short of the minimum standards affirmed by the Declaration and demonstrates a clear failure by Canada to implement its human rights obligations. Prime Minister Harper’s apology for Canada’s role in the Indian Residential Schools acknowledged that the policy of assimilation was wrong and has no place in our country. Yet Canada’s policy of denying Aboriginal title and rights is premised on the same attitude of assimilation. It is time for this attitude and the policies that flow from it to be cast aside. The Declaration calls for the development of new relationships based on recognition and respect for the inherent human rights of Indigenous peoples.15
The TRC considers “reconciliation” to be an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships at all levels of Canadian society. The Commission therefore believes that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the appropriate framework for reconciliation in twenty-first-century Canada. Studying the Declaration with a view to identifying its impacts on current government laws, policy, and behaviour would enable Canada to develop a holistic vision of reconciliation that embraces all aspects of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, and to set the standard for international achievement in its circle of hesitating nations.
Aboriginal peoples’ right to self-determination must be integrated into Canada’s constitutional and legal framework and civic institutions, in a manner consistent with the principles, norms, and standards of the Declaration. Aboriginal peoples in Canada have Aboriginal and Treaty rights. They have the right to access and revitalize their own laws and governance systems within their own communities and in their dealings with governments. They have a right to protect and revitalize their cultures, languages, and ways of life. They have the right to reparations for historical harms.
In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Tsilhqot’in peoples have Aboriginal title to their lands in northern British Columbia, and “ownership rights similar to those associated with fee simple, including: the right to decide how the land will be used; the right of enjoyment and occupancy of the land; the right to possess the land; the right to the economic benefits of the land; and the right to pro-actively use and manage the land.”16 The court said, “Governments and individuals proposing to use or exploit land, whether before or after a declaration of Aboriginal title, can avoid a charge of infringement or failure to adequately consult by obtaining the consent of the interested Aboriginal group.”17
In the face of growing conflicts over lands, resources, and economic development, the scope of reconciliation must extend beyond residential schools to encompass all aspects of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations and connections to the land. Therefore, in our view, it is essential that all levels of government endorse and implement the Declaration. The Commission urges the federal government to reverse its position and fully endorse the “Outcome Document.” We believe that the federal government must develop a national action plan to implement the Declaration. This would be consistent with the direction provided by the Supreme Court of Canada. More importantly, it would be consistent with the achievement of reconciliation.
Calls to Action
43) We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation. 44) We call upon the Government of Canada to develop a national action plan, strat egies, and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Earlier in this report, we recalled how European states relied on the Doctrine of Discovery and the concept of terra nullius (lands belonging to no one) to justify empire building and the colonization of Aboriginal peoples and their lands in North America and across the globe. Far from being ancient history with no relevance for reconciliation today, the Doctrine of Discovery underlies the legal basis on which British Crown officials claimed sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and justified the extinguishment of their inherent rights to their territories, lands, and resources.
Speaking at the Manitoba National Event in 2010, former day school student, political leader, and educator Sol Sanderson explained the importance of making the connection between the policies and practices of imperialism and colonization and the need for transformative change in Canadian society.
What were the objectives of those empire policies? Assimilation, integration, civilization, Christianization and liquidation. Who did those policies target? They targeted the destruction of our Indigenous families worldwide. Why? Because that was the foundation of our governing systems. They were the foundations of our institutions, and of our societies of our nations. Now those policies still form the basis of Canadian law today, not just in the Indian Act [that] outlawed our traditions, our customs, our practices, our values, our language, our culture, our forms of government, our jurisdiction.… They say we have constitutionally protected rights in the form of inherent rights, Aboriginal rights and Treaty rights, but we find ourselves in courts daily defending those rights against the colonial laws of the provinces and the federal government. Now, we can’t allow that to continue.18
From 2010 to 2014, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues undertook a number of studies and reports on the Doctrine of Discovery. During this same time period, the Settlement Agreement churches also began to examine the Christian thinking that had justified taking Indigenous lands and removing children from their families and communities. Writing about the Roman Catholic foundations of Aboriginal land claims in Canada, historian Jennifer Reid explains why the Doctrine remains relevant today.
Most non-Aboriginal Canadians are aware of the fact that Indigenous peoples commonly regard land rights as culturally and religiously significant. Fewer non-natives, I suspect, would consider their own connection with property in the same light, and fewer still would regard the legal foundation of all land rights in Canada as conspicuously theological. In fact, however, it is. The relationship between law and land in Canada can be traced to a set of fifteenth-century theological assumptions that have found their way into Canadian law…. The Doctrine of Discovery was the legal means by which Europeans claimed rights of sovereignty, property, and trade in regions they allegedly discovered during the age of expansion. These claims were made without consultation or engagement of any sort with the resident populations in these territories—the people to whom, by any sensible account, the land actually belonged. The Doctrine of Discovery has been a critical component of historical relationships between Europeans, their descendants, and Indigenous peoples, and it underlies their legal relationships to this day, having smoothly and relatively uncritically transitioned from Roman Catholic to international law.19
In April 2010, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See (the UN representative from the Roman Catholic Vatican) issued a statement regarding the Doctrine of Discovery at the ninth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.20 The statement noted that earlier papal bulls regarding territorial expansion and the forced conversion of Indigenous peoples had subsequently been abrogated or annulled by the Roman Catholic Church.
Regarding the question of the doctrine of discovery and the role of the Papal Bull Inter Coetera, the Holy See notes that Inter Coetera, as a source of international law … was first of all abrogated by the Treaty of Tordesilles in 1494, and that Circumstances have changed so much that to attribute any juridical value to such a document seems completely out of place.… In addition, it was also abrogated by other Papal Bulls, for example, Sublimis Deus in 1537, which states, “Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property … should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.” This view was expanded upon and reinforced in Immensa Pastorum of [Pope] Benedict XIV of 20 December 1741 and a number of other Papal Encyclicals, statements and decrees. If any doubt remains, it is abrogated by Canon 6 of the Code of Canon Law of 1983 which abrogates in general all preceding penal and disciplinary laws.… Therefore, for International Law and for the Catholic Church Law, the Bull Inter Coetera is a historic remnant with no juridical, moral or doctrinal value.… The fact that juridical systems may employ the “Doctrine of Discovery” as a juridical precedent is now therefore a characteristic of the laws of those states and is independent of the fact that for the Church the document has had no value for centuries. The refutation of this doctrine is therefore now under the competence of national authorities, legislators, lawyers and legal historians.21
For many, that Catholic statement was inadequate. The doctrine’s influence in Western law and its destructive consequences for Indigenous peoples have been well documented by scholars and other experts.22
In 2014, the North American representative to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Grand Chief Edward John, tabled the “Study on the Impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery on Indigenous Peoples, Including Mechanisms, Processes, and Instruments of Redress.” The study concluded:
With regard to land dispossessions, forced conversions of non-Christians, the deprivation of liberty and the enslavement of indigenous peoples, the Holy See reported that an “abrogation process took place over the centuries” to invalidate such nefarious actions. Such papal renunciations do not go far enough. There is a pressing need to decolonize from the debilitating impacts and ongoing legacy of denial by states of indigenous peoples’ inherent sovereignty, laws, and title to the lands, territories, and resources. At the same time, there is a growing movement among faith-based bodies to repudiate the doctrine of discovery.23
In 2010, the Anglican Church of Canada was the first of the Settlement Agreement churches in Canada to reject the Doctrine of Discovery and to ”review the Church’s policies and programs with a view to exposing the historical reality and impact of the Doctrine of Discovery and eliminating its presence in its contemporary policies, program, and structures.”24 In 2013, the Anglican Church established a Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation, and Justice, which had three goals:
1) to examine the Anglican Church of Canada’s policies and practices and revise them as necessary to be consistent with its repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery;
2) to look into the question of “what is reconciliation”; and
3) to review the church’s commitment to addressing long-standing injustices borne by Indigenous peoples in Canada.
The Commission on Discovery will table a final report to the Anglican General Synod in 2016.25
In February 2012, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) also repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. The WCC represents over 500 million Christians, in more than 110 countries, in 345 member churches, including three of the Settlement Agreement churches.26 The WCC statement denounced the Doctrine of Discovery and urged governments to “dismantle the legal structures and policies based on the Doctrine of Discovery … [and to] ensure that they conform to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” The statement expressed solidarity with Indigenous peoples and affirmed their rights of self-determination and self-governance. The WCC also asked its member churches to support Indigenous self-determination in spiritual matters and education of all members of their churches.27
The United Church of Canada responded to this call. At its meeting in March 2012, the Executive of the General Council of the United Church “agreed unanimously to disown the Doctrine of Discovery, a historical concept which has been used to rationalize the enslavement and colonization of Indigenous peoples around the world.”28
At the eleventh session of the UN Permanent Forum in May 2012, kairos, an interchurch social justice advocacy organization, made a joint statement with the Assembly of First Nations, Chiefs of Ontario, Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), Amnesty International, and the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers) on the Doctrine of Discovery. The statement said that “while churches have begun to repudiate this racist doctrine, States around the world have not.” It recommended that states, in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, undertake legal and policy reform to remove “any remnants of doctrines of superiority, including ‘discovery,’ as a basis for the assumed sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources.”29
In his report to the UN Permanent Forum, Grand Chief Edward John focused on how Canadian courts have dealt with sovereignty issues.
The highest court of Canada has recognized the need for reconciliation of “pre existing aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty.” The Supreme Court has taken judicial notice of “such matters as colonialism, displacement and residential schools,” which demonstrate how “assumed” sovereign powers were abused throughout history. The root cause of such abuse leads back to the Doctrine of Discovery and other related fictitious constructs which must therefore be addressed.30
At the thirteenth session of the UN Permanent Forum in May 2014, Haudenosaunee Faithkeeper Oren Lyons spoke about the principles of good governance as they relate to the United Nations Declaration. He said,
We recognize the Doctrine of Discovery and its long-term effects on our peoples led to the atrocities we faced in residential and boarding schools, both in Canada and the u.s.… the Doctrine of Discovery has been invoked as a justification for the ongoing exploitation of our lands, territories, and resources and directly violates Article 7 paragraph 2 of the undrip [the Declaration].31
The Doctrine of Discovery and the related concept of terra nullius underpin the requirement for Aboriginal peoples to prove their pre-existing occupation of the land in court cases or to have their land and resource rights extinguished in contemporary Treaty and land-claims processes. Such a requirement does not conform to international law or contribute to reconciliation. Such concepts are a current manifestation of historical wrongs and should be formally repudiated by all levels of Canadian government.
Our intention in so concluding is to highlight that there is an important distinction to be drawn between the Doctrine of Discovery and its related concepts and the several inherently unjust policies, laws, and principles to which they have given rise over the years. It would not be enough to simply repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, for example, while still maintaining the requirement for Aboriginal people to prove the validity of their existence and territoriality. We would not suggest that the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery necessarily gives rise to the invalidation of Crown sovereignty. The Commission accepts that there are other means to establish the validity of Crown sovereignty without undermining the important principle established in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which is that the sovereignty of the Crown requires that it recognize and deal with Aboriginal title in order to become perfected. It must not be forgotten that the terms of the Royal Proclamation were explained to, and accepted by, Indigenous leaders during the negotiation of the Treaty of Niagara of 1764.
It is important for all Canadians to understand that without Treaties, Canada would have no legitimacy as a nation. Treaties between Indigenous nations and the Crown established the legal and constitutional foundation of this country.
Elder Fred Kelly emphasized that Treaty making and Aboriginal peoples’ ways of resolving conflict must be central to reconciliation. He said,
There are those who believe that a generic reconciliation process is a Western-based concept to be imposed on the Aboriginal peoples without regard to their own traditional practices of restoring personal and collective peace and harmony. We must therefore insist that the Aboriginal peoples have meaningful participation in the design, administration, and evaluation of the reconciliation process so that it is based on their local culture and language. If reconciliation is to be real and meaningful in Canada, it must embrace the inherent right of self-determination through self-government envisioned in the treaties….
Where government refuses to implement Aboriginal rights and the original spirit and intent of the treaties, the citizens of Canada must take direct action to forcefully persuade its leadership. Treaties and memoranda of agreement are simply the stage-setting mechanisms for reconciliation. There must be action … all Canadians have treaty rights…. It is upon these rights and obligations that our relationship is founded.32
If Canada’s past is a cautionary tale about what not to do, it also holds a more constructive history lesson for the future. The Treaties are a model for how Canadians, as diverse peoples, can live respectfully and peacefully together on these lands we now share.
The history of Treaty making in Canada is contentious. Aboriginal peoples and the Crown have interpreted the spirit and intent of the Treaties quite differently. Generally, government officials have viewed the Treaties as legal mechanisms by which Aboriginal peoples ceded and surrendered their lands to the Crown. In contrast, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples understand Treaties as a sacred obligation that commits both parties to maintain respectful relationships and share lands and resources equitably.
Indigenous peoples have kept the history and ongoing relevance of the Treaties alive in their own oral histories and legal traditions. Without their perspectives on the history of Treaty making, Canadians know only one side of this country’s history. This story cannot simply be told as the story of how Crown officials unilaterally imposed Treaties on Aboriginal peoples; they were also active participants in Treaty negotiations.33 The history and interpretation of Treaties and the Aboriginal–Crown relationship as told by Indigenous peoples enriches and informs our understanding of why we are all Treaty people.34 This is evident, for example, in the story of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and its relationship to the Treaty of Niagara of 1764. The Royal Proclamation, which was issued by colonial officials, tells only half this story.
On October 7, 1763, King George III issued a Royal Proclamation by which the British Crown first recognized the legal and constitutional rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the British declared that all lands west of the established colonies belonged to Aboriginal peoples and that only the Crown could legally acquire these lands by negotiating Treaties.
At a time when Aboriginal peoples still held considerable power and conflicts with settlers were increasing, British officials sought to establish a distinct geographical area that would remain under the jurisdiction of Indigenous nations until Treaties were negotiated.
Anishinaabe legal scholar John Borrows notes that the Royal Proclamation can be fully understood only in relation to the Treaty of Niagara, in which the terms of the proclamation were ratified by Indigenous nations in 1764. As Borrows explains, the Indigenous leaders who negotiated the Treaty of Niagara with the Crown did so with the understanding that they would remain free and self-determining peoples. Borrows observes:
The Proclamation uncomfortably straddled the contradictory aspirations of the Crown and First Nations when its wording recognized Aboriginal rights to land by outlining a policy that was designed to extinguish these rights…. The different objectives that First Nations and the Crown had in the formulation of the principles surrounding the Proclamation is the reason for the different visions embedded within its text. Britain was attempting to secure territory and jurisdiction through the Proclamation, while the First Nations were concerned with preserving their lands and sovereignty.35
The Royal Proclamation was ratified by over 2,000 Indigenous leaders who had gathered at Niagara in the summer of 1764 to make a Treaty with the Crown.36 The Treaty negotiations, like earlier trade and peace and friendship Treaties, were conducted in accordance with Indigenous law and diplomatic protocol. John Borrows presents evidence that Aboriginal peoples, some fifty-four years after the Treaty of Niagara was negotiated and ratified, still remembered the promises that were made by the Crown. In 1818, a Crown representative, Captain Thomas G. Anderson, gave the following account of a meeting between Anishinaabe peoples and the Crown at Drummond Island in Lake Huron.
The Chiefs did decamp, laying down a broad Wampum Belt, made in 1764…. Orcata [an Anishinaabe] speaker … holding the Belt of 1764 in his hand … said: Father, this my ancestors received from our Father, Sir. W. Johnson. You sent word to all your red children to assemble at the crooked place (Niagara). They heard your voice—obeyed the message—and the next summer met you at the place. You then laid this belt on a mat, and said—‘Children, you must all touch this Belt of Peace. I touch it myself, that we may all be brethren united, and hope our friendship will never cease. I will call you my children; will send warmth (presents) to your country; and your families shall never be in want. Look towards the rising sun. My Nation is as brilliant as it is, and its word cannot be violated.’ Father, your words were true—all you promised came to pass. On giving us a Belt of Peace, you said—‘If you should ever require my assistance, send this Belt, and my hand will be immediately stretched forth to assist you.’ Here the speaker laid down the Belt.37
Over the years, Indigenous leaders involved in Treaty negotiations not only used wampum belts to recount the Treaty of Niagara, but also presented original copies of the Royal Proclamation to government officials. In 1847, a colonial official reported,
The subsequent proclamation of His Majesty George Third, issued in 1763, furnished them with a fresh guarantee for the possession of their hunting grounds and the protection of the crown. This document the Indians look upon as their charter. They have preserved a copy of it to the present time, and have referred to it on several occasions in the representations to government.38
On October 7, 2013, Canada marked the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The governor general of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, spoke about the proclamation’s importance.
This extraordinary document is part of the legal foundation of Canada. It is enshrined in the Constitution Act of 1982, and it sets out a framework of values or principles that have given us a navigational map over the course of the past two-and-a-half centuries…. Its guiding principles—of peace, fairness and respect—established the tradition of treaty-making, laid the basis for the recognition of First Nations rights, and defined the relationship between First Nations peoples and the Crown…. All history reverberates through the ages, but the Royal Proclamation is uniquely alive in the present-day. Not only is it a living constitutional document, its principles are of great relevance to our situation today, in 2013, and to our shared future…. Without a doubt, we have faced, and are facing challenges, and we have much hard work to do on the road to reconciliation, but it is a road we must travel together. In modern time, the successful conclusion of comprehensive land claims agreements are an example of the principles of the Royal Proclamation in action.39
Across the country, Indigenous peoples also commemorated the anniversary, calling on Canadians to honour the spirit and intent of the Royal Proclamation. In British Columbia, where very few Treaties were signed, the First Nations Summit leaders issued a statement reminding Canadians that the principles set out in the proclamation were still relevant in present-day Canada. They said,
With Confederation, the First Nations–Crown relationship has regrettably been guided by federal control under the constraints of the Indian Act, not by the principles articulated in the Proclamation…. The time has arrived for all Canadians to move into an era of recognition and reconciliation between First Nations and the Crown. Although there is general recognition of Aboriginal title and rights, far too often these rights exist without an effective remedy. There are many solutions that have the potential of moving us to where we need to be. Such solutions include the negotiation of modern-day treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements, consistent with the principles of the Proclamation.40
Across the river from the parliament buildings in Ottawa that October, Idle No More supporters gathered in Gatineau, Québec, at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, to commemorate the Royal Proclamation as part of a national and international day of action. One of the organizers, Clayton Thomas-Muller, said, “We are using this founding document of this country and its anniversary to usher in a new era of reconciliation of Canada’s shameful colonial history, to turn around centuries of neglect and abuse of our sacred and diverse nations.”41
In Toronto, the focus was on the Gus-Wen-Tah, or Two-Row Wampum Treaty belt, used by the Mohawk in Treaty negotiations with colonial European officials.42 As Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people gathered to mark the historic day, speaker Davyn Calfchild said, “Everyone needs to learn about the Two-Row and the nation-to-nation relationships it represents. It’s not just for Native people; it’s for non-Native people too.” The gathering ended with a march as people carried a replica of the Two-Row Wampum through the streets of the city.43 Those who commemorated the Royal Proclamation and the Two-Row Wampum emphasized that the principles and practices that cemented the Treaty relationship remain applicable today.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763, in conjunction with the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, established the legal and political foundation of Canada and the principles of Treaty making based on mutual recognition and respect. A Royal Proclamation is also an important symbol. Issued at the highest level, it sends a message to all citizens about the values and principles that define the country. There is a need for a new proclamation that reaffirms the long-standing, but often disregarded, commitments between Canada and Aboriginal peoples. The proclamation would include an official disavowal of the Doctrine of Discovery and commitment to the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration.
Call to Action
45) We call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown. The proclamation would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, and reaffirm the nation-to-nation relation ship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown. The proclamation would include, but not be limited to, the following commitments:
i. Repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.
ii. Adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.
iii. Renew or establish Treaty relationships based on principles of mutual rec ognition, mutual respect, and shared responsibility for maintaining those relationships into the future.
iv. Reconcile Aboriginal and Crown constitutional and legal orders to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation, including the recogni tion and integration of Indigenous laws and legal traditions in negotiation and implementation processes involving Treaties, land claims, and other constructive agreements.
The principles enunciated in the new Royal Proclamation will serve as the foundation for an action-oriented Covenant of Reconciliation, which points the way forward toward an era of mutual respect and equal opportunity.
Calls to Action
46) We call upon the parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to develop and sign a Covenant of Reconciliation that would identify principles for working collaboratively to advance reconciliation in Canadian society, and that would include, but not be limited to:
i. Reaffirmation of the parties’ commitment to reconciliation.
ii. Repudiation of concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and the reformation of laws, governance structures, and policies within their respective institutions that continue to rely on such concepts.
iii. Full adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.
iv. Support for the renewal or establishment of Treaty relationships based on principles of mutual recognition, mutual respect, and shared responsibility for maintaining those relationships into the future.
v. Enabling those excluded from the Settlement Agreement to sign onto the Covenant of Reconciliation.
vi. Enabling additional parties to sign onto the Covenant of Reconciliation. Governments at all levels of Canadian society must also commit to a new frame work for reconciliation to guide their relations with Aboriginal peoples.
Call to Action
47) We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to repu diate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and to reform those laws, government policies, and litigation strategies that continue to rely on such concepts.
Churches and faith groups also have an important role to play in fostering reconciliation through support for the United Nations Declaration and repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.
Calls to Action:
48) We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement, and all other faith groups and interfaith social justice groups in Canada who have not already done so, to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a frame work for reconciliation. This would include, but not be limited to, the follow ing commitments:
i. Ensuring that their institutions, policies, programs, and practices comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
ii. Respecting Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination in spiritual mat ters, including the right to practise, develop, and teach their own spiritual and religious traditions, customs, and ceremonies, consistent with Article 12:1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
iii. Engaging in ongoing public dialogue and actions to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
iv. Issuing a statement no later than March 31, 2016, from all religious denomi nations and faith groups, as to how they will implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
49) We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.
Until recently, Canadian law was used by Canada to suppress truth and deter reconciliation. Parliament’s creation of assimilative laws and regulations facilitated the oppression of Aboriginal cultures and enabled the residential school system. In addition, Canada’s laws and associated legal principles fostered an atmosphere of secrecy and concealment. When children were abused in residential schools, the law, and the ways in which it was enforced (or not), became a shield behind which churches, governments, and individuals could hide to avoid the consequences of horrific truths. Decisions not to charge or prosecute abusers allowed people to escape the harmful consequences of their actions. In addition, the right of Aboriginal communities and leaders to function in accordance with their own customs, traditions, laws, and cultures was taken away by law. Those who continued to act in accordance with those cultures could be, and were, prosecuted. Aboriginal people came to see law as a tool of government oppression.
To this point, the country’s civil laws continued to overlook the truth that the extinguishment of peoples’ languages and cultures is a personal and social injury of the deepest kind. It is difficult to understand why the forced assimilation of children through removal from their families and communities—to be placed with people of another race for the purpose of destroying the race and culture from which the children come—can be deemed an act of genocide under Article 2(e) of the UN’s Convention on Genocide, but is not a civil wrong.
Failure to recognize such truths hinders reconciliation. Many Aboriginal people have a deep and abiding distrust of Canada’s political and legal systems because of the damage they have caused. They often see Canada’s legal system as being an arm of a Canadian governing structure that has been diametrically opposed to their interests. Not only has Canadian law generally not protected Aboriginal land rights, resources, and governmental authority, despite court judgments, but it has also allowed, and continues to allow, the removal of Aboriginal children through a child-welfare system that cuts them off from their culture. As a result, law has been, and continues to be, a significant obstacle to reconciliation. This is the case despite the recognition that courts have begun to show that justice has historically been denied and that such denial should not continue. Given these circumstances, it should come as no surprise that formal Canadian law and Canada’s legal institutions are still viewed with suspicion within many Aboriginal communities.
Yet, that is changing. Court decisions since the repatriation of Canada’s Constitution in 1982 have given hope to Aboriginal people that the recognition and affirmation of their existing Treaty and Aboriginal rights in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 may be an important vehicle for change. However, the view of many Aboriginal people is that the utilization of the Government of Canada’s court is fraught with danger. Aboriginal leaders and communities turn to Canada’s courts literally because there is no other legal mechanism. When they do so, it is with the knowledge that the courts still are reluctant to recognize their own traditional means of dispute resolution and law.
Reconciliation will be difficult to achieve until Indigenous peoples’ own traditions for uncovering truth and enhancing reconciliation are embraced as an essential part of the ongoing process of truth determination, dispute resolution, and reconciliation. No dialogue about reconciliation can be undertaken without mutual respect as shown through protocols and ceremony. Just as the mace, for example, is essential to a session of Parliament, the presence of the pipe for some Tribes would be necessary to a formal process of reconciliation.
The road to reconciliation also includes a large, liberal, and generous application of the concepts underlying Section 35(1) of Canada’s Constitution, so that Aboriginal rights are implemented in a way that facilitates Aboriginal peoples’ collective and individual aspirations. The reconciliation vision that lies behind Section 35 should not be seen as a means to subjugate Aboriginal peoples to an absolutely sovereign Crown, but as a means to establish the kind of relationship that should have flourished since Confederation, as was envisioned in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the post-Confederation Treaties. That relationship did not flourish because of Canada’s failure to live up to that vision and its promises. So long as the vision of reconciliation in Section 35(1) is not being implemented with sufficient strength and vigour, Canadian law will continue to be regarded as deeply adverse to realizing truth and reconciliation for many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. To improve Aboriginal peoples’ access to justice, changes must occur on at least two fronts: nationally, and within each Aboriginal community.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN “Outcome Document” provide a framework and a mechanism to support and improve access to justice for Indigenous peoples in Canada. Under Article 40 of the Declaration,
Indigenous peoples have the right to access to and prompt decision through just and fair procedures for the resolution of conflicts and disputes with States or other parties, as well as to effective remedies for all infringements of their individual and collective rights. Such a decision shall give due consideration to the customs, traditions, rules and legal systems of the indigenous peoples concerned and international human rights.44
In 2013, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples issued a study, “Access to Justice in the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” It made several key findings that are relevant to Canada. The international study noted that states and Indigenous peoples themselves have a critical role to play in implementing Indigenous peoples’ access to justice. Substantive changes are required within the criminal legal system and in relation to Indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories, and natural resources; political self-determination; and community well-being.45 The study made several key findings and recommendations, including the following:
The right to self-determination is a central right for indigenous peoples from which all other rights flow. In relation to access to justice, self-determination affirms their right to maintain and strengthen indigenous legal institutions, and to apply their own customs and laws. The cultural rights of indigenous peoples include recognition and practice of their justice systems … as well as recognition of their traditional customs, values and languages by courts and legal procedures.
Consistent with indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and self-government, States should recognize and provide support for indigenous peoples’ own justice systems and should consult with indigenous peoples on the best means for dialogue and cooperation between indigenous and State systems.
States should recognize indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and resources in laws and should harmonize laws in accordance with indigenous peoples’ customs on possession and use of lands. Where indigenous peoples have won land rights and other cases in courts, States must implement these decisions. The private sector and government must not collude to deprive indigenous peoples of access to justice.
Indigenous peoples should strengthen advocacy for the recognition of their justice systems.
Indigenous peoples’ justice systems should ensure that indigenous women and children are free from all forms of discrimination and should ensure accessibility to indigenous persons with disabilities.
Indigenous peoples should explore the organization and running of their own truth-seeking processes.46
These conclusions are consistent with this Commission’s own views. We also concur with the 2014 report issued by S. James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, about the state of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. He concluded that the
Government of Canada has a stated goal of reconciliation, which the Special Rapporteur heard repeated by numerous government representatives with whom he met. Yet even in this context, in recent years, indigenous leaders have expressed concern that progress towards this goal has been undermined by actions of the Government that limit or ignore the input of indigenous governments and representatives in various decisions that concern them.… [D] espite positive steps, daunting challenges remain. Canada faces a continuing crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country. The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginal claims remain persistently unresolved, indigenous women and girls remain vulnerable to abuse, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among indigenous peoples towards government at both the federal and provincial levels.47
In Canada, law must cease to be a tool for the dispossession and dismantling of Aboriginal societies. It must dramatically change if it is going to have any legitimacy within First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. Until Canadian law becomes an instrument supporting Aboriginal peoples’ empowerment, many Aboriginal people will continue to regard it as a morally and politically malignant force. A commitment to truth and reconciliation demands that Canada’s legal system be transformed. It must ensure that Aboriginal peoples have greater ownership of, participation in, and access to its central driving forces. Canada’s Constitution must become truly a constitution for all of Canada.48 Aboriginal peoples need to become the law’s architects and interpreters where it applies to their collective rights and interests. Aboriginal peoples need to have more formal influence on national legal matters to advance and realize their diverse goals.
At the same time, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples need greater control of their own regulatory laws and dispute-resolution mechanisms. Aboriginal peoples must be recognized as possessing the responsibility, authority, and capability to address their disagreements by making laws within their communities. This is necessary to facilitating truth and reconciliation within Aboriginal societies.
Law is necessary to protect communities and individuals from the harmful actions of others. When such harm occurs within Aboriginal communities, Indigenous law is needed to censure and correct citizens when they depart from what the community defines as being acceptable. Any failure to recognize First Nations, Inuit, and Métis law would be a failure to affirm that Aboriginal peoples, like all other peoples, need the power of law to effectively deal with the challenges they face.
The Commission believes that the revitalization and application of Indigenous law will benefit First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, Aboriginal–Crown relations, and the nation as a whole. For this to happen, Aboriginal peoples must be able to recover, learn, and practise their own, distinct, legal traditions. That is not to say that the development of self-government institutions and laws must occur at the band or village level. In its report, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples spoke about the development of self-government by Aboriginal nations:
We have concluded that the right of self-government cannot reasonably be exercised by small, separate communities, whether First Nations, Inuit or Métis. It should be exercised by groups of a certain size—groups with a claim to the term ‘nation’.
The problem is that the historical Aboriginal nations were undermined by disease, relocations and the full array of assimilationist government policies. They were fragmented into bands, reserves and small settlements. Only some operate as collectivities now. They will have to reconstruct themselves as nations.49 We endorse the approach recommended by the Royal Commission.
Indigenous law, like so many other aspects of Aboriginal peoples’ lives, has been impacted by colonization. At the TRC’s Knowledge Keepers Forum in 2014, Mi’kmaq Elder Stephen Augustine spoke about the Mi’kmaq concept for “making things right.” He shared a metaphor about an overturned canoe in the river. He said, “We’ll make the canoe right and … keep it in water so it does not bump on rocks or hit the shore.… [When we tip a canoe] we may lose some of our possessions.… Eventually we will regain our possessions [but] they will not be the same as the old ones.”50
When we consider this concept in relation to residential schools, we have repeatedly heard that they caused great and obvious loss. The Mi’kmaq idea for “making things right” implies that sometimes, in certain contexts, things can be made right— but the remedy might not allow us to recapture what was lost. Making things right might involve creating something new as we journey forward. Just as the Canadian legal system has evolved over time, Indigenous law is not frozen in time. Indigenous legal orders adapt with changing circumstances. The development and application of Indigenous law should be regarded as one element of a broader holistic strategy to deal with the residential schools’ negative effects.
There are diverse sources of Indigenous law that hold great insight for pursuing reconciliation. In 2012, the TRC partnered with the University of Victoria Faculty of Law’s Indigenous Law Clinic, and the Indigenous Bar Association, to develop a national research initiative, the “Accessing Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) Project.” Working with seven community partners, the AJR project examined six different legal traditions across the country: Coast Salish (Snuneymuxw First Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation); Tsilhqot’in (Tsilhqot’in National Government); Northern Secwepemc (T’exelc Williams Lake Indian Band); Cree (Aseniwuche Winewak Nation); Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation # 27); and Mi’kmaq (Mi’kmaq Legal Services Network, Eskasoni).
The AJR report concluded that many more Aboriginal communities across the country would benefit from recovering and revitalizing their laws. Doing so would enable First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities to remedy community harms and resolve internal conflicts as well as external conflicts with governments more effectively. Professor Val Napoleon, the project’s academic lead, and Hadley Friedland, the project coordinator, said,
We believe there is much hope that even the process of intentionally and seriously continuing … [this work] will contribute to a truly robust reconciliation in Canada.… This work is vital for the future health and strength of Indigenous societies and has much to offer Canada as a whole.… Legal traditions are not only prescriptive, they are descriptive. They ascribe meaning to human events, challenges and aspirations. They are intellectual resources that we use to frame and interpret information, to reason through and act upon current problems and projects, to work toward our greatest societal aspirations. Finding ways to support Indigenous communities to access, understand and apply their own legal principles today is not just about repairing the immense damages from colonialism. As Chief Doug S. White III (Kwulasultun) puts it … “Indigenous law is the great project of Canada and it is the essential work of our time. It is not for the faint of heart, it is hard work. We need to create meaningful opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to critically engage in this work because all our futures depend on it.”51
Call to Action:
50) In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
Survivors are more than just victims of violence. They are also holders of Treaty, constitutional, and human rights.52 They are women and men who have resilience, courage, and vision. Many have become Elders, community leaders, educators, lawyers, and political activists who are dedicated to revitalizing their cultures, languages, Treaties, laws, and governance systems. Through lived experience, they have gained deep insights into what victims of violence require to heal. Equally important, they have provided wise counsel to political leaders, legislators, policymakers, and all citizens about how to prevent such violence from happening again.
The Commission agrees with Anishinaabe scholar and activist Leanne Simpson, who has urged Canadians not to think about reconciliation in narrow terms or to view Survivors only as victims. She said:
If reconciliation is focused only on residential schools rather than the broader set of relationships that generated policies, legislation, and practices aimed at assimilation and political genocide, then there is a risk that reconciliation will “level the playing field” in the eyes of Canadians…. I also worry that institutionalization of a narrowly defined “reconciliation” subjugates treaty and nation-based participation by locking our Elders—the ones that suffered the most directly at the hands of the residential school system—into a position of victimhood. Of course, they are anything but victims. They are our strongest visionaries and they inspire us to vision alternative futures.53
Speaking at the British Columbia National Event, Honorary Witness and former lieutenant governor of British Columbia, the Honourable Steven Point, said:
We got here to this place, to this time, because Aboriginal Survivors brought this [residential schools] to the Supreme Court of Canada. The churches and the governments didn’t come one day and say, “Hey, you know, we did something wrong and we’re sorry. Can you forgive us?” Elders had to bring this matter to the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s very like the situation we have with Aboriginal rights, where nation after nation continues to seek the recognition of their Aboriginal title to their own homelands.54
The Commission believes that Survivors, who took action to bring the history and legacy of the residential schools to light, who went to court to confront their abusers, and who ratified the Settlement Agreement, have made a significant contribution to reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was not established because of any widespread public outcry, demanding justice for residential school Survivors.55 Neither did the Settlement Agreement, including the TRC, come about only because government and church defendants, faced with huge class-action lawsuits, decided it was preferable to litigation. Focusing only on the motivations of the defendants does not tell the whole story. It is important not to lose sight of the many ways in which Aboriginal peoples have succeeded in pushing the boundaries of reconciliation in Canada.
From the early 1990s onward, Aboriginal people and their supporters had been calling for a public inquiry into the residential school system. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples made this same recommendation in 1996. A majority of Survivors ratified the Settlement Agreement, in part because they were dissatisfied with the litigation process. Survivors wanted a public forum such as a truth and reconciliation commission so that Canada could hear their unvarnished truths about the residential schools. Survivors also wanted a formal apology from Canada that acknowledged the country’s wrongdoing.56 Due in large part to their efforts, the prime minister delivered a national apology to Survivors on behalf of the government and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
Although societal empathy for Aboriginal victims of abuse in residential schools is important, this alone will not prevent similar acts of violence from recurring in new institutional forms. There is a need for a clear and public recognition that Aboriginal peoples must be seen and treated as much more than just the beneficiaries of public good will. As holders of Treaty, constitutional, and human rights, they are entitled to justice and accountability from Canada to ensure that their rights are not violated.
In his initial report, tabled in August of 2012, Pablo de Greiff, the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence, pointed out that in countries where prosecuting individual perpetrators of criminal acts involving human rights violations has been difficult, other measures such as truth-seeking forums, reparations, and institutional reforms are especially critical. Such measures enable victims of state violence to develop some confidence in the legitimacy and credibility of the state’s justice system. But de Greiff cautions that implementing these measures alone does not guarantee that reconciliation will follow. Apologies, commemoration, public memorials, and educational reform are also required in order to transform social attitudes and foster long-term reconciliation.57
The Treaty, constitutional, and human rights violations that occurred in and around the residential school system confirm the dangers that exist for Aboriginal peoples when their right to self-determination is ignored or limited by the state, which purports to act “in their best interests.” Historically, whenever Aboriginal peoples have been targeted as a specific group that is deemed by government to be in need of protective legislation and policies, the results have been culturally and ethnically destructive.
For Aboriginal peoples in Canada, the protection and exercise of their right to self-determination is the strongest antidote to further violation of their rights. In the coming years, governments must remain accountable for ensuring that Aboriginal peoples’ rights are protected and that government actions do, in fact, repair trust and foster reconciliation. Repairing trust begins with an apology, but it involves far more than that.
From the outset, this Commission has emphasized that reconciliation is not a one-time event; it is a multi-generational journey that involves all Canadians. The public apologies and compensation to residential school Survivors, their families, and communities by Canada and the churches that ran the residential schools marked the beginning, not the end, of this journey. Survivors needed to hear government and church officials admit that the cultural, spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that they suffered in the schools was wrong and should never have happened, but they needed more.
The children and grandchildren of Survivors needed to hear the truth about what happened to their parents and grandparents in the residential schools. At the Commission’s public events, many Survivors spoke in the presence of their children and grandchildren for the first time about the abuses they had suffered as children, and about the destructive ways of behaving they had learned at residential school. Many offered their own heartfelt apologies to their families for having been abusive, or unable to parent, or simply to say “I love you.”
Apologies are important to victims of violence and abuse. Apologies have the potential to restore human dignity and empower victims to decide whether they accept an apology or forgive a perpetrator. Where there has been no apology, or one that victims believe tries to justify the behaviour of perpetrators and evade responsibility, reconciliation is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The official apologies from Canada and the churches sent an important message to all Canadians that Aboriginal peoples had suffered grievous harms at the hands of the state and church institutions in the schools, and that, as the parties responsible for those harms, the state and the churches accepted their measure of responsibility. The apologies were a necessary first step in the process of reconciliation.
The history and destructive legacy of residential schools is a sober reminder that taking action does not necessarily lead to positive results. Attempts to assimilate First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples into mainstream Canadian society were a dismal failure. Despite the devastating impacts of colonization, Indigenous peoples have always resisted (though in some places not always successfully) attacks on their cultures, languages, and ways of life.
If Canadians are to keep the promise of the apologies made on their behalf—the promise of “never again!”—then we must guard against simply replicating the assimilation policies of the past in new forms today. As TRC Honorary Witness Wab Kinew said, “The truth about reconciliation is this: It is not a second chance at assimilation. It should not be a kinder, gentler evangelism, free from the horrors of the residential school era. Rather, true reconciliation is a second chance at building a mutually respectful relationship.”58
The words of the apologies will ring hollow if Canada’s actions fail to produce the necessary social, cultural, political, and economic change that benefits Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.
A just reconciliation requires more than simply talking about the need to heal the deep wounds of history. Words of apology alone are insufficient; concrete actions on both symbolic and material fronts are required. Reparations for historical injustices must include not only apology, financial redress, legal reform, and policy change, but also the rewriting of national history and public commemoration.
In every region of the country, Survivors and others have sent a strong message, as received by this Commission: for reconciliation to thrive in the coming years, Canada must move from apology to action.
June 11, 2008, was an important day for the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, and for the country as a whole. It has come to be known as the “Day of the Apology,” the day when Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the leaders of all other federal political parties, formally apologized in the House of Commons for the harms caused by the residential school system. In their presentations to the TRC, many Survivors clearly recalled the day of the apology. They recalled where they were, who they were with, and, most importantly, how they felt. Many spoke of the intense emotions they had when they heard the prime minister acknowledge that it had been wrong for the government to have taken them away from their families for the purpose of “killing the Indian” in them. They talked of the tears that fell when they heard the words “We are sorry.”
Survivors and their families needed to hear those words. They had lived with pain, fear, and anger for most of their lives, resulting from the abrupt separation from their families and their experiences at residential schools, and they wanted desperately to begin their healing. They needed to have validated their sense that what had been done to them was wrong. They wanted to believe that things would begin to change— not the schools, which had long been closed, but the attitude and behaviours that lay behind the existence of the schools. They wanted to believe that the government that had so long controlled their lives and abused its relationship with them now “saw the light.” They wanted to believe that the future for their children and their grandchildren would be different from their own experiences; that their lives would be better. The apology gave them cause to think that their patience and perseverance through the trauma and negativity of their experiences in and beyond the residential schools had been worth the struggle. It gave them hope.
At the TRC’s Saskatchewan National Event, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said,
I think as was heard here, what I’m so grateful for is that there’s a growing experience … about the work of reconciliation…. How do communities reconcile? Well, it begins with each and every one of us. How fortunate I am as a young man to have spent time with my late grandmother. I held her hand. She was eighty-seven years old, still here. During that apology, she said, “Grandson, they’re just starting to see us, they’re just beginning to see us.” That’s what she said. And she found that encouraging, because it’s the first step, actually seeing one another, having the silence broken and the stories starting to be told…. I think that’s where it begins, isn’t it? Between us as individuals sharing the stories from so many different perspectives so that we can understand.59
The report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples noted that for some time after settler contact, the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples had been one of mutual support, co-operation, and respect. Despite incidents of conflict, Aboriginal peoples’ acceptance of the arrival of Europeans, and their willingness to participate with the newcomers in their economic pursuits, to form alliances with them in their wars, and to enter into Treaty with them for a variety of purposes, showed a wish to coexist in a relationship of mutual trust and respect.60 That aspect of the relationship was confirmed on the non-Aboriginal side by evidence such as the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, as discussed earlier.
The trust and respect initially established ultimately were betrayed. Since Confederation in 1867, the approach of successive Canadian federal governments to the Crown’s fiduciary obligation to provide education for Aboriginal peoples has been deeply flawed. Equally important, the consequences of this broken trust have serious implications well beyond residential schools. The trust relationship and Canada’s particular obligation to uphold the honour of the Crown with regard to Aboriginal peoples goes to the very heart of the relationship itself.
As the original peoples who had occupied the lands and territories for thousands of years throughout the region that became Canada, Aboriginal peoples have unique legal and constitutional rights. These rights arose from their initial occupation and ownership of the land, and were affirmed in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which also decreed that the Crown had a special duty to deal fairly with, and protect, Aboriginal peoples and their lands. Subsequently, the Dominion of Canada assumed this fiduciary obligation under Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which gave Parliament legislative authority over “Indians, and lands reserved for Indians.” Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 also recognized and affirmed existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights.
In several key decisions, Canadian courts have said that the federal government must always uphold the honour of the Crown in its dealings with Aboriginal peoples. In R. v. Sparrow (1990), the Supreme Court ruled that “the Government has the responsibility to act in a fiduciary capacity with respect to aboriginal peoples. The relationship between the Government and aboriginals is trust-like, rather than adversarial … the honour of the Crown is at stake in dealings with aboriginal peoples.” In Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests) (2004), the Supreme Court ruled that “in all its dealings with Aboriginal peoples, from the assertion of sovereignty to the resolution of claims and the implementation of treaties, the Crown must act honourably,” and that “the honour of the Crown … is not a mere incantation, but rather a core precept that finds its application in concrete practices.” In other words, the honour of the Crown is not merely an abstract principle, but one that must be applied with diligence.61
In Manitoba Métis Nation Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General) (2013), the Métis Nation argued that when the Métis peoples negotiated an agreement with the federal government that would enable Manitoba to enter Confederation, “they trusted Canada to act in their best interests … [and] to treat them fairly.”62 The Supreme Court said that in 1870, the
broad purpose of S. 31 of the Manitoba Act was to reconcile the Métis community with the sovereignty of the Crown and to permit the creation of the province of Manitoba. This reconciliation was to be accomplished by a more concrete measure—the prompt and equitable transfer of the allotted public lands to the Métis children. [para. 98]
Ruling in favour of the Manitoba Métis Nation, the court observed that their “submissions went beyond the argument that the honour of the Crown gave rise to a fiduciary duty, raising the broader issue of whether the government’s conduct generally comported with the honour of the Crown” (para. 87). The court found that although Section 31 promised that land grants to Métis peoples would be implemented “in the most effectual and equitable manner,” this did not happen. “Instead, the implementation was ineffectual and inequitable. This was not a matter of occasional negligence, but of repeated mistakes and inaction that persisted for more than a decade. A government sincerely intent on fulfilling the duty that its honour demanded could and should have done better” (para. 128).
For Treaty peoples or First Nations, the unilateral imposition of the Indian Act, including the residential school system, represents a fundamental breach of the Crown’s Treaty obligations and fiduciary duty to deal with them honourably in both principle and practice.
The Crown’s position as a fiduciary with regard to Aboriginal peoples is clearly a complicated and potentially conflicting area of legal obligation. As a fiduciary, the Crown, through the Government of Canada, has a legal obligation to act in the best interests of Aboriginal people to whom it owes a fiduciary obligation. This is the same case for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the United States, which is commonly referred to as a “Trustee.” As a trustee, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has a similar obligation to act in the best interests of Native Americans, and to ensure that other government departments do not act in a manner that contravenes tribal rights and interests or the government’s lawful obligations. In the United States, the Solicitor’s Opinions issued from time to time by the Department of the Interior, which has authority over the Bureau of Indian Affairs, are used to give direction to government generally as well as to explain and justify government action. In Canada, it must be recognized that the federal Department of Justice has two important, and potentially conflicting, roles when it comes to Aboriginal peoples:
1) The Department of Justice Canada provides legal opinions to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (aandc) to guide the department in its policy development, legislative initiatives, and actions. Those opinions, and the actions based on them, invariably affect Aboriginal governments and the lives of Aboriginal people significantly. Often, those opinions are about the scope and extent of Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and often they form the basis upon which federal Aboriginal policy is developed and enacted.
2) Justice Canada also acts as the legal advocate for aandc and the government in legal disputes between the government and Aboriginal people. In that capacity, it takes instruction from senior officials within the Department of Aboriginal Affairs when the department is implicated in legal actions concerning its responsibilities. It gives advice about the conduct of litigation, the legal position to be advanced, the implementation of legal strategy, and the decision whether to appeal a particular court ruling.
Upholding the honour of the Crown, and disputing a legal challenge to an official’s or department’s action or decision, can sometimes give rise to conflicting legal obligations.
In the Commission’s view, those legal opinions should be available, as of right and upon request, to Aboriginal peoples, for whom the Crown is a fiduciary. Canadian governments and their law departments have a responsibility to discontinue acting as though they are in an adversarial relationship with Aboriginal peoples and to start acting as true fiduciaries. Canada’s Department of Justice must be more transparent and accountable to Aboriginal peoples; this includes sharing their legal opinions on Aboriginal rights. As noted above, there is precedent for making this change. Not only has the United States Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor made public its legal opinions on a range of issues affecting Native Americans, but also these are now widely available online.63
Call to Action
51) We call upon the Government of Canada, as an obligation of its fiduciary respon sibility, to develop a policy of transparency by publishing legal opinions it devel ops and upon which it acts or intends to act, in regard to the scope and extent of Aboriginal and Treaty rights.
One of the aspects of the Doctrine of Discovery that continues to assert itself to this day is the fact that court cases involving Aboriginal territorial claims have placed a heavy onus on Aboriginal claimants to prove that they were in occupation of land since first contact and that the rights claimed over the territory continued from then to the present. The Commission believes that there is good reason to question this requirement, particularly in view of the fact that much of the record upon which courts rely is documentary proof or oral testimony from acknowledged Elder experts. History shows that for many years after Confederation, Aboriginal claimants were precluded from accessing legal advice or the courts in order to assert their claims, and that many of their best Elder experts have passed on without having had an opportunity to record their evidence.
The Commission believes that it is manifestly unfair for Aboriginal claimants to be held to the requisite standard of proof throughout legal proceedings. However, it is reasonable to require that an Aboriginal claimant establish occupation of specified territory at the requisite period of time. That could be at the time of contact or at the time of Crown assertion of sovereignty. It is our view that once occupation has been proven, then the onus should shift to the other party to show that the claim no longer exists, either through extinguishment, surrender, or some other valid legal means.64 Therefore, we conclude that Aboriginal claims of title and rights should be accepted on assertion, with the burden of proof placed on those who object to such claims.
Call to Action
52) We call upon the Government of Canada, provincial and territorial governments, and the courts to adopt the following legal principles:
i. Aboriginal title claims are accepted once the Aboriginal claimant has estab lished occupation over a particular territory at a particular point in time.
ii. Once Aboriginal title has been established, the burden of proving any limita tion on any rights arising from the existence of that title shifts to the party asserting such a limitation.
The report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples emphasized that the restoration of civic trust is essential to reconciliation. It concluded that “the purpose of engaging in a transaction of acknowledgement and forgiveness is not to bind Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in a repeating drama of blame and guilt, but jointly to acknowledge the past so that both sides are freed to embrace a shared future with a measure of trust.” The report added that “the restoration of trust is essential to the great enterprise of forging peaceful relations.”65 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada agrees with these findings.
For reconciliation to take root, Canada, as the party to the relationship that has breached that trust, has the primary obligation to do the work needed to regain the trust of Aboriginal peoples. It is our view that at the time of Confederation, and in subsequent Treaty negotiations, Aboriginal peoples placed a great deal of faith in the words of those speaking for the Crown that the new relationship would be a positive one for both of them. That faith was betrayed, however, by the imposition of the Indian Act, the development of the residential school system, and a series of other repressive measures.
Survivors have indicated that despite the Settlement Agreement and Canada’s apology, trust has not yet been restored. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Indian Residential Schools Survivor Committee member Eugene Arcand said,
I was there at the apology. I thought I was on my way to reconciliation when I heard the prime minister’s words, in a way, when his voice trembled…. It would be remiss of me to the Survivors of Saskatchewan and Survivors across this country to not talk about what’s happened since the apology. It’s been difficult to talk on one side of my mouth about reconciliation and truth, and on the other side of my heart I have very intense feelings about the actions of the federal government, Prime Minister Harper who gave that apology, and the Ministry of Indian Affairs in the administration of this agreement and other acts of government that have been an assault on our people….
[W]e as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, especially residential school Survivors, want to reconcile. We really, really want to. But it’s difficult when we see and feel and read what’s coming out of the House, provincially, federally, in regards to our well-being. First, with the cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and other cuts that have happened in regards to education, in regards to our livelihood.66
A government apology sends a powerful symbolic message to citizens that the state’s actions were wrong.67 As important as Canada’s apology was, it did not simply mark a closure of the past. It also created an opening for Canadians to begin a national dialogue about restoring Aboriginal peoples to a just and rightful place within Canada. In their evaluation of where things stood in the years immediately following the apology, Aboriginal leaders identified a post-apology gap between the aspirational language of Canada’s apology and Aboriginal peoples’ continuing realities. Closing this gap is vital to reconciliation.
Speaking to the Senate on June 11, 2009, the first anniversary of Canada’s apology, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, who is also a Survivor, said,
In a post-apology era, the honour of the Crown must be a defining feature in the new relationship where legal obligations are vigilantly observed, where First Nations are diligently consulted and accommodated on all matters affecting our lives, and our right to free, prior and informed consent is respected…. Let it be clear that First Nations care deeply about our human rights—the human rights of the women in our communities, our children, our families and our communities. The principles of reconciliation, such as mutual respect, coexistence, fairness, meaningful dialogue, and mutual recognition, are not empty words. These principles are about action; that is, they give shape and expression to the material, political and legal elements of reconciliation. It has been an eventful year in Canadian and global politics, society and the economy since last June. First Nations have been affected by the decisions of the Government of Canada during this time.… Given the level of poverty among First Nations, our economies and communities are at an alarmingly high risk of sinking further into the bleakness and despair of poverty. We, as a society, must not let this happen.…
If this partnership between all founding peoples of the federation is to be meaningful, mutual responsibility and accountability must also define the relationship.… Reconciliation then, implies a solemn duty to act, a responsibility to engage, and an obligation to fulfill the promises inherent in an advanced democratic and ethical citizenship. That is, the Government of Canada—in fact, all, all members of Parliament in both houses—has a responsibility … to bridge the past to a future in which the gap in the quality of life and well-being between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people vanishes, where First Nations poverty is eradicated, where our children have the same opportunities and life chances as other children, and the promises of our treaties are fulfilled.
Reconciliation must mean real change for all of our people in all the places we choose to live, change that addresses the wrongs in a way that brings all of us closer together. Human rights, hope, opportunity and human flourishing are not the privilege of one group or one segment of Canadian society; they belong to all of us. Achieving an apology is not an end point.68
National reconciliation involves respecting differences and finding common ground to build a better future together. Whether Survivors’ hopes on the day of Canada’s apology will ultimately be realized rests on our ability to find that common ground.
Therefore, we believe that all levels of government must make a new commitment to reconciliation and accountability. The federal government, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and all Canadians will benefit from the establishment of an oversight body that will have a number of objectives, including assisting discussions on reconciliation and making regular reports that evaluate progress on commitments to reconciliation. Progress on reconciliation at all other levels of government and civil society organizations also needs vigilant attention and measurement to determine improvements. In terms of public education, it will be important to ensure all Canadians have the educational resources and practical tools required to advance reconciliation.
Calls to Action
53) We call upon the Parliament of Canada, in consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to enact legislation to establish a National Council for Reconciliation. The legislation would establish the council as an independent, national, oversight body with membership jointly appointed by the Government of Canada and national Aboriginal organizations, and consisting of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members. Its mandate would include, but not be limited to, the following:
i. Monitor, evaluate, and report annually to Parliament and the people of Canada on the Government of Canada’s post-apology progress on recon ciliation to ensure that government accountability for reconciling the rela tionship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown is maintained in the coming years.
ii. Monitor, evaluate, and report to Parliament and the people of Canada on reconciliation progress across all levels and sectors of Canadian society, including the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.
iii. Develop and implement a multi-year National Action Plan for Reconciliation, which includes research and policy development, public education programs, and resources.
iv. Promote public dialogue, public/private partnerships, and public initiatives for reconciliation.
54) We call upon the Government of Canada to provide multi-year funding for the National Council for Reconciliation to ensure that it has the financial, human, and technical resources required to conduct its work, including the endowment of a National Reconciliation Trust to advance the cause of reconciliation.
55) We call upon all levels of government to provide annual reports or any current data requested by the National Council for Reconciliation so that it can report on the progress towards reconciliation. The reports or data would include, but not be limited to:
i. The number of Aboriginal children—including Métis and Inuit children—in care, compared with non-Aboriginal children, the reasons for apprehension, and the total spending on preventive and care services by child-welfare agencies.
ii. Comparative funding for the education of First Nations children on and off reserves.
iii. The educational and income attainments of Aboriginal peoples in Canada compared with non-Aboriginal people.
iv. Progress on closing the gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal commu nities in a number of health indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence, and the availability of appropriate health services.
v. Progress on eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in youth custody over the next decade.
vi. Progress on reducing the rate of criminal victimization of Aboriginal people, including data related to homicide and family violence victimization and other crimes.
vii. Progress on reducing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the jus tice and correctional systems.
56) We call upon the prime minister of Canada to formally respond to the report of the National Council for Reconciliation by issuing an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report, which would outline the government’s plans for advancing the cause of reconciliation.
These new frameworks and commitments will not succeed without more understanding and sensitivity among those who will administer them.
Call to Action:
57) We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
There is an old and well-accepted adage that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The removal of Aboriginal children from their villages was seen as a necessary step in the achievement of assimilation. However, not only did the Government of Canada take the children from their homes, but it also then proceeded to destroy the cultural and functional integrity of the communities from which the children came and to which they would return.
Christian teachings were a fundamental aspect of residential schools. Aboriginal children were taught to reject the spiritual ways of their parents and ancestors in favour of the religions that predominated among settler societies. As their traditional ways of worshipping the Creator were disparaged and rejected, so too were the children devalued. They were not respected as human beings who were equally loved by the Creator just as they were, as First Nations, Inuit, or Métis peoples. Rather, their Christian teachers saw them as inferior humans in need of being ‘raised up’ through Christianity, and tried to mould them into models of Christianity according to the racist ideals that prevailed at the time. The impact of such treatment was amplified by federal laws and policies that banned traditional Indigenous spiritual practices in the children’s home communities for much of the residential school era.
Spiritual violence occurs when
• a person is not permitted to follow her or his preferred spiritual or religious tradition;
• a different spiritual or religious path or practice is forced on a person;
• a person’s spiritual or religious tradition, beliefs, or practices are demeaned or belittled; or
• a person is made to feel shame for practising his or her traditional or family beliefs.
There is plenty of evidence to support our conclusion that spiritual violence was common in residential schools.
The effects of this spiritual violence have been profound and did not end with the schools. At the Alberta National Event, Survivor Theodore (Ted) Fontaine could have spoken for many Survivors when he said, “I went through sexual abuse. I went through physical abuse, mental, spiritual. And I’ll tell you … the one thing that we suffered [from] the most is the mental and spiritual abuse that we carried for the rest of our lives.”69
At the Saskatchewan National Event, Survivor and Elder Noel Starblanket, National Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood (later the Assembly of First Nations), talked about the intergenerational spiritual impacts of the residential schools. He said, “My great-grandfather … was the first one to be abused by these churches and by these governments, and they forced his children into an Indian residential school and this began that legacy. They called him a pagan, a heathen … and that was in the late 1800s. So I’ve been living with that in my family since then.”70
That Christians in Canada, in the name of their religion, inflicted serious harms on Aboriginal children, their families, and communities was in fundamental contradiction to what they purported to be their core beliefs. For the churches to avoid repeating their failures of the past, understanding how and why they perverted Christian doctrine to justify their actions is a critical lesson to be learned from the residential school experience.
Between 1986 and 1998, all four Settlement Agreement churches offered apologies or statements of regret, in one form or another, for their attempts to destroy Indigenous cultures, languages, spirituality, and ways of life, and, more specifically, for their involvement in residential schools. The United, Anglican, and Presbyterian churches followed similar pathways: individuals or committees at the national level of each church became aware that there might be a need to apologize, a decision-making process was established at the highest levels of the church, and the apology was subsequently issued through the moderator or primate who spoke for the whole church.
Unlike the three Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic Church in Canada does not have a single spokesperson with authority to represent all of its many dioceses and distinct religious orders. The issuing of apologies or statements of regret was left up to each of them individually. The result has been a patchwork of apologies or statements of regret that few Survivors or church members may even know exist. Roman Catholics in Canada and across the globe look to the Pope as their spiritual and moral leader. Therefore, it has been disappointing to Survivors and others that the Pope has not yet made a clear and emphatic public apology in Canada for the abuses perpetrated in Catholic-run residential schools throughout the country.
On April 29, 2009, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine, four other Aboriginal leaders, and five leaders from the Roman Catholic community in Canada travelled to Rome for a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI. No recording of the private meeting was permitted, but the Vatican issued a communiqué describing what the Pope had said.
Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian Residential School system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity. His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations people to continue to move forward with renewed hope.71
The media reported that National Chief Fontaine and other Aboriginal leaders who had met with the Pope said that the statement was significant for all Survivors. Fontaine told CBC News that although it was not an official apology, he hoped that the Pope’s statement of regret would bring closure to the issue for residential school survivors. “The fact that the word ‘apology’ was not used does not diminish this moment in any way,” he said. “This experience gives me great comfort.”72
The Pope’s statement of regret was significant to those who were present, and was reported widely in the media, but it is unclear what, if any, impact it had on Survivors, and their families and communities, who were not able to hear the Pope’s words themselves. Many Survivors raised the lack of a clear Catholic apology from the Vatican as evidence that the Catholic Church still has not come to terms with its own wrongdoing in residential schools, and has permitted many Catholic nuns and priests to maintain that the allegations against their colleagues are false. A statement of regret that children were harmed in the schools is a far cry from a full and proper apology that takes responsibility for the harms that occurred.
The Commission notes that in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI responded to the issue of the abuse of children in Ireland differently and more clearly when he issued a pastoral letter, a public statement that was distributed through the churches to all Catholics in Ireland. He acknowledged that the church had failed to address the issue of child abuse in Catholic institutions. He said:
Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies be found. Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person. Urgent action is required to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families.73
He directly addressed those who were abused as children by church clergy:
You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape for your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope…. Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God’s children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said … [and that] you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and peace.74
In Canada, for more than a century, thousands of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were subjected to spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in Catholic-run residential schools. Other than a small private audience with Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, the Vatican has remained silent on the Roman Catholic Church’s involvement in the Canadian residential school system. During the Commission’s hearings, many Survivors told us that they knew that the Pope had apologized to Survivors of Catholic-run schools in Ireland. They wondered why no similar apology had been extended to them. They said: “I did not hear the Pope say to me, ‘I am sorry.’ Those words are very important to me … but he didn’t say that to the First Nations people.”75
Call to Action
58) We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and com munities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic- run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.
Survivors made many statements to the Commission about Canada’s apology, but the same cannot be said for their response to church apologies. It is striking that although Survivors told us a great deal about how churches have affected their lives, and how, as adults, they may or may not practise Christianity, they seldom mentioned the churches’ apologies or healing and reconciliation activities. This was the case even though they heard church representatives offer apologies at the TRC’s National Events. Their engagement with the churches was often more informal and personal. Survivors who visited the churches’ archival displays in the TRC’s Learning Places picked up copies of the apologies and talked directly with church representatives. They also had conversations with church representatives in the Churches Listening Areas and in public Sharing Circles.76
When the late Alvin Dixon, Chair of the United Church of Canada’s Indian Residential School Survivors Committee, spoke to the Commission at the Northern National Event in Inuvik in 2011, he expressed what many other Survivors may have thought about all of the churches’ apologies. He said,
The apologies don’t come readily. They don’t come easily. And when we heard the apology in 1986, those of us First Nations members of the United Church didn’t accept the apology but we agreed to receive it and watch and wait and work with the United Church to put some flesh, to put some substance to that apology. And we all believed that apologies should be words of action, words of sincerity that should mean something.… Our task is to make sure that the United Church lives up to that apology in meaningful ways…. You know, our work is just beginning and we’re going to hold the church’s feet to the fire, other churches and Canada to make sure that this whole exercise of healing goes on for as long as it takes for us to recover from the impacts of our experiences in those residential schools.
The other issue that comes up that we are addressing is having our native spiritual practice condemned initially not just by the United Church but all churches … well, we now have our church supporting Native spiritual gatherings and we’re going to host a national Native spiritual gathering in Prince Rupert this summer…. So, we are very much holding the church’s feet to the fire and making sure that there are real commitments to putting life to the apologies.77
What Alvin Dixon told us is consistent with what the Commission heard from Survivors about Canada’s apology. Official apologies made on behalf of institutions or governments may be graciously received but are also understandably viewed with some skepticism. When trust has been so badly broken, it can be restored only over time as Survivors observe how the churches interact with them in daily life. He explained, in practical terms, how Survivors would continue to hold the churches accountable. Apologies mark only a beginning point on pathways of reconciliation; the proof of their authenticity lies in putting words into action. He emphasized how important it was to Survivors that the churches not only admit that condemning Indigenous spirituality was wrong, but also that they go one step further and actively support traditional spiritual gatherings. That action, however, calls for ongoing commitment to educate church congregations into the future on the need for such action.
Call to Action
59) We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and com munities were necessary.
Many Survivors told the Commission that reconnecting with traditional Indigenous spiritual teachings and practices has been essential to their healing, with some going so far as to say “it saved my life.” One Survivor said, “The Sun Dances and all the other teachings, the healing lodges, sweat lodges … I know that’s what helped me keep my sanity; to keep me from breaking down and being a total basket case. That’s what has helped me—the teachings of our Aboriginal culture and language.”78 Losing the connections to their languages and cultures in the residential schools had devastating impacts on Survivors, their families, and communities. Land, language, culture, and identity are inseparable from spirituality; all are necessary elements of a whole way of being, of living on the land as Indigenous peoples. As Survivor and Anishinaabe Elder Fred Kelly has explained,
To take the territorial lands away from a people whose very spirit is so intrinsically connected to Mother Earth was to actually dispossess them of their very soul and being; it was to destroy whole Indigenous nations. Weakened by disease and separated from their traditional foods and medicines, First Nations peoples had no defence against further government encroachments on their lives. Yet they continued to abide by the terms of the treaties trusting in the honour of the Crown to no avail. They were mortally wounded in mind, body, heart, and spirit that turned them into the walking dead. Recovery would take time, and fortunately they took their sacred traditions underground to be practised in secret until the day of revival that would surely come…. I am happy that my ancestors saw fit to bring their sacred beliefs underground when they were banned and persecuted. Because of them and the Creator, my people are alive and in them I have found my answers.79
Jennie Blackbird, who attended the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario, explained it this way:
Our Elders taught us that language is the soul of the nation, and the sound of our language is its cement. Anishinaabemowin gives the ability to see into our future…. Anishinaabemowin gives us the ability to listen … to what is going on around us and the ability to listen to what is happening inside of us. Through seeing and listening, we can harvest what we need to sustain ourselves, and to secure the properties that will heal us. Ever since I can remember as a child, speaking my language, it helped me to restore my inner harmony by maintaining my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.80
Spiritual fear, confusion, and conflict are the direct consequences of the violence with which traditional beliefs were stripped away from Indigenous peoples. This turmoil gives particular urgency to understanding the role of Canada’s churches in effecting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. A number of Survivors spoke to us about the many contradictions they now see between their adult knowledge of Christian ethics and biblical teachings and how they were treated in the schools. These contradictions indicate the spiritual fear and confusion that so many Survivors have experienced. Children who returned home from the residential schools were unable to relate to families who still spoke their traditional languages and practised traditional spirituality. Survivors who wanted to learn the spiritual teachings of their ancestors were criticized and sometimes ostracized by their own family members who were Christian, and by the church. Survivors and their relatives reported that these tensions led to family breakdown—such is the depth of this spiritual conflict. The cumulative impact of the residential schools was to deny First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples their spiritual birthright and heritage. In our view, supporting the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination in spiritual matters must be a high priority in the reconciliation process. To be consistent with the United Nations Declaration, Indigenous peoples, who were denied the right to practise and teach their own spiritual and religious beliefs and traditions, must now be able to do so freely and on their own terms.81 For many, this is not easily done.
Many Survivors and their families continue to live in spiritual fear of their own traditions. Such fear is a direct result of the religious beliefs imposed on them by those who ran the residential schools. This long-internalized fear has spanned several generations and is difficult to shed. It is exacerbated by the fact that Christian doctrine today still fails to accord full and proper respect for Indigenous spiritual belief systems.
If it were the Survivors alone who faced this dilemma, one could argue that they should be able to resolve this for themselves in whatever way they can, including with the assistance of trusted church allies. However, the dilemma of spiritual conflict is more than a personal one to Survivors. It is one that extends to their children and their grandchildren, who, in these modern times, realize that there is much more to their personal histories than what they have inherited from residential schools and Canadian society. They realize that each Indigenous nation also has its own history and that such histories are part of who they are. Young First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people today are searching for their identities, which include their own languages and cultures.
Aboriginal parents want their children raised in a community environment that provides all of this. However, there is often conflict within communities when those who have been influenced by the doctrines of the churches believe that to teach Indigenous cultural beliefs to their children is to propagate evil. There are those who continue to actively speak out against Indigenous spiritual beliefs and to block or prohibit their practice.82
To have a right that you are afraid to exercise is to have no right at all. The Declaration asserts that governments (and other parties) now have an obligation to assist Indigenous communities to restore their own spiritual belief systems and faith practices, where these have been damaged or subjected to spiritual violence through past laws, policies, and practices. No one should be told who is, or how to worship, their Creator. That is an individual choice and, for Indigenous peoples, it is also a collective right. However, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people need to be assured that they do indeed have the freedom to choose and that their choice will be respected.
All religious denominations in Canada must respect this right, but the United, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches, as parties to the Settlement Agreement, bear a particular responsibility to formally recognize Indigenous spirituality as a valid form of worship that is equal to their own. It cannot be left up to individuals in the churches to speak out when such freedom to worship is denied. Rather, the churches, as religious institutions, must affirm Indigenous spirituality in its own right. Without such formal recognition, a full and robust reconciliation will be impossible. Healing and reconciliation have a spiritual dimension that must continue to be addressed by the churches in partnership with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, their families, and communities.
Many Indigenous peoples who no longer subscribe to Christian teachings have found the reclaiming of their Indigenous spirituality important to their healing and sense of identity. Some have no desire to integrate Indigenous spirituality into Christian religious institutions. Rather, they believe that Indigenous spirituality and Western religion should coexist on separate but parallel paths.
Elder Jim Dumont told the Commission about the importance of non-interference and mutual respect. He said that the
abuse and the damage that has been done in residential schools, one of the primary sources of that is the church. And the church has to take ownership for that. But what bothers me about it is that the church continues to have a hold on our people…. Just get out of the way for awhile so that we can do what we need to do because as long as you are standing there thinking that you are supporting us, you are actually preventing us from getting to our own truth about this and our own healing about this. But I think the other thing that’s being avoided by the church is their need to reconcile with the Spirit…. I think that the church has to reconcile with the Creator…. I’m not a Christian but I have a high regard for this Spirit … who is called Jesus…. What I think is that when the church can reconcile with their God and their Saviour for what they have done, then maybe we can talk to them about reconciling amongst ourselves.83
In contrast, Aboriginal Christians who also practise Indigenous spirituality seek Indigenous and Christian spiritual and religious coexistence within the churches themselves. United Church Rev. Alf Dumont, the first speaker of the All Native Circle Conference, said,
Respect is one of the greatest teachings that come from the original people of this land. Our ancestors followed that teaching when they met with their Christian brothers and sisters so many years ago. They saw a truth and a sacredness they could not deny in Christian teachings. Many were willing to embrace these teachings and leave their traditional teachings. Some were willing to embrace the teachings but still wanted to hold to their own. Some did not leave their own traditions, and when persecuted, went into hiding either deep in the mountains or deep inside themselves. Many were suspicious of the way the [Christian] teachings were presented and how they were lived. They were suspicious of the fact that they were asked to deny their own sacred teachings and ways and adopt only the new teachings they were given. Why could they not take what they needed from these new understandings and still live from their own? That was the understanding and teaching of holding respect for others’ beliefs. It was the way of the first people.84
Presbyterian Rev. Margaret Mullin (Thundering Eagle Woman) put it this way:
Can the Rev. Margaret Mullin/Thundering Eagle [W]oman from the Bear Clan be a strong Anishinaabe woman and a Christian simultaneously? Yes I can, because I do not have my feet in two different worlds, two different religions, or two different understandings of God. The two halves of me are one in the same Spirit. I can learn from my grandparents, European and Indigenous Canadian, who have all walked on the same path ahead of me. I can learn from Jesus and I can learn from my Elders.85
Each of the Settlement Agreement churches has wrestled with the theological challenges and necessary institutional reforms that arise with regard to Indigenous spiritual beliefs and practices. At the same time, Aboriginal church members have taken a leadership role to advocate for Indigenous perspectives and ensure that they are fully represented in the institutional structures, programs, and services of their respective churches.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Canada in 2013 endorsed a report on the development of a theological framework for Aboriginal spirituality within the church. The report noted “the need for Aboriginal Christians to be true to both their Indigenous identity and to their [Christian] faith,” and concluded, among other things, that “this conversation has the potential not simply to help us address our relationship as Presbyterians with Aboriginal people; it has the potential to contribute to the renewal of our church.”86
The Anglican Church has developed a vision for a self-governing Indigenous church to coexist within the broader institutional structure of the church. In 2001, a strategic plan called “A New Agape” was formally adopted by the church’s General Synod meeting. The plan set out the church’s vision for a
new relationship … based on a partnership which focuses on the cultural, spiritual, social and economic independence of Indigenous communities. To give expression to this new relationship The Anglican Church of Canada will work primarily with … Indigenous peoples for a truly Anglican Indigenous Church in Canada. It is an important step in the overall quest for self-governance.87
In 2007, the church appointed Rev. Mark MacDonald as its first Indigenous National Bishop.
The United Church has also examined its theological foundations. In a 2006 report, “Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire: Report to the Thirty-ninth General Council 2006,” the United Church responded to an earlier call from the World Council of Churches “to reflect on the question of power and empire from a biblical and theological perspective and take a firm faith stance against hegemonic powers because all power is accountable to God.”88 The report recommended that further work be done, and a follow-up report, “Reviewing Partnership in the Context of Empire,” was issued in 2009. The report’s theological reflection noted:
Our development of the partnership model was an attempt to move beyond the paternalism and colonialism of 19th century missions. The current work to develop right relations with Aboriginal peoples is an attempt to move beyond a history of colonization and racism. This ongoing struggle to move beyond empire involves the recognition that our theology and biblical interpretation have often supported sexism, racism, colonialism, and the exploitation of creation…. Theologies of empire have understood God and men as separate from and superior to women, Indigenous peoples, and nature.89
In 2012, the Executive of the General Council reported on the follow-up to the 2006 and 2009 reports on how to re-envision the church’s theological purpose and restructure its institutions by shifting from a theology of empire to a theology of partnership.90
The Commission asked all the Settlement Agreement churches to tell us their views on Indigenous spirituality and what steps were being taken within their respective institutions to respect Indigenous spiritual practices. In 2015, two of the Settlement Agreement churches responded to this call.
On January 29, 2015, the Presbyterian Church in Canada issued a “Statement on Aboriginal Spiritual Practices.” Among other things, the church said:
As part of the Churches’ commitment to a journey of truth and reconciliation, the Presbyterian Church in Canada has learned that many facets of Aboriginal traditional spiritualities bring life and oneness with creation. Accepting this has sometimes been a challenge for the Presbyterian Church in Canada. We are now aware that there is a wide variety of Aboriginal spiritual practices and we acknowledge that it is for our church to continue in humility to learn the deep significance of these practices and to respect them and the Aboriginal elders who are the keepers of their traditional sacred truths.…
We acknowledge and respect both Aboriginal members of the Presbyterian Church in Canada who wish to bring traditional practices into their congregations and those Aboriginal members who are not comfortable or willing to do so. The church must be a community where all are valued and respected. It is not for the Presbyterian Church in Canada to validate or invalidate Aboriginal spiritualities and practices. Our church, however, is deeply respectful of these traditions.91
On February 18, 2015, the United Church of Canada issued a statement, “Affirming Other Spiritual Paths.” The document sets out various statements and apologies made by the church with regard to Indigenous spirituality, including an expression of reconciliation at the TRC’s Alberta National Event on March 27, 2014. Among other things, the church said:
In humility, the Church acknowledges its complicity in the degradation of Aboriginal wisdom and spirituality, and offers the following statements from its recent history. In doing so, the Church recognizes with pain that this is a complex and sensitive issue for some within Aboriginal communities of faith, who as a result of our Christianizing work, and the legacy of colonialism, are on a journey to restore harmony and spiritual balance.…
We have learned that ‘good intentions’ are never enough, especially when wrapped in the misguided zeal of cultural and spiritual superiority. Thus, we have learned that we were wrong to reject, discredit, and yes, even outlaw traditional indigenous spiritual practice and ceremony; in amazing circles of grace, as we have begun to listen to the wisdom of the Elders, we have found our own faith enriched and deepened. And we are grateful. We know we have a long journey ahead of us. We are committed to make that journey in humility and partnership, engaging in the healing work of making “whole” our own spirituality, and acknowledging that holding both your spirituality and ours is possible through listening and learning with open hearts.92
Unlike the Protestant churches, in which theological reflection and institutional reform have been undertaken at the national level, the Roman Catholic Church in Canada’s approach to Indigenous spirituality has emphasized decision making at the local diocesan level. However, in a submission to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1993, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed its views on Indigenous spirituality:
The Native spiritual voice is now finding greater resonance in the broader Christian and social worlds. Native Christianity today is marked by the development of a theology that comes from Native prayer, culture, and experience…. As bishops, we have encouraged Native Catholic leaders to take increasing responsibility for the faith life of their communities….
We also recognize that for some Native Peoples, Christianity and Native spirituality are mutually exclusive. We are committed to responding to this belief in a spirit of dialogue and respect, and to encouraging Native Peoples to join in conversation between Christianity and Native spirituality…. We will continue to explore the possibility of establishing channels of communication between our own spiritual heritage and Aboriginal spiritualities.93
In terms of institutional reform, the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, established in 1998, advises the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on issues regarding Aboriginal peoples within the Catholic Church. The council’s mandate is to study and analyze “issues related to Catholic Aboriginal spirituality and education”; encourage “Aboriginal leadership in the Christian community”; support and promote “reconciliation in the context of the Catholic reality”; and serve “as an important link between Aboriginal Catholics and non-Aboriginal Catholics.”94
The Commission notes that all the Settlement Agreement churches have recognized the need to provide theological education and training for Aboriginal church members to take leadership positions within the churches and work in Aboriginal ministry programs. Beginning in 2007, the Churches’ Council on Theological Education in Canada held a series of conferences that sought to encourage and deepen the exploration of questions with respect to Indigenous and Christian beliefs and the incorporation of Indigenous cultural and spiritual practices into Christian practices. Through these events, the council also sought to challenge post-secondary institutions to consider how best to prepare theological students for ministry in Canada, in consideration not only of Indigenous people, their culture and spirituality, but also of the need for churches to engage in healing and reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
The Toronto School of Theology made a public commitment to giving the same academic respect to Indigenous knowledge, including traditional Indigenous spiritual teachings, “as [to] traditions of Greek philosophy and modern science.”95 This pledge was made at “The Meeting Place,” an event co-sponsored by Council Fire Native Cultural Centre and the Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada in June of 2012.
Yet, more remains to be done in education and training with regard to reconciling Indigenous spirituality and Christianity in ways that support Indigenous self-determination. Writing in 2009, the former Archdeacon for the Anglican Church and founding member of the Indian Ecumenical Conference, Rev. John A. (Ian) MacKenzie, said,
Most urgently, churches need to consider opening a serious dialogue with Aboriginal theologians, doctors, and healers who represent … the North American intellectual tradition.… [Aboriginal peoples] call for recognition of the truth of past injustices and respect for their civilizations. Most of all, this is a call for respect for their traditional religious thoughts and practices. The only legitimate North American intellectual tradition comes from the diverse tribal societies in our midst!…
Sustainable reconciliation will only take place when every Canadian seminary includes a course on Aboriginal religious traditions; when every congregation … reflect[s] on North American intellectual tradition by initiating and inviting Aboriginal religious leaders to lead such discussions … when Aboriginal peoples achieve real self-government within their churches; and when Christian theology not only respects Aboriginal thought, but learns from it.96
Call to Action
60) We call upon leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres, to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and all clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.
Beginning in the 1990s, the four Settlement Agreement churches began allocating specific funds for community-based healing and reconciliation projects. This work continued under the terms of the Settlement Agreement. Each of the defendant churches agreed to provide and manage funds specifically dedicated to healing and reconciliation. All the churches established committees, including Aboriginal representatives, to review and approve projects. In broad terms, the reconciliation projects funded by the Settlement Agreement churches have had three primary purposes:
1) Healing. The Toronto Urban Native Ministry, funded by Anglican, United, and Roman Catholic churches, “reaches out to Aboriginal people on the street, in hospitals, in jails, shelters and hostels.”97 The ministry works with all Aboriginal people who are socially marginalized and impoverished, including Survivors and intergenerational family members who have been impacted by residential schools. Anamiewigumming Kenora Fellowship Centre, with funds from the Presbyterian Church in Canada, developed “A Step Up . . . tools for the soul,” in partnership with local Aboriginal organizations. Under the program, a series of ten teaching events led by Aboriginal Elders, teachers, and professionals were held to support Survivors and family members on their healing journey, featuring education about culture and tradition, with the goal of fostering reconciliation.98
2) Language and culture revitalization. The Language Immersion Canoe Course in Tofino, British Columbia, funded by the United Church, focused on reconnecting Aboriginal youth to their homelands and cultures. For one month, young Aboriginal people from Vancouver Island, including the community of Ahousaht, where the United Church operated a school, were taken to a remote and ancient Hesquiaht village site to learn the Hesquiah language through the art of canoe making.99
The Four Season Cultural Camps of the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario, funded by the Anglican Church, used traditional practices of harvesting, food storage, storytelling, and related ceremonies to promote language and culture.100 The Anglicans also supported a wilderness retreat for young people at the Nibinamik First Nation at Summer Beaver, Ontario. It taught traditional life ways, while instilling a sense of self-confidence in the youth as they successfully completed the activities in the camp.101
3) Education and relationship building. The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches still have relatively large numbers of Aboriginal members, so many of their initiatives focused on bringing their own Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members together. The Anglican Church has worked to help build understanding and counter stereotypes among its members through anti-racism training. The Roman Catholic entities were among the core funders of the Returning to Spirit: Residential School Healing and Reconciliation Program. The program brings Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal participants together to gain new insights into the residential school experience and develop new communication and relationship-building skills.102
The Settlement Agreement churches bear a special responsibility to continue to support the long-term healing needs of Survivors, their families, and communities who are still struggling with a range of health, social, and economic impacts. The closure of the national Aboriginal Healing Foundation in 2014 when government funding ended has left a significant gap in funding for community-based healing projects, at the very time that healing for many individuals and communities is still just beginning.103 The churches must also continue to educate their own congregations and facilitate dialogue between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Much has been accomplished through the healing and reconciliation projects of the Settlement Agreement churches, but more remains to be done.
Call to Action
61) We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for:
i. Community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects.
ii. Community-controlled culture- and language-revitalization projects.
iii. Community-controlled education and relationship-building projects.
iv. Regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self-determination, and reconciliation.
Much of the current state of troubled relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians is attributable to educational institutions and what they have taught, or failed to teach, over many generations. Despite that history, or, perhaps more correctly, because of its potential, the Commission believes that education is also the key to reconciliation. Educating Canadians for reconciliation involves not only schools and post-secondary institutions, but also dialogue forums and public history institutions such as museums and archives. Education must remedy the gaps in historical knowledge that perpetuate ignorance and racism.
But education for reconciliation must do even more. Survivors told us that Canadians must learn about the history and legacy of residential schools in ways that change both minds and hearts. At the Manitoba National Event in Winnipeg, Allan Sutherland said,
There are still a lot of emotions [that are] unresolved. People need to tell their stories…. We need the ability to move forward together but you have to understand how it all began [starting with] Christopher Columbus, from Christianization, then colonization, and then assimilation…. If we put our minds and hearts to it, we can [change] the status quo.104
At the Commission’s Community Hearing in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in 2010, Esther Lachinette-Diabo said,
I’m doing this interview in hope that we could use this as an educational tool to educate our youth about what happened…. Maybe one day the Ministry of Education can work with the TRC and develop some kind of curriculum for Native Studies, Indigenous learning. So that not only Aboriginal people can understand, you know, what we had to go through—the experiences of all the Anishinaabe people that attended—but for the Canadian people as well to understand that the residential schools did happen. And through this sharing, they can understand and hear stories from Survivors like me.105
In Lethbridge, Alberta, in 2013, Charlotte Marten said,
I would like to see action taken as a result of the findings of this Commission. I would like to see the history of the residential school system be part of the school curriculum across Canada. I want my grandchildren and the future generations of our society to know the whole truth behind Canada’s residential school policy and how it destroyed generations of our people. It is my hope that by sharing the truth that it will help the public gain a better understanding of the struggles we face as First Nations.106
Non-Aboriginal Canadians hear about the problems faced by Aboriginal communities, but they have almost no idea how those problems developed. There is little understanding of how the federal government contributed to that reality through residential schools and the policies and laws in place during their existence. Our education system, through omission or commission, has failed to teach this. It bears a large share of the responsibility for the current state of affairs. It became clear over the course of the Commission’s work that most adult Canadians have been taught little or nothing about the residential schools. More typically, they were taught that the history of Canada began when the first European explorers set foot in the New World. Nation building has been the main theme of Canada’s history curricula for a long time, and Aboriginal peoples, with a few notable exceptions, have been portrayed as bystanders, if not obstacles, to that enterprise.
Prior to 1970, school textbooks across the country depicted Aboriginal peoples as being either savage warriors or onlookers who were irrelevant to the more important history of Canada: the story of European settlement. Beginning in the 1980s, the history of Aboriginal people was sometimes cast in a more positive light, but the poverty and social dysfunction in Aboriginal communities were emphasized without any historical context to help students understand how or why these happened. This has left most Canadians with the view that Aboriginal people were and are to blame for the situations in which they find themselves, as though there were no external causes. Aboriginal peoples have therefore been characterized as a social and economic problem that must be solved.
By the 1990s, textbooks emphasized the role of Aboriginal peoples as protestors, advocating for rights. Most Canadians failed to understand or appreciate the significance of these rights, given the overriding perspective of Aboriginal assimilation in Canada’s education system.
Although textbooks have become more inclusive of Aboriginal perspectives over the past three decades, the role of Aboriginal people in Canadian history during much of the twentieth century remains invisible. Students learn something about Aboriginal peoples prior to contact, and during the exploration, fur-trade, and settlement periods. They learn about Métis resistance in the 1880s, and the signing of Treaties. Then, Aboriginal peoples virtually disappear until the 1960s and 1970s, when they resurface as political and social justice activists. The defining period in between remains largely unmentioned.107 So much of the story of Aboriginal peoples, as seen through their own eyes, is still missing from Canadian history.
In the Commission’s view, all students—Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal—need to learn that the history of this country did not begin with the arrival of Jacques Cartier on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. They need to learn about the Indigenous nations the Europeans met, about their rich linguistic and cultural heritage, about what they felt and thought as they dealt with such historic figures as Champlain, La Vérendrye, and the representatives of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Canadians need to learn why Indigenous nations negotiated the Treaties and to understand that they negotiated with integrity and in good faith. They need to learn about why Aboriginal leaders and Elders still fight so hard to defend those Treaties, what these agreements represent to them, and why they have been ignored by European settlers or governments. They need to learn about what it means to have inherent rights, what those are for Aboriginal peoples, and what the settler government’s political and legal obligations are in those areas where Treaties were never negotiated. They need to learn why so many of these issues are ongoing. They need to learn about the Doctrine of Discovery—the politically and socially accepted basis for presumptive European claims to the land and riches of this country—and to understand that this same doctrine is now being repudiated around the world, most recently by the United Nations and the World Council of Churches.
Survivors have also said that knowing about these things is not enough. Our public education system also needs to influence behaviour by undertaking to teach our children—Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal—how to speak respectfully to, and about, each other in the future. Reconciliation is all about respect.
The Commission’s 2012 Interim Report made three recommendations directed at provincial and territorial governments:
Recommendation 4: The Commission recommends that each provincial and territorial government undertake a review of the curriculum materials currently in use in public schools to assess what, if anything, they teach about residential schools.
Recommendation 5: The Commission recommends that provincial and territorial departments of education work in concert with the Commission to develop age-appropriate educational materials about residential schools for use in public schools.
Recommendation 6: The Commission recommends that each provincial and territorial government work with the Commission to develop public education campaigns to inform the general public about the history and impact of residential schools in their respective jurisdictions.
At various times, the Commission met with provincial and territorial education ministers from across Canada. In July 2014, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) gave us an update on the status of curriculum-development commitments across the country.108 The Commission was encouraged to see that progress has been made. We note, however, that not all provinces and territories have yet made curriculum about residential schools mandatory, and not all courses cover the subject in depth.
The Northwest Territories and Nunavut have taken a leadership role in developing and implementing mandatory curriculum about residential schools for all high school students, in engaging Survivors directly in the development of new materials, and in ensuring that teachers receive appropriate training and support, including direct dialogues with Survivors. At the time of this writing, Yukon had begun the process of adapting the Northwest Territories and Nunavut materials for mandatory use in its territory. Among the provinces, Alberta publicly declared that it was launching its own initiative to develop mandatory curriculum on the Treaties and residential schools for all students.
These education initiatives are significant, but it will be essential to ensure that momentum is not lost in the years following the end of the Commission’s mandate. To be successful over the long term, this and similar initiatives will require substantive and sustained support from provincial and territorial governments, educators, and local school districts. An ongoing commitment from ministers of education throughout the country is critical. The Commission notes that on July 9, 2014, the CMEC announced that education ministers
agreed to additional pan-Canadian work in Aboriginal education to take place over the next two years, which will focus on four key directional ideas: support for Aboriginal students interested in pursuing teaching as a career; development of learning resources on Canadian history and the legacy of Indian Residential Schools that could be used by teacher training programs; sharing of promising practices in Aboriginal education; and ongoing promotion of learning about Indian Residential Schools in K–12 education systems.109
In regions where curriculum and teacher training on residential schools have been introduced, it will be necessary to build on these early successes and evaluate progress on an ongoing basis. Where education about residential schools is minimal, provincial and territorial governments can benefit from the lessons learned in jurisdictions that have made this material a mandatory requirement.
The Commission notes that throughout the residential school era, Catholic and Protestant religious schools taught students only about their own religions. Students were ill prepared to understand or respect other religious or spiritual perspectives, including those of Aboriginal peoples. In our view, no religious school receiving public funding should be allowed to teach one religion to the complete exclusion of all other religions. This is consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada decision in S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes in 2012. At issue was whether Québec’s mandatory Ethics and Religious Cultures Program, which was introduced in 2008 to replace Catholic and Protestant programs of religious and moral instruction with a comparative religions course taught from a neutral and objective perspective, violated charter rights of Catholic parents and children to be taught only Catholic religious beliefs.110 However, the court ruled:
Exposing children to a comprehensive presentation of various religions without forcing the children to join them does not constitute an indoctrination of students that would infringe the freedom of religion.… Furthermore, the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society. The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes on religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government’s obligations with regard to public education.111
The Commission believes that religious diversity courses must be mandatory in all provinces and territories. Any religious school receiving public funding must be required to teach at least one course on comparative religious studies, which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices.
Calls to Action
62) We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:
i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.
ii. Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.
iii. Provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.
iv. Establish senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minis ter level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education.
63) We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:
i. Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.
ii. Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.
iii. Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.
iv. Identifying teacher-training needs relating to the above.
64) We call upon all levels of government that provide public funds to denomina tional schools to require such schools to provide an education on comparative religious studies, which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices developed in collaboration with Aboriginal Elders.
The Commission believes that to be an effective force for reconciliation, curriculum about residential schools must be part of a broader history education that integrates First Nations, Inuit, and Métis voices, perspectives, and experiences; and builds common ground between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. The education system itself must be transformed into one that rejects the racism embedded in colonial systems of education and treats Aboriginal and Euro-Canadian knowledge systems with equal respect.112
This is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which articulates the state’s responsibility with regard to public education and the promotion of respectful relationships between citizens, as follows:
Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information. [Article 15:1]
States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned, to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society. [Article 15:2]
Fully implementing this national education framework will take many years, but will ensure that Aboriginal children and youth see themselves and their cultures, languages, and histories respectfully reflected in the classroom. Non-Aboriginal learners will benefit, as well. Taught in this way, all students, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, gain historical knowledge while also developing respect and empathy for each other. Both elements will be vital to supporting reconciliation in the coming years.
Developing respect for, and understanding of, the situation of others is an important but often ignored part of the reconciliation process. Survivors’ testimonies compelled those who listened to think deeply about what justice really means in the face of mass human rights violations. Teaching and learning about the residential schools are difficult for educators and students alike. They can bring up feelings of anger, grief, shame, guilt, and denial. But they can also shift understanding and alter world views.113 Education for reconciliation requires not only age-appropriate curriculum, but also ensuring that teachers have the necessary skills, supports, and resources to teach Canadian students about the residential school system in a manner that fosters constructive dialogue and mutual respect.
Educating the heart as well as the mind helps young people to become critical thinkers who are also engaged, compassionate citizens.114 At the Alberta National Event, a youth delegation from Feathers of Hope, a project sponsored by Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, offered an expression of reconciliation. Samantha Crowe said,
Feathers of Hope began as a First Nations youth forum but it quickly [became] a movement of hope, healing, and positive change within northern Ontario’s First Nations communities. You spoke passionately about wanting to learn about the past, and said that First Nations and non-First Nations people alike need to understand our history, and the impacts it still has on everything around us.… First Nations and non-First Nations people need to understand how colonization, racism, that residential schools still continue to negatively impact the quality of life in our communities.
Everyone, especially the young people … need to learn of Canada’s history, of our past, to truly try and understand our present. This needs to be taught in school, but it also needs to be heard first-hand from our family, our friends, and our other community members. This will begin the journey of healing together as a family or as a community because we can no longer live [with] a silence that hides our pain. So while youth want to know of their past, they are ready to move forward. They understand they need positive change, but they don’t want to do this alone. We all need to come together so we can share, so we can grow, and then we can uplift one another, because that’s what reconciliation is about.115
Learning about the residential schools history is crucial to reconciliation, but can be effective only if Canadians also learn from this history in terms of repairing broken trust, strengthening a sense of civic responsibility, and spurring remedial and constructive action.116 In a digital world, where students have ready access to a barrage of information concerning Treaties, Aboriginal rights, or historical wrongs such as residential schools, they must know how to assess the credibility of these sources for themselves. As active citizens, they must be able to engage in debates on these issues, armed with real knowledge and deepened understanding about the past.
Understanding the ethical dimension of history is especially important. Students must be able to make ethical judgments about the actions of their ancestors while recognizing that the moral sensibilities of the past may be quite different from their own in present times. They must be able to make informed decisions about what responsibility today’s society has to address historical injustices.117 This will ensure that tomorrow’s citizens are both knowledgeable and caring about the injustices of the past, as these relate to their own futures.
For reconciliation to thrive in the coming years, it will also be necessary for federal, provincial, and territorial governments, universities, and funding agencies to invest in and support new research on reconciliation. Over the course of the Commission’s work, a wide range of research projects across the country have examined the meaning, concepts, and practices of reconciliation. Yet, there remains much to learn about the circumstances and conditions in which reconciliation either fails or flourishes. Equally important, there are rich insights into healing and reconciliation that emerge from the research process itself. Two research projects sponsored by the Commission illustrate this point.
Through a TRC-sponsored project at the Centre for Youth & Society at the University of Victoria, seven Aboriginal youth researchers embarked on a digital storytelling project, “Residential Schools Resistance Narratives: Strategies and Significance for Indigenous Youth.” The project enabled youth researchers to learn about the critical role that resistance and resilience played in the residential schools and beyond, but also allowed them to reflect on their own identities and roles within their families and communities. One youth researcher said that “what started as a research job turned into a personal hunt for knowledge of my own family’s history with residential schools.” Others noted the importance of respecting and incorporating ceremony and protocols in their digital storytelling projects. Asma Antoine, the project coordinator, reported that the group learned the importance of
knowing that when speaking to a Survivor … you have to hear their past before you can hear their understanding of resistance. This project allowed the group [to have] a learning process that weaves [together] traditional [Indigenous] and Western knowledge to build our stories of resistance…. This research project has ignited a fire that shows in each digital story. The passion of resistance that validates the survival and resiliency of First Nations people and communities provides hope for healing and reconciliation over the next seven generations.118
In 2012, a digital storytelling project was undertaken by Aboriginal women at the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence: “Nitâpwewininân: Ongoing Effects of Residential Schools on Aboriginal Women—Towards Inter-Generational Reconciliation.” Using ceremony and protocols throughout the project, the first workshop began with a pipe ceremony, followed by a Sharing Circle in which participants talked about their lives and the group discussed their individual and collective needs for support. They later moved on to making videos of their individual stories, which were screened in March 2012 at the University of Winnipeg.119 One of the participants, Lorena Fontaine, said,
Reconciliation is about stories and our ability to tell stories. I think the intellectual part of ourselves wants to start looking for words to define reconciliation. And then there is the heart knowledge that comes from our life experiences. It’s challenging to connect the two and relate it to reconciliation…. Without even thinking of the term reconciliation, I’m reminded about the power of story.… [People who watched the videos] said that when they saw the faces of Aboriginal women and heard their voices in the videos they understood assimilation in a different way. They felt the impact of assimilation…. It’s far more powerful to have Aboriginal peoples talk about the impact of assimilation and hope for reconciliation than having words written down in a report.120
Research is vital to reconciliation. It provides insights and practical examples of why and how educating Canadians about the diverse concepts, principles, and practices of reconciliation contributes to healing and transformative social change.
The benefits of research extend beyond addressing the legacy of residential schools. Research on the reconciliation process can inform how Canadian society can mitigate intercultural conflicts, strengthen civic trust, and build social capacity and practical skills for long-term reconciliation. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples have an especially strong contribution to make to this work.
Research partnerships between universities and communities or organizations are fruitful collaborations and can provide the necessary structure to document, analyze, and report research findings on reconciliation to a broader audience.
Call to Action
65) We call upon the federal government, through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, post-secondary institutions and educators, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and its partner institutions, to establish a national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation.
Education for reconciliation must happen not only in formal education settings such as elementary and secondary schools and post-secondary institutions, but in more informal places. One of the ways that the Commission fulfilled its public education mandate was through forums such as National Event Education Days and Youth Dialogues. The Commission believes that establishing a strong foundation for reconciliation depends on the achievement of individual self-respect and mutual respect between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. While this is true for adults, it is particularly urgent with regard to young people; they are the lifeblood of reconciliation into the future.
At the Saskatchewan National Event, Grade Eight student Brooklyn Rae, who attended the Education Day, said, “I think it’s really important for youth to voice their opinions, to not only prove to themselves that they can, that their voice is important, but to prove to adults that they have a voice and that they have a strong opinion that is important in the world.”121 Elder Barney Williams, a member of the TRC’s Survivor Committee and one of the panellists at the Education Day Youth Dialogue, said,
I think more and more people are realizing that the engagement of youth is crucial. For me, as a Survivor, I’m really impressed with how much they knew. I was very impressed with the type of questions the audience asked. It tells me, as somebody who’s carried this pain for over sixty-eight years, that there’s hope. Finally there’s hope on the horizon and it’s coming from the right place. It’s coming from the youth.122
The Commission agrees. We believe that children and youth must have a strong voice in developing reconciliation policy, programs, and practices into the future. It is therefore vital to develop appropriate public education strategies to support the ongoing involvement of children and youth in age-appropriate reconciliation initiatives and projects at community, regional, and national levels.
Through direct participation in the TRC’s National Events, thousands of young people and their teachers across the country had the opportunity to learn about the residential schools and think about their own role and responsibility in reconciliation. The TRC’s Education Days were designed specifically for elementary and high school students and their teachers. Young people had the opportunity to listen to, and interact with, Elders and Survivors. They attended interactive workshops where they learned about the residential school history, resilience, and healing through the arts—painting, carving, storytelling, music, and film. They visited the Learning Places to walk through the Legacy of Hope Foundation display, “One Hundred Years of Loss,” and to see posters and archival photographs of the residential schools from their own region.
Education Days were well attended. For example, at the British Columbia National Event in Vancouver, approximately 5,000 elementary and high school students from across the province spent the day at the National Event. In advance of Education Day, teachers in each region were given orientation materials to help prepare their students and themselves. In total, close to 15,000 young people across the country have participated in such Education Days, most with a commitment to take what they learned and witnessed back to their home schools to share with thousands more of their fellow students.
Over the course of the TRC’s mandate, the Commission worked in partnership with the International Center for Transitional Justice’s (ictj) Children and Youth Program to host a series of small retreats and workshops. Youth Dialogues were also integrated into Education Day activities at National Events. Their purpose was to engage youth in dialogue and to support their efforts to make their own submissions to the TRC. For example, in October 2010, the Commission co-sponsored an Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal youth retreat near Vancouver, British Columbia. Young people came together to learn about the residential schools, talk with Elders, and share team-building activities. One young participant said that during the retreat, “we learn[ed] more about each other and the past. It’s really important because it actually teaches us, the stories that we heard it touched us, and it inspired us to become better people.”123
In June of 2011, Molly Tilden and Marlisa Brown, two young women who attended this retreat, produced their own video documentary, Our Truth: The Youth Perspective on Residential Schools. The production featured interviews with their classmates in Yellowknife about what they knew about the residential schools. They presented the video at the Northern National Event in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.124 Virginie Ladisch, director of ictj’s Children and Youth Program, summarized what the two young women found and the subsequent impact of the project.
The answers are shocking: some students had no knowledge, or simply complete indifference; those are largely the non-Aboriginal youth interviewed. Other students talk about the enduring impact they see in terms of high rates of alcoholism, suicide, and teenage pregnancies.
So there’s a huge disconnect in terms of how the young people view the relevance of this legacy and what knowledge they have of it. When that video was shared with people involved in designing the secondary school curriculum for the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, they could not believe that their youth had such reactions.
So the curriculum on residential schools, which was previously barely addressed in the classroom, was revised to be a mandatory 25 hours of instruction, of which Ms. Brown and Ms. Tilden’s video is a critical component.125
In October of 2011, the TRC–ictj initiative prepared and supported a group of Mi’kmaq youth reporters at the Halifax National Event. They interviewed Survivors and documented the TRC event. At a follow-up retreat in the community, the young reporters discussed their experiences and produced a documentary called Our Legacy, Our Hope.126 In 2012, the documentary was presented at the Youth Dialogue during the TRC’s National Event in Saskatchewan.127 Some of the youth also presented this documentary to international policymakers at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2012.128
The Commission’s interactions with youth indicated that young people care deeply about the past. They understand that knowing the whole story about Canada’s history is relevant for today and crucial for their future. This was evident, for example, in an expression of reconciliation made to the TRC at the Alberta National Event on March 27, 2014, by a group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth from the Centre for Global Education in Edmonton. One of the non-Aboriginal youth, Hanshi Liu, told us about the project. First, the group—made up of youth from First Nations reserves, the rural communities of High Prairie and Fort MacLeod, and the city of Edmonton— spent a month studying and talking about residential schools and their shared history. They then held a virtual town hall where over 300 students talked about their vision for reconciliation.
Emerald Blesse from Little River Cree Nation told us that “youth believe that reconciliation is the way to re-establish lost trust and open doors to positive and productive communications. When we affirm every culture’s pride in their heritage, healing can take place….” Hayley Grier-Stewart, representing the Kainai, Siksika, Tsuu T’ina, and Stony First Nations, said that “the youth believe that within our communities, we need to teach and create awareness, cultural appreciation, as well as healing and restoration. If we introduce youth to the culture at a young age in our schools, through curriculum and the practice of restorative justice, it will teach the younger generation to be proactive instead of reactive.” Métis youth Shelby Lachlan said that
the youth of Alberta believe that in order to move forward, towards healing and reconciliation, it is important for action to be taken on a national and provincial level. First we must re-establish trust between these two [Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal] collectives, and through the honouring, acknowledgement, and respect of all Treaties and settlements, we believe this can be achieved.129
Youth Forums and Dialogues are a vital component of education for reconciliation. Non-profit organizations can play a key role in providing ongoing opportunities for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth to participate in intercultural dialogue and work actively together to foster reconciliation.
Call to Action
66) We call upon the federal government to establish multi-year funding for commu nity-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation, and estab lish a national network to share information and best practices.
Museums and archives, as sites of public memory and national history, have a key role to play in national reconciliation. As publicly funded institutions, museums and archives in settler colonial states such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States have interpreted the past in ways that have excluded or marginalized Aboriginal peoples’ cultural perspectives and historical experience. Museums have traditionally been thought of as places where a nation’s history is presented in neutral, objective terms. Yet, as history that had formerly been silenced was revealed, it became evident that Canada’s museums had told only part of the story.130 In a similar vein, archives have been part of the “architecture of imperialism”—institutions that held the historical documents of the state.131 As Canada confronts its settler colonial past, museums and archives have been gradually transforming from institutions of colony and empire into more inclusive institutions that better reflect the full richness of Canadian history.
Political and legal developments on international and national fronts have contributed to this change. Around the globe, the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has resulted in the growing recognition that Indigenous peoples have the right to be self-determining peoples and that the state has a duty to protect Indigenous traditional knowledge and cultural rights. The Declaration also establishes that actions by the state that affect Indigenous peoples require their free, prior, and informed consent. States have an obligation to take effective measures to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples or to make reparations where traditional knowledge or cultural rights have been violated. This has significant implications for national museums and archives and the public servants who work in them.132
The Commission emphasizes that several articles under the United Nations Declaration have particular relevance for national museums and archives in Canada. These include:
• Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature. [Article 11:1]
• States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs. [Article 11:2]
• Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains. [Article 12:1]
• States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned. [Article 12:2]
The Declaration, in conjunction with Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982, which recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and various court rulings related to Aboriginal rights have fundamentally altered the landscape in Canada’s public history institutions. In light of court decisions that have declared that the principle of the honour of the Crown must be upheld by the state in all its dealings with Aboriginal peoples and that Aboriginal peoples’ oral history must be “placed on an equal footing” with written historical documents, national museums and archives have been compelled to respond accordingly.133 The governance structures, policies, ethical codes, and daily operations of national museums and archives have had to adapt to accommodate the constitutional and legal realities of Canada’s changing relationship with Aboriginal peoples.134
The 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples made a specific recommendation to Canada’s museums.
a) Museums and cultural institutions [should] adopt ethical guidelines govern ing all aspects of collection, disposition, display and interpretation of artifacts related to Aboriginal culture and heritage, including the following:
b) Involving Aboriginal people in drafting, endorsing and implementing the guidelines;
c) Creating inventories of relevant holdings and making such inventories freely accessible to Aboriginal people;
d) Cataloguing and designating appropriate use and display of relevant holdings;
e) Repatriating, on request, objects that are sacred or integral to the history and continuity of particular nations and communities;
f) Returning human remains to the family, community or nation of origin, on request, or consulting with Aboriginal advisers on appropriate disposition, where remains cannot be associated with a particular nation;
g) Ensuring that Aboriginal people and communities have effective access to cultural education and training opportunities available through museums and cultural institutions. [Recommendation 3.\6.\4]135
In the years following the Royal Commission’s report, museums across the country have implemented many of its recommendations.136 Many have worked with communities to repatriate human remains or cultural artifacts. For some institutions, consultation and collaborative partnerships with Aboriginal communities have become standard practice, and Aboriginal internships and other training opportunities have been established. Yet, more is still needed, even as museums are faced with significant challenges in obtaining adequate and stable multi-year funding to properly support these critical initiatives.137
Over the past three decades, Canadian museums that used to tell the story of the nation’s past with little regard for the histories of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples are slowly transforming. Although dialogue between museums and Aboriginal peoples has improved substantially since the 1980s, the broader debate continues over whose history is told and how it is interpreted. Here, we focus on two national museums, the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization)138 and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As national public history institutions, they bear a particular responsibility to retell the story of Canada’s past so that it reflects not only diverse cultures, history, and experiences of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, but also the collective violence and historical injustices that they have suffered at the hands of the state. It is instructive to examine how these two public history institutions plan to interpret the history of Aboriginal peoples and address historical injustices in the coming years.
Appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in June 2013, Mark O’Neill, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, acknowledged that many important aspects and milestones of Canadian history—including residential schools—have been missing from the museum.
[P]erhaps the most egregious flaw in the Canada Hall is its starting point. If you’ve been there, you will know that its telling of our national story begins not with the arrival of First Peoples but with the arrival of Europeans in the eleventh century. Colonization as a term or concept is not mentioned in Canada Hall. This is something we intend to correct. Canadians made it very clear to us during the public engagement process that the voices and the experiences of First Peoples must have a place in any narrative of Canadian history…. Canadians want us to be comprehensive, frank and fair in our presentation of their history. They want us to examine both the good and the bad from our past. We were urged to foster a sense of national pride without ignoring our failings, mistakes and controversies.139
In July 2013, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and its partner, the Canadian War Museum, released a joint research strategy intended to guide the research activities at both institutions until 2023. “Memory and commemoration” is a key research theme; objectives include the presentation of competing and contentious historical narratives of Confederation and the two world wars, and the use of “selected commemorations to explore concepts of myth, memory, and nation.” The museums intended to “present honestly, but respectfully, for public understanding issues of contention or debate … [through] deliberate exploration of traumatic pasts (e.g. Africville or residential schools).”140
Drawing on research showing that Canadians valued their “personal and family connections to history,” the Canadian Museum of History said that it intended to “explore the realities of contemporary life for Canada’s First Peoples [including] cultural engagements with modernity, environmental change, and globalization, evolving concepts of tradition, political mobilization, and new avenues of social expression … [and] the impact of rapid change in Canada’s North, especially for Inuit.”141 Another key research theme is “First Peoples,” with a particular focus on Aboriginal histories.
The histories and cultures of Aboriginal peoples are central to all Canadians’ understanding of their shared past. Respectful exploration of the interwoven, often difficult histories of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Peoples is a responsible, timely contribution to contemporary Canada, and to global understanding of Aboriginal Peoples…. There are four principal objectives in exploring and sharing Aboriginal narratives…. 1) Represent Aboriginal histories and cultures within broader Canadian narratives … 2) Explore inter-cultural engagement and its continuing impacts … 3) Broaden understanding of Aboriginal history before European contact … [and] 4) Deepen efforts to support First Peoples’ stewardship.142
We are encouraged to note that much of what the museum’s research strategy emphasizes is consistent with our own findings: Canadians, including youth and teachers, think they should learn about the history and legacy of residential schools and Aboriginal history more broadly. We take particular note of the prominence given to presenting both the positive and negative aspects of Canada’s history, demonstrating the relevance of the past to the present, including marginalized voices and perspectives, encouraging collaboration, and making connections between personal and public history.
As a national public history institution, the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg is mandated to “explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others, and to encourage reflection and dialogue.”143 Speaking at the TRC’s Forum on the National Research Centre in Vancouver on March 3, 2011, CMHR President and Chief Executive Officer Stuart Murray talked about the museum’s vision for, and role in, national reconciliation. He emphasized the prominent role of the CMHR’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis advisors, as well as the Elders Advisory Council, Aboriginal Youth Council, and the broader Aboriginal community, in the planning and programs developed by the museum.144
Given the deep controversies that exist regarding the history of the residential school system, it is perhaps not surprising that the CMHR was criticized by the Southern Chiefs Organization in Manitoba in June of 2013, after media reports that the museum would not “label human rights violations against First Nations as genocide.” From the Southern Chiefs Organization’s perspective, the museum was “sanitizing the true history of Canada’s shameful treatment of First Nations.”145 Stuart Murray issued a statement on July 26, 2013, clarifying the museum’s position.
In the Museum, we will examine the gross and systemic human rights violation of Indigenous peoples. This will include information about the efforts of the Aboriginal community, and others, to gain recognition of these violations as genocide—and we will use that word. We will look at the ways this recognition can occur when people combat denial and work to break the silence surrounding such horrific abuses…. We have chosen, at present, not to use the word “genocide” in the title for one of the exhibits about this experience, but will be using the term in the exhibit itself when describing community efforts for this recognition. Historical fact and emerging information will be presented to help visitors reach their own conclusions. While a museum does not have the power to make declarations of genocide, we can certainly encourage—through ongoing partnership with the Indigenous community itself—an honest examination of Canada’s human rights history, in hopes that respect and reconciliation will prevail.146
The museum signalled its intention to create opportunities for Canadians to engage in a much broader and long-overdue public dialogue about the issue of genocide as it relates to the residential school system. The CMHR envisioned creating a public education venue for teaching all Canadians to think more critically about the history of human rights violations against Aboriginal peoples.
Speaking about the forthcoming 2017 commemoration of Canada’s Confederation, Murray observed that Canada’s human rights record is not unblemished, and that
for many Aboriginal communities, this is not necessarily an event that warrants celebration. But by looking honestly and openly at our past, by engaging a diversity of voices and perspectives, and by celebrating what has been accomplished to overcome these mistakes, we will serve to make our nation more united, more proud, and more just. We can use this anniversary to continue on a journey of reconciliation.147
The Commission believes that, as Canada’s 150th anniversary approaches in 2017, national reconciliation is the most suitable framework to guide commemoration of this significant historical benchmark in Canada’s history. This intended celebration can be an opportunity for Canadians to take stock of the past, celebrating the country’s accomplishments without shirking responsibility for its failures. Fostering more inclusive public discourse about the past through a reconciliation lens would open up new and exciting possibilities for a future in which Aboriginal peoples take their rightful place in Canada’s history as founding nations who have strong and unique contributions to make to this country.
In the Commission’s view, there is an urgent need in Canada to develop historically literate citizens who understand why and how the past is relevant to their own lives and the future of the country. Museums have an ethical responsibility to foster national reconciliation, and not simply tell one party’s version of the past. This can be accomplished by representing the history of residential schools and of Aboriginal peoples in ways that invite multiple, sometimes conflicting, perspectives, yet ultimately facilitate empathy, mutual respect, and a desire for reconciliation that is rooted in justice.
The Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples, regional and local museums, and the Canadian Museums Association, should take a leadership role in making reconciliation a central theme in the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 2017.
It must be noted that although we have focused on national museums here, regional and local museums also have a critical role to play in creating opportunities for Canadians to examine the historical injustices suffered by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, engage in public dialogue about what has been done and what remains to be done to remedy this, and reflect on the spirit and intent of reconciliation. Through their exhibits, education outreach, and research programs, all museums are well positioned to contribute to education for reconciliation.
Calls to Action
67) We call upon the federal government to provide funding to the Canadian Museums Association to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of museum policies and best practices to determine the level of compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to make recommendations.
68) We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peo ples, and the Canadian Museums Association to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017 by establishing a dedicated national funding program for commemoration projects on the theme of reconciliation.
As Canada’s national archives, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a dual function with regard to its holdings on Aboriginal peoples. It is both a public history institution tasked with making documents relevant to Aboriginal history accessible to the public, and it is the custodian of federal government departmental historical records.
In 2005, LAC issued a “Collection Development Framework,” which set out the principles and practices that would guide the institution’s acquisitions and preservation of its holdings. The framework made specific commitments regarding materials related to Aboriginal peoples.
LAC recognizes the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to the documentary heritage of Canada, and realizes that, in building its collection of materials, it must take into account the diversity of Aboriginal cultures, the relationship the Government of Canada has with Aboriginal peoples, and the unique needs and realities of Aboriginal communities. The development of a national strategy will be done in consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal communities and organizations, and will respect the ways in which indigenous knowledge and heritage is preserved or ought to be preserved and protected within or outside of Aboriginal communities.148
Library and Archives Canada has developed various guides and resources related to researching Aboriginal heritage.149 But a fundamental tension exists between LAC’s public education mandate to work collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples to document their cultural and social history versus its legal obligation to serve the state. This tension is most evident where archived documents are relevant to various historical injustices involving Aboriginal peoples. Historical records housed in LAC have been used extensively as evidence by both Aboriginal claimants and Crown defendants in litigation involving residential schools, Treaties, Aboriginal title and rights cases, and land claims.
In the case of documents related to residential schools, the problems associated with LAC’s dual function became apparent during the litigation period prior to the Settlement Agreement. During this time, with regard to its public education mandate, LAC produced “Native Residential Schools in Canada: A Selective Bibliography” in 2002, and assisted Aboriginal people, academics, and other researchers who wished to access these holdings.150 But, because the residential schools litigation put the federal government in the position of being the major defendant in the court cases, the overriding priority for LAC, as the custodian of federal government departmental records, was to meet its legal obligations to the Crown.
Librarian and Archivist Emeritus Dr. Ian Wilson, Canada’s former national archivist, described this tension. He explained that, as the residential school litigation intensified,
Lawyers besieged the archives. Archivists, caught between the vagaries of old informal recordkeeping practices in church schools across the country, legal demands for instant and full access and obligations to employer and profession, struggled to uphold their ideal of the honest stewardship of the records…. This process has tested the capacity of the archives and our professional ability to respond.151
These challenges did not end with the implementation of the 2007 Settlement Agreement. The TRC’s own difficulties in gaining access to government records held in LAC demonstrated why state-controlled archives are not necessarily best suited to meet the needs of Survivors, their families, and communities.
By 2009, in terms of public education, LAC had partnered with the Legacy of Hope Foundation and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation on two exhibitions: Where are the Children? Healing the Legacy of the Residential Schools; and “We were so far away …”: The Inuit experience of residential schools.152 Library and Archives Canada also produced an updated online version of the bibliography, “The Legacy of the Residential School System in Canada: A Selective Bibliography.”153 In 2010, LAC made an online finding aid available, “Conducting Research on Residential Schools: A Guide to the Records of the Indian and Inuit Affairs Program and Related Resources at Library and Archives Canada.”154
In the spirit of reconciliation, LAC archivists (along with church archivists) brought binders of residential school photographs to the Learning Places at the TRC’s National Events, where Survivors and others could see them and get copies of their class pictures and other school activities. For many Survivors, especially those who had no visual record of their own childhood or no pictures of siblings who have since passed away, this proved to be one of the most treasured aspects of the National Events experience. However, during this same time period, LAC’s holdings and its role in complying with the federal government’s legal obligations for document production, under the terms of the Settlement Agreement, became the focus of court proceedings between the TRC and the federal government.
Schedule N to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement describes the mandate of the TRC as well as the obligations of the parties to the Agreement to assist the Commission in its work. There is a provision that deals with the obligation of the parties to provide relevant records to the Commission. It states:
In order to ensure the efficacy of the truth and reconciliation process, Canada and the churches will provide all relevant documents in their possession or control to and for the use of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, subject to the privacy interests of an individual as provided by applicable privacy legislation, and subject to and in compliance with applicable privacy and access to information legislation, and except for those documents for which solicitor-client privilege applies and is asserted.
In cases where privacy interests of an individual exist, and subject to and in compliance with applicable privacy legislation and access to information legislation, researchers for the Commission shall have access to the documents, provided privacy is protected. In cases where solicitor-client privilege is asserted, the asserting party will provide a list of all documents for which the privilege is claimed.
Canada and the churches are not required to give up possession of their original documents to the Commission. They are required to compile all relevant documents in an organized manner for review by the Commission and to provide access to their archives for the Commission to carry out its mandate. Provision of documents does not require provision of original documents. Originals or true copies may be provided or originals may be provided temporarily for copying purposes if the original documents are not to be housed with the Commission.
Insofar as agreed to by the individuals affected and as permitted by process requirements, information from the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), existing litigation and Dispute Resolution processes may be transferred to the Commission for research and archiving purposes.155
Gaining access to archival government records about the administration of the residential school system has been an important part of the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Such access has been essential for our own understanding of the history of government policy and practice in relation to Aboriginal peoples in general and residential schools in particular. But it has also been necessary to fulfilling our mandate obligation to ensure ongoing public access to the records through the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. The Commission’s attempts to obtain records were frustrated by a series of bureaucratic and legal roadblocks.
In April 2012, the Commission was compelled to file a “Request for Direction” in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice regarding access to relevant federal records housed in the national archives. At issue was the question of what Canada’s obligations were under the Settlement Agreement with respect to providing to the TRC archived government documents housed at Library and Archives Canada. The Commission, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Department of Justice, and Library and Archives Canada had very different views as to how the TRC should acquire these records.
In LAC’s view, its role was that of the neutral keeper of government records, whose task was to facilitate and empower federal government departments to canvass their own archival holdings.
Faced with the onerous task of conducting its own research through LAC’s vast holdings, Canada’s position was that its obligation was limited to searching and producing relevant documents from the active and semi-active files in various departments. The government’s view became that departments need provide the TRC only with departmental researcher status to access their archived documents at LAC so that the Commission could conduct its own research.
The TRC’s position was that Canada was obligated to produce all relevant documents, including those at LAC, and had an additional obligation to provide the Commission with access to LAC in order to conduct its own research. Although the TRC, in the spirit of co-operation, had agreed to obtain departmental researcher status, it maintained that this was unnecessary because the Settlement Agreement already gave the Commission unconditional access to the archives. The end result was that Canada had effectively shifted the onus of its responsibility to produce LAC documents onto the TRC.
In rendering his decision in favour of the Commission, Justice Stephen Goudge ruled:
In my view, the first paragraph of section 11 sets out Canada’s basic obligation concerning documents in its possession or control. The plain meaning of the language is straightforward. It is to provide all relevant documents to the TRC. The obligation is in unqualified language unlimited by where the documents are located within the government of Canada. Nor is the obligation limited to the documents assembled by Canada for production in the underlying litigation. [para. 69] I therefore conclude that given their meaning, the language in section 11 of Schedule N does not exclude documents archived at LAC from Canada’s obligation to the TRC. The context in which the Settlement Agreement was created provides further important support for that conclusion in several ways. [para. 71]
First, telling the history of Indian Residential Schools was clearly seen as a central aspect of the mandate of the TRC when the Settlement Agreement was made. Since Canada played a vital role in the irs [Indian Residential School] system, Canada’s documents wherever they were held, would have been understood as a very important historical resource for this purpose. [para. 72]
Second, the Settlement Agreement charged the TRC with compiling an historical record of the irs system to be accessible to the public in the future. Here too, Canada’s documents, wherever housed, would have been seen to be vital to this task. [para. 73]
Third, the story of the history and the historical record to be compiled cover over 100 years and dates back to the nineteenth century. In light of this time span, it would have been understood at the time of the Settlement Agreement that much of the relevant documentary record in Canada’s possession would be archived in LAC and would no longer be in the active or semi-active files of the departments of the Government of Canada. [para. 74]
Fourth, it would have been obvious that the experienced staff at LAC would have vastly more ability to identify and organize the relevant documents at LAC than would the newly hired staff of the newly formed TRC. It would have made little sense to give that task to the latter rather than the former, particularly given its importance to the TRC’s mandate. [para. 75]156
Although the difficulties the TRC encountered in obtaining LAC documents were specific to the Commission’s mandate, they highlight broader questions concerning the role of state archives and archivists in providing documents that reveal the facts of why and how a targeted group of people have suffered harms on a massive scale. As part of a growing trend towards demanding better government accountability and transparency, and the evolution of new privacy and freedom of information legislation, archives have become more directly connected to struggles for human rights and justice.157
Library and Archives Canada’s federal government departmental records pertaining to Aboriginal peoples are vital to understanding how human rights violations occurred and their subsequent impacts. In 2005, the United Nations adopted the Joinet-Orentlicher Principles, which set out remedial measures that states must undertake to satisfy their duty to guard against impunity from past human rights violations and prevent their reoccurrence. This includes victims’ right to know the truth about what happened to them and their missing family members. Society at large also has the right to know the truth about what happened in the past and what circumstances led to mass human rights violations. The state has a duty to safeguard this knowledge and to ensure that proper documentation is preserved in archives and history books.
The Joinet-Orentlicher Principles state, “The full and effective exercise of the right to truth is ensured through preservation of archives.” Equally important, ready access to the archives must be facilitated for victims and their relatives, and for the purposes of research (principles 5, 14, 15, 16).158
The Commission notes that in his August 2013 report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence, made specific reference to the importance of archives. He found that both a truth commission’s own records and those housed in national, regional, and local archives extend the life and legacy of the truth commission’s work. Archives can serve as permanent sites where post-commission accountability and the right to truth can be realized.159 He further explained that archives “are a means of guaranteeing that the voices of victims will not be lost, and they contribute to a culture of memorialisation and remembrance. They also provide a safeguard against revisionism and denial—essential given the long duration and non-linearity of social reconciliation and integration processes.”160 He concluded that “truth commissions and national archives contribute in a substantial manner to realizing the right to truth and may further criminal prosecutions, reparations, and institutional and personnel reforms,” and recommended that international archival standards be established.161
Although de Greiff does not reference Indigenous peoples specifically, we note that in many countries, including Canada, the access to, and protection of, historical records have been instrumental in advancing the rights of Indigenous peoples and documenting the state’s wrongful actions. In the wake of the South African and other truth commissions, some archivists have come to see themselves not simply as neutral custodians of national history, but also as professionals who are responsible for ensuring that records documenting past injustices are preserved and used to strengthen government accountability and support justice.162
Calls to Action
69) We call upon Library and Archives Canada to:
i. Fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Joinet-Orentlicher Principles, as related to Aboriginal peoples’ inalienable right to know the truth about what happened and why, with regard to human rights violations committed against them in the residential schools.
ii. Ensure that its record holdings related to residential schools are accessible to the public.
iii. Commit more resources to its public education materials and programming on residential schools.
70) We call upon the federal government to provide funding to the Canadian Association of Archivists to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of archival policies and best practices to:
i. Determine the level of compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Joinet-Orentlicher Principles, as related to Aboriginal peoples’ inalienable right to know the truth about what happened and why, with regard to human rights violations committed against them in the residential schools.
ii. Produce a report with recommendations for full implementation of these international mechanisms as a reconciliation framework for Canadian archives.
Over the course of the Commission’s work, many Aboriginal people spoke to us about the children who never came home from residential school. The question of what happened to their loved ones and where they were laid to rest has haunted families and communities. Throughout the history of Canada’s residential school system, there was no effort to record across the entire system the number of students who died while attending the schools each year. The National Residential School Student Death Register, established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, represents the first national effort to record the names of the students who died at school. The register is far from complete: there are, for example, many relevant documents that have yet to be received, collected, and reviewed.
Some of these records have been located in provincial records. In June 2012, at their annual general meeting, the Chief Coroners and Medical Examiners of Canada approved a unanimous resolution to support the TRC’s Missing Children Project by making available to the Commission their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities. The Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario had already done some groundbreaking work in terms of screening and reviewing its records, and identifying 120 possible cases of death of an Aboriginal residential school student. The TRC subsequently contacted chief coroners across the country to request their assistance in locating records related to deaths at residential school. As of 2014, chief coroners’ offices in Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia had also responded to the Commission’s request for records.
Other regional agencies also hold critical information in their records. The TRC contacted offices of provincial vital statistics across the country. At the Alberta National Event, Assistant Deputy Minister Peter Cunningham, from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation in British Columbia, offered a flash drive in a small, carved, bentwood box, as an expression of reconciliation. He said,
I think it’s incredibly important that all of the information comes out about what was a very deeply dark and disturbing event in Canadian history … residential schools.… I’m here today to add to that body of knowledge on behalf of the government of British Columbia and the Vital Statistics Agency of bc.… The information on this flash drive is information about Aboriginal children between the ages of 4 and 19 years of age who died in British Columbia between the years 1870 and 1984.163
As of 2014, in addition to the office in British Columbia, vital statistics offices in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Yukon, and Nunavut had responded to the Commission’s request for records. To complete the work begun by the Commission on the National Residential School Student Death Register, it will be critical for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to obtain all records related to the deaths of residential school students.
Call to Action
71) We call upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The completion and maintenance of the National Residential School Student Death Register will require ongoing financial support.
Call to Action
72) We call upon the federal government to allocate sufficient resources to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
There is also a need for information sharing with the families of those who died at the schools. As the historical record indicates, families were not adequately informed of the health condition of their children. There is a need for the federal government to ensure that appropriate measures are undertaken to inform families of the fate of their children and to ensure that the children are commemorated in a way that is acceptable to their families.
Calls to Action
73) We call upon the federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal commu nities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children.
74) We call upon the federal government to work with the churches and Aboriginal community leaders to inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child’s burial location, and to respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home com munities where requested.
As Commissioners, we have been honoured to bear witness to commemoration ceremonies held by communities to remember and honour children who died in the residential schools. Such ceremonies have played an important role in the reconciliation process. At the Alberta National Event, the board members of the Remembering the Children Society offered an expression of reconciliation. They spoke about the process they undertook to identify children who had died while attending the Red Deer Industrial School. Richard Lightning said,
My father, Albert Lightning, and his younger brother, David, from Samson First Nation, went to the Red Deer Industrial School, which was operated by the Methodist Church from 1893 to 1919. Albert Lightning survived this school experience, but David died of Spanish flu in 1918. In 1986, Albert visited the Red Deer and District Museum and Archives, saying to the staff person, Lyle Keewatin-Richards, “Oh, there you are. You’re the one who is going to find my little brother.” Lyle learned that along with three other students who had died at the same time, David was buried in the Red Deer City Cemetery. Lyle also became aware of the existence of the school cemetery beside Sylvan Creek.
Rev. Cecile Fausak164 explained,
Around 2004 … people at Sunnybrook United Church began to ask themselves, “Is there anything we can do to build better relations with First Nations peoples in this area?” And Lyle, remembering back, suggested then, “There is this little project. The children who were buried at the long-neglected [residential] school cemetery and in this city need to be remembered.” So the church formed a committee … and over the next few years, we researched the site and the school records, personally visited the seven Cree and Stony communities and the Métis nation from which all the students had come. In September 2009, over thirty people from those concerned First Nations and Métis communities travelled to Red Deer, had stew and bannock at Sunnybrook United Church, and visited the school cemetery for the first time, where we were welcomed by the [current] landowner.
Muriel Stanley Venne, from the Sunnybrook United Church, continued,
A working group was formed to organize the first [commemoration] feast, which was held at Fort Normandeau, on June 30, 2010. As the more than 325 names of students were read, a hush fell over the crowd.… Since then the collaboration [has] continued, with First Nations Treaty 6 and 7, Métis Nation of Alberta, United Church members, the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery, the City and County [of Red Deer], the [Indian] Friendship Centre, and school boards. This led to the formation of the Remembering the Children Society in 2011.… Our society’s objectives include: continued support for recovering Indian residential school cemeteries and histories in Alberta; educating the public about the same; honouring the Survivors, and those who died in the schools; as well as identifying the unmarked graves. Each year for the next three years, a commemorative feast was held. At the third gathering, many descendants shared stories of the impact on them, their parents, and grandparents, because they attended the Red Deer Industrial School.
Charles Wood then said,
The Society has worked with the museum in developing a new standing exhibit and with the Waskasoo Park administration in the preparation of new interpretive signage at Fort Normandeau regarding the school history. We are grateful for the truth spoken of a painful shared history, the friendships we have formed, and the healing that has happened as a result of working together for over five years. We will continue to remember the children of the past and present. In the Bentwood Box, as symbols of our work together, we place a program of the first ceremony, a dvd from the museum display, flower and ribbon pins from the third feast, and a copy of guidelines we have published of our experience, for those who wish to undertake a similar recovery of a residential school cemetery.165
For the most part, the residential school cemeteries and burial sites that the Commission documented are abandoned, disused, and vulnerable to disturbance. While there have been community commemoration measures undertaken in some locations, there is an overall need for a national strategy for the documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries. This work is complex and sensitive. Although former schools might be associated with specific Aboriginal communities, the cemeteries may contain the bodies of children from many communities. They may also contain the bodies of teachers (or their children) who died while working at the institutions. No one set of recommendations will serve all circumstances.
Call to Action
75) We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children.
As infrastructure and resource development accelerates throughout Canada, the risk of damage to undocumented residential school cemeteries increases. Depending on the jurisdiction, environmental impact assessments, which include the assessment of heritage sites, are usually required prior to development. This generally involves a review of existing documentation, evaluation of the potential for heritage sites within the development zone, and also often a physical search. Such work is often done in phases, with preliminary review of centralized archives and databases to inform subsequent investigation. Local knowledge about residential cemeteries might not be readily accessible to non-local planners, resource managers, and impact assessors. Therefore, it is important that locally collected information is shared with agencies responsible for land-use planning, environmental impact assessment, and protection and regulation of cemeteries.
Such information sharing is hindered by limited documentation, unclear jurisdictional responsibility, and uncoordinated consolidation of information. These problems could be addressed through the establishment of a registry of residential school cemeteries that could be available online. At a minimum, such a registry should include the identification, duration, and affiliation of each cemetery; its legal description; current land ownership and condition; and its location coordinates.
The complex and sensitive work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries must be undertaken according to a set of guiding principles that are based on community priorities and knowledge. Any physical investigation of the cemeteries must involve close consultation with interested communities, with identification of community-driven objectives, suitable methodologies, and attention to spiritual and emotional sensitivities.
The generally sparse written documentation must be combined with locally held knowledge. Often, this information will be unwritten, and held by Survivors, the families of Survivors, staff, or local residents. This locally held information can be used to verify, correct, and amplify archival information. This work might involve local initiatives to physically document a cemetery’s extent and location, and also to identify individual graves within or around the cemetery area. When undertaking physical inspection and documentation of the cemeteries, the most cost-effective strategy involves collection and consolidation of both documentary and locally held knowledge prior to initiating fieldwork. This will improve efficiency of the physical search, and aid selection of the most effective field methodologies. It also enables researchers to determine community wishes regarding the most appropriate approaches to site investigation. This includes preferred protocols regarding prayers and ceremonial observance prior to a site visit.
Call to Action
76) We call upon the parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, com memorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies in accordance with the following principles:
i. The Aboriginal community most affected shall lead the development of such strategies.
ii. Information shall be sought from residential school Survivors and other Knowledge Keepers in the development of such strategies.
iii. Aboriginal protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive techni cal inspection and investigation of a cemetery site.
The Commission believes that assisting families to learn the fate of children who died in residential schools; locating unmarked graves; and maintaining, protecting, and commemorating residential school cemeteries are vital to healing and reconciliation. Archives and government departments and agencies have a crucial role to play in this process. Equally important, archival records can help Survivors, their families, and communities to reconstruct their family and community histories. Yet, accessing such holdings is not without problems.
We have outlined how Library and Archives Canada has dealt with its residential school records. Other records that are relevant to the history and legacy of the residential school system are scattered across the country in provincial, territorial, municipal, and local archives, as well as in government departments and agencies that were not parties to the Settlement Agreement. All this has made it extremely difficult for Survivors, their families, and communities to access the very records that hold such critical pieces of information about their own lives and the history of their communities.
The Settlement Agreement church archives, to varying degrees, have endeavoured to make their residential school records more accessible to Survivors, their families and communities, researchers, and the general public.166 For example, the United Church of Canada has made all its residential school photographs and school histories available online to make them more accessible to Survivors and others, and “as a form of repatriation to First Nations communities.”167
Archives may be viewed with distrust by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Many feel that much of their lives is contained in documents (most of which they have never seen) kept by the state in order to study and categorize them in a depersonalized way.168 In various ways, existing archives have been ill suited to serve the needs of Survivors, their families, and communities. What Aboriginal peoples required was a centre of their own—a cultural space that would serve as both an archives and a museum to hold the collective memory of Survivors and others whose lives were touched by the history and legacy of the residential school system.
With this understanding, the TRC mandate called for the establishment of a new National Research Centre (nrc) to hold all the historical and newly created documents and oral statements related to residential schools, and to make them accessible for the future. This nrc, as created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and now renamed the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), is an evolving, Survivor-centred model of education for reconciliation. Implementing a new approach to public education, research, and record keeping, the centre will serve as a public memory “site of conscience,” bearing permanent witness to Survivors’ testimonies and the history and legacy of the residential school system.169 Along with other museums and archives across the country, the centre will shape how the residential school era is understood and remembered.
The concept of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has deep roots. For many years, Survivors and their supporters called for a centre that would be their lasting legacy to their own history and to Canada’s national memory. In March 2011, the TRC hosted an international forum in Vancouver, “Sharing Truth: Creating a National Research Centre on Residential Schools,” to study how records and other materials from truth and reconciliation commissions around the world have been archived.170 Several speakers talked about their vision for the NCTR. Georges Erasmus, former co-chair of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and then president of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, said,
Those who become the keepers of the archives become stewards of human stories and relationships, of what has been an endowment to what will be. Because no legacy is enriched by counterfeit; a nation is ill served by a history which is not genuine. This is a high calling indeed and it must be said that too often the promise and the potential of this stewardship has gone unrealized…. If the stories of our people are not accessible to the general public, it will be as if their experiences never occurred. And if their voices are rendered as museum pieces, it will be as if their experience is frozen in time. What we need are open, dynamic, interactive spaces and participatory forms of narrative, knowledge, and research. This would be a fitting way to step into the twenty-first century and into a new kind of relationship…. The National Research Centre ought to be a treasure valued by all sorts of people.171
The Commission subsequently issued an open invitation for organizations to submit proposals for the NCTR, based on specific criteria. In June 2013, the TRC announced that the University of Manitoba would house the new centre.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will play a key educational role in ensuring that historic harms, and Treaty, constitutional, and human rights violations, against Aboriginal peoples are not repeated. As a highly visible site of conscience, it will serve as an intervention in the country’s public memory and national history. The centre is independent from government. It is guided by a Governing Circle, the majority of whose members must be Aboriginal and which includes Survivor representatives. Among its various responsibilities, this governing body will make decisions and provide advice on ceremonies and protocols, and establish a Survivors’ Circle.172
The centre will house TRC records, including Survivors’ oral history statements, artworks, expressions of reconciliation, and other materials gathered by the Commission, as well as government and church documents. It is intended to be a welcoming and safe place for Survivors, their families, and communities to have access to their own history. The centre has committed to creating a culturally rooted and healing environment where all Canadians can honour, learn from, and commemorate the history and legacy of the residential schools.
Once the centre is fully operational, it will be well positioned to take a leadership role in forging new directions in residential school- and Indigenous rights-based research, establishing new standards and benchmarks for archival and museum policy, management, and operations, based on Indigenous and Western principles and best practices.
The University of Manitoba and its partners173 have emphasized that the centre recognizes the
paramount importance of accessibility [for] the Aboriginal survivor, family member [or]researcher, [and is] committed to recognition of Aboriginal peoples as co-creators of the irs records, through co-curation and participatory archiving; and committed to continuing the work of the TRC of statement-gathering, public education, engagement and outreach.174
The NCTR will incorporate an
archival system and approach which is devoted to “reconciling records”; [it] will … support Indigenous frameworks of knowledge, memory and evidence, and reposition … Indigenous communities as co-creators of archival records that relate to them, including government archives. Such approaches acknowledge rights in records that extend beyond access to working in partnership with archival institutions to manage appraisal, description and accessibility of records relating to Indigenous communities.175
The centre is committed to “establish[ing] trust with Aboriginal communities by working with these communities to realize their own goals through participatory archiving…. The process of participatory archiving, interacting with as complete a record as possible, will be a powerful force for reconciliation and healing.”176 As well, the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is also committed to
personally supporting survivors, their families, and all researchers in navigating, using, and understanding the records, in a culturally sensitive environment. The support that the nrc will provide includes emotionally-sensitive support, acknowledging that accessing the nrc documents may be traumatic, difficult or otherwise emotional experiences for many users. An Elder will be present or on call (from a nearby building) most of the time the nrc is open to the public. LAC and other government departments have no mandate or capacity to offer these various supports, which are critical to relationship-building and overcoming the perception of archives as yet another mechanism of colonization, cultural appropriation by Western society and hyper-surveillance and objectification of Aboriginal peoples.177
On June 21, 2013, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Survivors, Elders, the TRC, the University of Manitoba and its partner institutions, along with other dignitaries, gathered in Treaty 1 territory of the Anishinaabe peoples and homeland of the Métis Nation for a signing ceremony at the University of Manitoba.178 The signing of a Trust Deed with the university marks the transfer of a sacred trust—a solemn promise that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made to Survivors and all those affected by the residential schools as it travelled across the country, bearing witness to their testimonies.
The NCTR is committed to making all its holdings readily accessible to Survivors, their families, and communities, as well as to the public, educators, and researchers.179 To support reconciliation at the local level, the Commission believes, it will be especially important to ensure that communities are able to access the centre’s holdings and resources in order to produce histories of their own residential school experiences and their involvement in the truth, healing, and reconciliation process.
The centre will be a living legacy, a teaching and learning place for public education to promote understanding and reconciliation through ongoing statement gathering, new research, commemoration ceremonies, dialogues on reconciliation, and celebrations of Indigenous cultures, oral histories, and legal traditions.180
Calls to Action
77) We call upon provincial, territorial, municipal, and community archives to work collaboratively with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to identify and collect copies of all records relevant to the history and legacy of the res idential school system, and to provide these to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
78) We call upon the Government of Canada to commit to making a funding con tribution of $10 million over seven years to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, plus an additional amount to assist communities to research and produce histories of their own residential school experience and their involve ment in truth, healing, and reconciliation.
For Survivors who came forward at the TRC’s National Events and Community Hearings, remembering their childhood often meant reliving horrific memories of abuse, hunger, and neglect. It meant dredging up painful feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and shame. Many still struggle to heal deep wounds of the past. Words fail to do justice to their courage in standing up and speaking out.
There were other memories too: of resilience; of lifetime friendships forged with classmates and teachers; of taking pride in art, music, or sports accomplishments; of becoming leaders in their communities and in the life of the nation. Survivors shared their memories with Canada and the world so that the truth could no longer be denied. Survivors also remembered so that other Canadians could learn from these hard lessons of the past. They want Canadians to know, to remember, to care, and to change.
One of the most significant harms to come out of the residential schools was the attack on Indigenous memory. The federal government’s policy of assimilation sought to break the chain of memory that connected the hearts, minds, and spirits of Aboriginal children to their families, communities, and nations. Many, but not all, Survivors have found ways to restore those connections. They believe that reconciliation with other Canadians calls for changing the country’s collective, national history so that it is based on the truth about what happened to them as children, and to their families, communities, and nations.
Public memory is important. It is especially important to recognize that the transmission of that collective memory from generation to generation of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals, families, and communities was impaired by the actions of those who ran residential schools.
As Commissioners, we are governed in our approach to reconciliation with this thought: the way that we all have been educated in this country—Aboriginal children in residential schools and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children in public and other schools—has brought us to where we are today: to a point where the psychological and emotional well-being of Aboriginal children has been harmed, and the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples has been seriously damaged. We believe that true reconciliation can take place only through a reshaping of a shared, national, collective memory: our understanding of who we are and what has come before. The youth of this country are taking up this challenge.
At the Alberta National Event in March 2014, Jessica Bolduc, an Indigenous youth representing the 4Rs Youth Movement, a national consortium of Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth-representing organizations, said:
We have re-examined our thoughts and beliefs around colonialism, and have made a commitment to unpack our own baggage, and to enter into a new relationship with each other, using this momentum, to move our country forward, in light of the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada in 2017.
At this point in time, we ask ourselves, “What does that anniversary mean for us, as Indigenous youth and non-Indigenous youth, and how do we arrive at that day with something we can celebrate together?”… Our hope is that, one day, we will live together, as recognized nations, within a country we can all be proud of.181
Reshaping national history is a public process, one that happens through discussion, sharing, and commemoration. As Canadians gather in public spaces to share their memories, beliefs, and ideas about the past with others, our collective understanding of the present and future is formed.182 As citizens, our ideas, world views, cultural identities, and values are shaped not only in classrooms and museums or by popular culture, but also in everyday social relationships and patterns of living that become our way of life.183
Public memory is dynamic—it changes over time as new understandings, dialogues, artistic expressions, and commemorations emerge. Public memory, much like national history, is often contentious. Although public memory can simply reinforce the colonial story of how Canada began with European settlement and became a nation, the process of remembering the past together also invites people to question this limited version of history.
Unlike some truth and reconciliation commissions that have focused on individual victims of human rights violations committed over a short period of time, this Commission has examined both the individual and collective harms perpetrated against Aboriginal families, communities, and nations for well over a century, as well as the preconditions that enabled such violence and oppression to occur. Of course, previously inaccessible archival documents are critically important to correcting the historical record, but we have given equal weight and greater voice to Indigenous oral-based history, legal traditions, and memory practices in our work and in this final report, since these represent the previously unheard and unrecorded versions of history, knowledge, and wisdom.184 This has significantly informed our thinking about why repairing and revitalizing individual, family, and community memory are so crucial to the truth and reconciliation process.
Just as Survivors were involved in the long struggle to achieve a legally binding Settlement Agreement for the harms they have experienced, and an official apology, they have also continued to advise the Commission as it has implemented its mandate. Guided by Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and the members of the TRC Survivor Committee, the Commission has made Aboriginal oral history, legal traditions, and memory practices—ceremony, protocols, and the rituals of storytelling and testimonial witnessing—central to the TRC’s National Events, Community Hearings, forums, and dialogues. The Commission’s proceedings themselves constitute an oral history record, duly witnessed by all those in attendance. Working with local communities in each region, sacred ceremonies and protocols were performed and followed at all TRC events. Elders and traditional healers ensured that a safe environment was created for truth sharing, apology, healing, and acts of reconciliation.
Sacred ceremony has always been at the heart of Indigenous cultures, law, and political life. When ceremonies were outlawed by the federal government, they were hidden away until the law was repealed. Historically and, to a certain degree, even at present, Indigenous ceremonies that create community bonds, sanctify laws, and ratify Treaty making have been misunderstood, disrespected, and disregarded by Canada. These ceremonies must now be recognized and honoured as an integral, vital, ongoing dimension of the truth and reconciliation process.
Ceremonies also reach across cultures to bridge the divide between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. They are vital to reconciliation because of their sacred nature and because they connect people, preparing them to listen respectfully to each other in a difficult dialogue. Ceremonies are an affirmation of human dignity; they feed our spirits and comfort us even as they call on us to reimagine or envision finding common ground. Ceremonies validate and legitimize Treaties, family and kinship lines, and connections to the land. Ceremonies are also acts of memory sharing, mourning, healing, and renewal; they express the collective memory of families, communities, and nations.
Ceremonies enable us to set aside, however briefly, our cynicism, doubts, and disbelief, even as they console us, educate us, and inspire hope.185 They have an intangible quality that moves us from our heads to our hearts. They teach us about ourselves, our histories, and our lives. Ceremony and ritual have played an important role in various conflict and peace-building settings across the globe, including North America, where Indigenous nations have their own long histories of diplomacy and peacemaking. Ceremonial rituals have three functions in the peacemaking process. First, they create a safe space for people to interact and learn as they take part in the ceremony. Second, they enable people to communicate non-verbally and process their emotions. Third, ceremonies create an environment where change is made possible; world views, identities, and relationships with others are transformed.186
Those in attendance at TRC events learned to acknowledge and respect Indigenous ceremonies and protocols by participating in them. The Commission intentionally made ceremonies the spiritual and ethical framework of our public education work, creating a safe space for sharing life stories and bearing testimonial witness to the past for the future.
The Commission’s National Events were designed to inspire reconciliation and shape individual and collective memory by demonstrating the core values that lie at the heart of reconciliation: respect, courage, love, truth, humility, honesty, and wisdom. These values are known by many Aboriginal peoples as the “Seven Sacred Teachings.” They are also in the ancient teachings of most world religions.187 Each National Event focused on one of these teachings. Working closely with local Aboriginal communities and various regional organizations, representatives of the parties to the Settlement Agreement, and other government and community networks, the Commission took great care to ensure that the proper ceremonies and protocols were understood and followed throughout every National Event. Elders offered prayers and teachings at the opening and closing of each event. Smudges, sacred pipe and water ceremonies, cedar brushings, songs, and drumming occurred on a regular basis throughout. At each event, a sacred fire was lit and cared for by Elders and Fire Keepers. Water ceremonies were performed by the women who were recognized as the Protectors of the Waters. The sacred fire was also used for ongoing prayers and tobacco offerings, as well as to receive the tissues from the many tears shed during each event. The ashes from each of the sacred fires were then carried forward to the next National Event, to be added in turn to its sacred fire, thus gathering in sacred ceremony the tears of an entire country.
The Commission’s mandate also instructed that there be a “ceremonial transfer of knowledge” at the National Events. Coast Salish artist Luke Marston was commissioned by the TRC to design and carve a Bentwood Box as a symbol of this transfer. The box was steamed and bent in the traditional way from a single piece of west-coast red cedar. Its intricately carved and beautifully painted wood panels represent First Nations, Inuit, and Métis cultures. The Bentwood Box is a lasting tribute to all residential school Survivors and their families, both those who are living and those who have passed on, including the artist’s grandmother, who attended Kuper Island residential school. This ceremonial box travelled with the Commission to every one of its seven National Events, where offerings—public expressions of reconciliation—were made by governments, churches and other faith communities, educational institutions, the business sector, municipalities, youth groups, and various other groups and organizations. The Truth and Reconciliation Bentwood Box, along with the many other sacred items the TRC received, will be housed permanently in the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.188
Reconciliation is not possible without knowing the truth. In order to determine the truth and be able to tell the full and complete story of residential schools in this country, it was fundamentally important to the Commission’s work to be able to hear the stories of Survivors and their families. It was also important to hear the stories of those who worked in the schools—the teachers, the administrators, the cooks, the janitors—as well as their family members. Canada’s national history must reflect this complex truth so that 50 or 100 years from now, our children’s children and their children will know what happened. They will inherit the responsibility of ensuring that it never happens again.
Regardless of the different individual experiences that children had as students in the schools, they shared the common experience of being exploited. They were victims of a system intent on destroying intergenerational links of memory to their families, communities, and nations. The process of assimilation also profoundly disrespected parents, grandparents, and Elders in their rightful roles as the carriers of memory, through which culture, language, and identity are transmitted from one generation to the next.189
In providing their testimonies to the TRC, Survivors reclaimed their rightful place as members of intergenerational communities of memory. They remembered so that their families could understand what happened. They remembered so that their cultures, histories, laws, and nations can once again thrive for the benefit of future generations. They remembered so that Canada will know the truth and never forget.
The residential school story is complicated. Stories of abuse stand in sharp contradiction to the happier memories of some Survivors. The statements of former residential school staff also varied. Some were remorseful while others were defensive. Some were proud of their students and their own efforts to support them while others were critical of their own school and government authorities for their lack of attention, care, and resources. The stories of government and church officials involved acknowledgement, apology, and promises not to repeat history. Some non-Aboriginal Canadians expressed outrage at what had happened in the schools and shared their feelings of guilt and shame that they had not known this. Others denied or minimized the destructive impacts of residential schools. These conflicting stories, based on different experiences, locations, time periods, and perspectives, all feed into a national historical narrative.
Developing this narrative through public dialogue can strengthen civic capacity for accountability and so do justice to victims, not just in the legal sense, but also in terms of restoring human dignity, nurturing mutual respect, and supporting healing. As citizens use ceremony and testimony to remember, witness, and commemorate, they learn how to put the principles of accountability, justice, and reconciliation into everyday practice. They become active agents in the truth and reconciliation process.
Participants at Commission events learned from the Survivors themselves by interacting directly with them. Survivors, whose memories are still alive, demonstrated in the most powerful and compelling terms that by sitting together in Sharing Circles, people gain a much deeper knowledge and understanding of what happened in the residential schools than can ever be acquired at a distance by studying books, reading newspapers, or watching television reports.
For Indigenous peoples, stories and teachings are rooted in relationships. Through stories, knowledge and understanding about what happened and why are acquired, validated, and shared with others. Writing about her work with Survivors from her own community, social work scholar Qwul’sih’yah’maht (Robina Anne Thomas) said,
I never dreamed of learning to listen in such a powerful way. Storytelling, despite all the struggles, enabled me to respect and honour the Ancestors and the storytellers while at the same time sharing tragic, traumatic, inhumanely unbelievable truths that our people had lived. It was this level of integrity that was essential to storytelling…. When we make personal what we teach … we touch people in a different and more profound way.190
At a Community Hearing in St. Paul, Alberta, in January 2011, Charles Cardinal explained that although he did not want to remember his residential school experiences, he came forward because “we’ve got to let other people hear our voices.” When he was asked how, given the history of the residential schools, Canada could be a better place, he replied that we must “listen to the people.”191 When asked the same question in Beausejour, Manitoba, Laurie McDonald said that Canada must begin by “doing exactly what is happening now … governments … [have got to know] that they can never, ever, ever do this again.”192 In Ottawa, Survivor Victoria Grant-Boucher said,
I’m telling my story … for the education of the Canadian general public … [so that they] can understand what stolen identity is, you know, how it affects people, how it affects an individual, how it affects family, how it affects community…. I think the non-Aboriginal person, Canadian, has to understand that a First Nations person has a culture…. And I think that we, as Aboriginal people, have so much to share if you just let us regain that knowledge…. And I also take to heart what Elders talk about … we have to heal ourselves. We have to heal each other. And for Canada to heal, they have to allow us to heal before we can contribute. That’s what reconciliation means to me.193
Survivors told the Commission that an important reason for breaking their silence was to educate their own children and grandchildren by publicly sharing their life stories with them. The effect of this on intergenerational Survivors was significant. At the Manitoba National Event, Desarae Eashappie said,
I have sat through this week having the honour of listening to the stories from Survivors. And I just feel—I just really want to acknowledge everybody in this room, you know, all of our Elders, all of our Survivors, all of our intergenerational Survivors…. We are all sitting here in solidarity right now … and we are all on our own journey, and [yet we are] sitting here together … with so much strength in this room, it really is phenomenal. And I just want to acknowledge that and thank everybody here. And to be given this experience, this opportunity, you know, to sit here … and to listen to other people and listen to their stories and their experiences, you know, it has really humbled me as a person in such a way that is indescribable…. And I can take this home with me now and I can take it into my own home. Because my dad is a residential school Survivor, I have lived the traumas, but I have lived the history without the context.194
Survivors’ life stories are teachings rooted in personal experience; the human relationships of their childhoods were scarred by those who harmed them in the schools. Their stories teach us about what it means to lose family, culture, community, self-esteem, and human dignity. They also teach us about courage, resilience, and resistance to violence and oppression. An ethical response to Survivors’ life stories requires the listener to respond in ways that recognize the teller’s dignity and affirm that injustices were committed. Non-Indigenous witnesses must be willing to “risk interacting differently with Indigenous people—with vulnerability, humility, and a willingness to stay in the decolonizing struggle of our own discomfort … [and] to embrace [residential school] stories as powerful teachings—disquieting moments [that] can change our beliefs, attitudes, and actions.”195
A number of former residential school staff came to the Commission to speak not only about their perspectives on the time they spent at the schools, but also about their struggles to come to terms with their own past. Florence Kaefer, a former teacher, spoke at the Manitoba National Event.
And from my English ancestors, I apologize today for what my people did to you. I taught in two residential schools. In 1954, I taught in Norway House United Church Residential School for three or four years, and then I taught in the Alberni United Church Indian Residential School in bc. I worked very hard to be the best teacher I could be, and I did not know about the violence and cruelty going on in the dormitories and in the playrooms. But I have found out through one of my former students, who was five years old when he came to Norway House, his name is Edward Gamblin, and Edward Gamblin and I have gone through a personal truth and reconciliation.196
In a media interview afterwards, Ms Kaefer said that she contacted Mr. Gamblin after
hearing his song a few years ago describing the cultural, physical and sexual abuse he had suffered at Norway House school. She said, “I just cried. I told my sister that I can never think of teaching in the residential school in the same way again.” She called Gamblin after hearing the song. He told her he had to hide his abuse from the good teachers for fear he would lose them if they found out what was happening and left. He invited Kaefer to a healing circle in 2006 and they became close friends. Kaefer said Gamblin taught her not to be embarrassed about her past, being part of a school where abuse took place. “I was 19 and you don’t question your church and your government when you’re 19, but I certainly question my church and my government today.” … Gamblin said Kaefer taught him how to forgive. “There are good people [teachers] who don’t deserve to be labeled,” he said.197
Some family members of former staff also came forward. At the Manitoba National Event, Jack Lee told the Commission,
My parents were staff members of the Indian residential school in Norway House. I was born on a reserve in Ontario and I moved with my family to Norway House when I was about one or two years old, and started school in the Indian residential school system, basically, at the very start as a day student … as a white boy.… My father agonized very much over his role…. But I just want everyone to know that my father tried his best, as many other staff members tried their best, but they were working with so limited resources, and many of them felt very bad about their role in it, but they chose to stay in the system because it was still better than nothing, it was still better than abandoning the system, and abandoning the students that were in it.198
At the Atlantic National Event, Mark DeWolf spoke to us about his father, the Reverend James Edward DeWolf, who was the principal at two residential schools: St. Paul’s in Alberta and La Tuque in Québec. He said,
I’m quite hesitant to speak here this morning … I’m not here to defend my father so much, as to speak part of the truth about the kind of person my father was. I think he was an exemplary principal of an Indian residential school…. Part of the story will be about what I saw around me, what my parents tried to do, however effective that was, however well-intentioned that was, however beneficial or not beneficial it was, you will at least when you leave here today, have a bit more of the story and you may judge for yourselves. I hope you will judge with kindness, understanding, and generosity of spirit….
[My father] did so many things, coached the teams, blew the whistle or shot off the starting pistol at the sports days. Twelve o’clock at midnight, on the coldest of winter days, he would be out on the rink that he had constructed behind the school, flooding it so that the children could skate. He devoted his life to the service of his church, his God, and those that he thought had been marginalized, oppressed…. It is a terrible shame there were not more like him. When we leave today, though, let’s remember that when you have a system like the residential school, there are the individuals within the system, some of whom are good, decent, loving, caring people, and some of whom are blind, intolerant, predatory.… My father worked within the system trying to make it a better one.199
The mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission describes “reconciliation” as an ongoing individual and collective process involving all the people of Canada. To help ensure that reconciliation will indeed be ongoing, even after the TRC’s own official work is done, the Commissioners decided early on a public education and advocacy strategy to engage high-profile supporters, each willing to foster the continuing work of public education and dialogue. We called upon more than seventy of them across the country and internationally, and inducted them as Honorary Witnesses in a public ceremony at each of the National Events. Together, they represent accomplished and influential leaders from all walks of life, now serving as ambassadors in educating the broader public about why reconciliation is necessary. Most of them, including some who had worked with Aboriginal people in the past, frankly admitted to their own prior gaps in knowledge and understanding of the residential schools system and its continuing legacy. They now encourage the broader Canadian public to do what they have done: to learn and to be transformed in understanding and in commitment to societal change.
Speaking at the Saskatchewan National Event, TRC Honorary Witness and a former member of parliament, the Honourable Tina Keeper, who is also a member of the Norway House Cree Nation, talked about the importance of honouring individual, family, and community relationships and memory, her own emotional involvement in the ratification of the Settlement Agreement, and the struggles surrounding Canada’s apology. She underscored the strong contributions that Aboriginal peoples have to make to national healing and reconciliation.
Yesterday was an incredible opportunity for me personally to let the tears flow, and they flowed all day long. And I didn’t do that when I was in the House of Commons. I had the privilege of delivering the speech on behalf of the official opposition when the Agreement was tabled in the House, and during that speech I had to stop midway and breathe … because I didn’t think I could do it. I kept thinking of my family and my extended family and my grandparents and so many of the people in the communities.… [O]ur cultures, our languages, our values, and spiritual beliefs that have taken care of us at this gathering … they will become tools for the healing of a nation.200
At the Québec National Event, TRC Honorary Witness and a former prime minister, the Right Honourable Paul Martin, reminded participants about the role that education played in the attempted destruction of Aboriginal families, communities, and nations, and the role it must play in repairing this damage. He said,
I’ve talked to a number of the people here, some of the members of parliament are here … and the question we asked ourselves is, “How come we didn’t know what happened?” … I still can’t answer that…. [L]et us understand that what happened at the residential schools was the use of education for cultural genocide … [let’s] call a spade a spade. What that really means is that we’ve got to offer Aboriginal Canadians, without any shadow of a doubt, the best education system that is possible to have.201
Although some Honorary Witnesses already had significant knowledge of Aboriginal issues, including residential schools, through the act of witnessing Survivors’ testimonies, they learned about this history in a different way. At the Saskatchewan National Event, a former prime minister, the Right Honourable Joe Clark, said that the Saskatchewan National Event gave him a better understanding of the intergenerational impacts of the residential schools, and a better sense of the challenges and opportunities for reconciliation with the rest of Canada.
When I came to take my place this morning, I knew the storyline, if you will. I knew what had happened. I had some idea of the consequences it [the residential school system] involved, but I had no real idea because I had not been able to witness it before … the multi-generational emotion that is involved in what has happened to so many of the victims of the residential schools…. [Today] I heard, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” That is an incentive to all that have kept these emotions and this history too secret, too long, to show the courage that so many of you have shown, and let those facts be known….
There are cross-cultural difficulties here as we seek reconciliation, the reconciliation of people who have not been part of this experience with those who have. We are going to deal with cultural differences, but no one wants to be torn away from their roots. And there are common grounds here by which consensus can be built…. Reconciliation means finding a way that brings together the legitimate concerns of the people in this room, and the apprehensions, call them fear … that might exist elsewhere in the country…. Among the things we have to do is to ensure that not only the stories of abuse as they touch First Nations and Aboriginal people, but also the story of their contribution to Canada, and the values that are inherent in those communities is much better known.202
Joe Clark’s observations reinforce this Commission’s view that learning happens in a different manner when life stories are shared and witnessed in ways that connect knowledge, understanding, and human relationships. He pinpointed a key challenge to reconciliation: how to bridge the divides between those who have been part of the residential school experience and those who have not, and between those who have participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s proceedings and those who have not.
The former minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the late Honourable Andy Scott, was inducted as an Honorary Witness at the 2012 Atlantic National Event in Halifax. He then served to welcome new inductees to the Honorary Witness circle at the Saskatchewan National Event, and to reflect on his experience. His comments reinforce the Commission’s conviction that relationship-based learning and ways of remembering lead to a deeper knowledge and understanding of the links between the Survivors’ experiences and community memory and our collective responsibility and need to re-envision Canada’s national history, identity, and future. He told us,
When I was invited to become an Honorary Witness, I thought I was prepared, having been involved in the Settlement process and having already met and heard from Survivors. I was not. In Halifax, I heard about not knowing what it meant to be loved, not knowing how to love. I heard about simply wanting to be believed that it happened, ‘just like I said.’ … We heard about a deliberate effort to disconnect young children from who they are. We heard about a sense of betrayal by authority—government, community, and church. We heard about severe punishment for speaking one’s language, living one’s spirituality, seeking out one’s siblings. We heard about forced feeding, physical and sexual abuse. And we heard about deaths. We heard about forgiving as a way to move on and we heard from those who felt that they would never be able to forgive. I could not and cannot imagine being taken away to a strange place as a five- or a six-year-old, never knowing why or for how long. Perhaps I remember most poignantly Ruth, who said simply, “I never thought I’d talk about this, and now I don’t think I’ll ever stop. But Canada is big. I’ll need some help.”
Reconciliation is about Survivors speaking about their experiences, being heard and being believed, but it’s also about a national shared history. As Canadians, we must be part of reconciling what we have done collectively with who we believe we are. To do that with integrity and to restore our honour, we must all know the history so we can reunite these different Canadas.203
The Commission also heard from a variety of other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal witnesses from many walks of life. Some were there on behalf of their institution or organization. Some had close personal or professional ties to Aboriginal people, and others had none. Many said that the experience opened their eyes and was powerfully transformative. They commented on how much they had learned by listening to Survivors’ life stories. This was true for both non-Aboriginal witnesses and Aboriginal witnesses whose own families had been impacted by the schools but who may have had few opportunities to learn more about the residential schools themselves, especially in those many families where no one was yet willing or able to talk about it.
At the 2011 Northern National Event in Inuvik, Therese Boullard, then the director of the Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission, told us,
We need to have an accurate record of history…. As long as there are some that are in denial of what really happened, as long as we don’t have the full picture of what happened, we really can’t move forward in that spirit of reconciliation…. I want to acknowledge these stories as gifts, a hand towards reconciliation. I think it’s amazing that after all that has passed, after all that you’ve experienced, that you would be willing to share your pain with the rest of Canada in this spirit of openness and reconciliation and in this faith that the government of Canada and non-Aboriginal Canadians will receive them in a way that will lead to a better relationship in the future. That you have that faith to share your stories in that spirit is amazing and it’s humbling and it’s inspiring and I just want to thank Survivors for that.204
At the 2010 Manitoba National Event, Ginelle Giacomin, a high school history teacher from Winnipeg who served as a private statement gatherer at the event, said,
I was talking to a few students before I came this week to do this, and they said, “Well, what do you mean there are Survivors? That was a long time ago. That was hundreds of years ago.” To them, this is a page in a history book…. So, I’m so blessed to have spent the past week sitting down one-on-one with Survivors and listening to their stories. And I have heard horrific things and the emotions. It’s been very hard to hear. But what every single person I’ve spoken to has said is that “we are strong.” And the strength is one thing that I’ll carry with me when I leave. You carry on, and that’s something that I want to bring back to my classrooms, is the strength of everyone that I spoke to and their stories. And it is so important for high school students, and all students in Canada, to be talking about this a lot more than they are. I just want to thank everyone involved for doing this, for educating me. I have a history degree in Canadian history. I learned more in the past five days about Canada than I have in three years of that degree.205
The Commission’s seven National Events, by all accounts, provided a respectful space for public dialogue. Over 150,000 Canadians came out to participate in them and in some 300 smaller-scale Community Events. One of the most common words used in describing them was “transformational.” It will be up to others to determine their long-term effectiveness, and to judge this model’s potential in terms of ongoing public education. However, as Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, we are both confident and convinced that public dialogue is critical to the reconciliation process.
The reconciliation process is not easy. It asks those who have been harmed to revisit painful memories and those who have harmed others—either directly or indirectly—to be accountable for past wrongs. It asks us to mourn and commemorate the terrible loss of people, cultures, and languages, even as we celebrate their survival and revitalization. It asks us to envision a more just and inclusive future, even as we struggle with the living legacies of injustice. As the TRC has experienced in every region of the country, creative expression can play a vital role in this national reconciliation, providing alternative voices, vehicles, and venues for expressing historical truths and present hopes. Creative expression supports everyday practices of resistance, healing, and commemoration at individual, community, regional, and national levels.
Across the globe, the arts have provided a creative pathway to breaking silences, transforming conflicts, and mending the damaged relationships of violence, oppression, and exclusion. From war-ravaged countries to local communities struggling with everyday violence, poverty, and racism, the arts are widely used by educators, practitioners, and community leaders to deal with trauma and difficult emotions, and communicate across cultural divides.206
Art is active, and “participation in the arts is a guarantor of other human rights because the first thing that is taken away from vulnerable, unpopular or minority groups is the right to self-expression.”207 The arts help to restore human dignity and identity in the face of injustice. Properly structured, they can also invite people to explore their own world views, values, beliefs, and attitudes that may be barriers to healing, justice, and reconciliation.
Even prior to the establishment of the TRC, a growing body of work, including Survivors’ memoirs and works of fiction by well-known Indigenous authors, as well as films and plays, have brought the residential school history and legacy to a wider Canadian public, enabling them to learn about the schools through the eyes of Survivors. This body of work includes memoirs such as Isabelle Knockwood’s Out of the Depths: The Experiences of Mi’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia (1992), to the more recent works of Agnes Grant’s Finding My Talk: How Fourteen Native Women Reclaimed Their Lives after Residential School (2004); Alice Blondin’s My Heart Shook Like a Drum: What I Learned at the Indian Mission Schools, Northwest Territories (2009); Theodore Fontaine’s Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools: A Memoir (2010); Bev Sellars’s They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School (2013); and Edmund Metatawabin and Alexandra Shimo’s Up Ghost River: A Chief’s Journey through the Turbulent Waters of Native History (2014).
Works of fiction (sometimes drawn from the author’s own life experiences), such as Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998), Robert Alexie’s Porcupines and China Dolls (2009), or Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse (2012), tell stories about abuse, neglect, and loss that are also stories of healing, redemption, and hope. In 2012, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation published Speaking My Truth: Reflections on Reconciliation and Residential Schools, and invited book clubs across the country to read and discuss the book. Documentary films such as Where the Spirit Lives (1989), Kuper Island: Return to the Healing Circle (1997), and Muffins for Granny (2008), as well as docu-dramas such as We Were Children (2012), all serve to educate Canadians and the wider world about the residential school experience, using the power of sound and images. Intergenerational Survivor Georgina Lightning was the first Indigenous woman in North America to direct a full-length feature film, Older Than America (2008). Kevin Loring’s stage play, Where the Blood Mixes, won the Governor General’s award for literary drama in 2009. It combines drama and humour to tell the stories of three Survivors living in the aftermath of their residential school experiences.
Art can be powerful and provocative. Through their work, Indigenous artists seek to resist and challenge the cultural understandings of settler-dominated versions of Canada’s past and its present reality. Sharing intercultural dialogue about history, responsibility, and transformation through the arts is potentially healing and transformative for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.208 Yet, art does not always cross this cultural divide, and neither does it have to in order to have a high impact. Acts of resistance sometimes take place in “irreconcilable spaces” where artists choose to keep their residential school experiences private or share them only with other Aboriginal people.209 This is also essential to individual and collective reclaiming of identity, culture, and community memory.
The Commission notes that the use of creative arts in community workshops promotes healing for Survivors, their families, and the whole community through the recovery of cultural traditions. In conducting surveys of 103 community-based healing projects, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (ahf) found that 80% of those projects included cultural activities and traditional healing interventions. These included Elders’ teachings, storytelling and traditional knowledge, language programs, land-based activities, feasts and powwows; and learning traditional art forms, harvesting medicines, and drumming, singing, and dancing. The ahf report observed,
A notable component of successful healing programs was their diversity— interventions were blended and combined to create holistic programs that met the physical, emotional, cultural, and spiritual needs of participants. Not surprisingly, arts-based interventions were included in many cultural activities (drum making, beading, singing, and drumming) as well as in therapeutic healing (art therapy and psychodrama).210
The Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s findings make clear that creative art practices are highly effective in reconnecting Survivors and their families to their cultures, languages, and communities. In our view, this confirms yet again that funding for community-based healing projects is an urgent priority for Aboriginal communities.
Art exhibits have played a particularly powerful role in the process of healing and reconciliation. In 2009, nationally acclaimed Anishinaabe artist Robert Houle, who attended the Sandy Bay residential school in Manitoba, created a series of twenty-four paintings to be housed permanently in the University of Manitoba’s School of Art Gallery. In an interview with CBC News on September 24, 2013, he explained that “during the process memories came back that he had previously suppressed … [but that] he found the whole experience cathartic. At the end, he felt a sigh of relief, a sigh of liberation.”211
Over the course of the Commission’s mandate, several major art exhibits ran concurrently with its National Events. During the British Columbia National Event in Vancouver, for example, three major exhibits opened, featuring well-known Aboriginal artists, some of whom were also Survivors or intergenerational Survivors. A number of non-Aboriginal artists were also featured. Their work explored themes of denial, complicity, apology, and government policy. Two of these exhibits were at the University of British Columbia: Witnesses: Art and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, and the Museum of Anthropology’s Speaking to Memory: Images and Voices from the St. Michael’s Residential School. Both exhibits were collaborative efforts that also engaged Survivors, artists, and curatorial staff in related public education initiatives, including workshops, symposia, and public dialogues based on the exhibits.212
A significant number of the statements gathered by the Commission also came to us in artistic formats. Some Survivors said that although it hurt too much to tell their story in the usual way, they had been able to find their voice instead by writing a poem, a song, or a book. Some made a video or audio recording, offered photographs, or produced a theatre performance piece or a film. Others created traditional blankets, quilts, carvings, or paintings to depict residential school experiences, to celebrate those who survived them, or to commemorate those who did not. Lasting public memory of the schools has therefore been produced not only through oral testimonies, but also through this wide range of artistic expressions. The arts have opened up new and critical space for Survivors, artists, curators, and public audiences to explore the complexities of “truth,” “healing,” and “reconciliation.”
The Commission funded or supported several arts-related projects. Early in its mandate, the TRC sponsored the “Living Healing Quilt Project,” which was organized by Anishinaabe quilter Alice Williams from Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario. Women Survivors and intergenerational Survivors from across the country created individual quilt blocks depicting their memories of residential schools. These were then stitched together into three quilts, Schools of Shame, Child Prisoners, and Crimes Against Humanity.
The quilts tell a complex story of trauma, loss, isolation, recovery, healing, and hope through women’s eyes. The sewing skills taught to young Aboriginal girls in the residential schools and passed along to their daughters and granddaughters are now used to stitch together a counter-narrative.213 This project also inspired the “Healing Quilt Project,” which linked education and art. At the Manitoba National Event, as an expression of reconciliation, the Women’s and Gender Studies and Aboriginal Governance departments at the University of Winnipeg gave the TRC a quilt created by students and professors as part of their coursework. Through classroom readings, dialogue, and art, they created a space for learning about, and reflecting on, the residential school history and legacy in the context of reconciliation.214
A report commissioned by the TRC, “Practicing Reconciliation: A Collaborative Study of Aboriginal Art, Resistance and Cultural Politics,” was based on the findings of a one-year research project. Working with Survivors, artists, and curators, a multidisciplinary team of researchers examined the general question of how artistic practice contributes to the reconciliation process. The research was done through a series of interviews, workshops, artist residencies, planning sessions, symposia, artistic incubations, publications, and online learning platforms. The report reveals the depth and potential of arts-based approaches to reconciliation.
We should begin by echoing what many of our interview and artist subjects have repeatedly said: that the act of reconciliation is itself deeply complicated, and that success should not be measured by achieving a putative [commonly accepted or supposed] reconciliation, but by movement towards these lofty goals. Indeed, it could be proposed that full reconciliation is both mercurial and impossible, and that the efforts of theorists, artists, survivors, and the various publics engaged in this difficult process are best focused on working collaboratively for better understanding our histories, our traumas, and ourselves.215
These various projects indicate that the arts and artistic practices may serve to shape public memory in ways that are potentially transformative for individuals, communities, and national history.
Commemoration should not put closure to the history and legacy of the residential schools. Rather, it must invite citizens into a dialogue about a contentious past and why this history still matters today. Commemorations and memorials at former school sites and cemeteries are visible reminders of Canada’s shame and church complicity. They bear witness to the suffering and loss that generations of Aboriginal peoples have endured and overcome. The process of remembering the past together is an emotional journey of contradictory feelings: loss and resilience, anger and acceptance, denial and remorse, shame and pride, despair and hope. The Settlement Agreement identified the historic importance and reconciliation potential of such remembering by establishing a special fund for projects that would commemorate the residential school experience, and by assigning a role in the approval of these projects to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
As previously noted in this report’s section about the Commission’s activities, commemoration projects across the country were funded under the terms of the Settlement Agreement. Twenty million dollars were set aside for Aboriginal communities and various partners and organizations to undertake community-based, regional or national projects. The Commission evaluated and made recommendations to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, which was responsible for administering the funding for the commemoration projects.
Unlike more conventional state commemorations, which have tended to reinforce Canada’s story as told through colonial eyes, residential school commemorative projects challenged and recast public memory and national history. Many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities partnered with regional or national Aboriginal organizations, and involved local churches, governments, and their non-Aboriginal neighbours. The scope, breadth, and creativity of the projects were truly impressive. Projects ranged from traditional and virtual quilts, monuments and memorials, traditional medicine gardens, totem pole and canoe carving, oral history, community ceremonies and feasts, land-based culture and language camps, cemetery restoration, film and digital storytelling, commemorative walking trails, and theatre or dance productions.216
The Commission, advised by the TRC Survivor Committee, identified three elements of the commemoration process that were seen as being essential to supporting long-term reconciliation. First, the projects were to be Survivor-driven; that is, their success was contingent upon the advice, recommendations, and active participation of Survivors. Second, commemoration projects would forge new connections that linked Aboriginal family and community memory to Canada’s public memory and national history. Third, incorporating Indigenous oral history and memory practices into commemoration projects would ensure that the processes of remembering places, reclaiming identity, and revitalizing cultures were consistent with the principle of self-determination.
Commemorating the life stories of Survivors strengthens the bonds of family and community memory that have been disrupted but not destroyed. Families grieve for all that was lost and can never be recovered. The act of commemoration remembers and honours those who are no longer living and comforts those for whom a history of injustice and oppression is still very much alive. Commemorations can also symbolize hope, signifying cultural revitalization and the reclaiming of history and identity. Even as they grieve, families envision a better future for children and youth and for generations yet unborn.
The collective memory of Aboriginal peoples lives in places: in their traditional homelands and in the actual physical locations where residential schools once stood.217 On March 24, 2014, the Grand Council of Treaty 3 brought together Survivors, Elders, and others in Kenora, Ontario, for a final ceremony to mark commemorations that were held earlier at each site of the five residential schools that were located in the territory. Monuments had been placed at each of the sites. Richard Green, who coordinated the two-year memorial project, said, “This is a commemoration for all the sites together. This meeting is about honouring all the children and is part of remembering the legacy. Lest we forget, as they say. We can probably forgive, but we can never forget our history.” He explained that the monuments “have been a big success with plenty of positive feedback. Now we have a physical place where people can go and commemorate.”218
The story of a small collection of children’s art created at the Alberni residential school in the 1950s and 1960s demonstrates how recognizing and respecting Indigenous protocols and practices of ceremony, testimony, and witnessing can breathe life, healing, and transformation into public memory making through dialogue, the arts, and commemoration. The story has deep roots within the family histories of the Survivors and in the oral history and community memory of the Nuuchah-nulth peoples.
The paintings from the Alberni residential school are part of a larger collection of Indigenous children’s art donated to the University of Victoria in 2009 by the late artist Robert Aller. As a resident of Port Alberni, British Columbia, Aller initially volunteered his time to teach art classes to selected students outside of the regular curriculum at the residential school. He was hired by Indian Affairs to teach art between 1956 and 1987 at the Alberni school, and also at the McKay residential school in Dauphin, Manitoba, as well as in Aboriginal communities in several other provinces.
There are over 750 paintings in the collection, including 36 paintings from the Alberni residential school. Aller also donated to the university his private papers, and hundreds of photographs, slides, and archival documents that detail his teaching philosophy and approach to art. Aller did not agree with the philosophy behind the residential schools. He saw art as a way to free students from their everyday environment and as a way for them to express their creativity, through either traditionally inspired works, or paintings that used the theories and ideas of the contemporary art world. The paintings from the Alberni residential school portray images of landscapes, people, animals, masks, and traditional stories, as well as some images of the school itself. Most of the artists signed their paintings, putting their age next to their name. In this sense, the children stand out; the anonymity that depersonalizes so much of the residential school history is removed.
In 2010, University of Victoria’s Dr. Andrea Walsh, who was in the early stages of a research project on the art collection, met with the Commissioners and we urged her to begin her research with ceremony. She turned to two Elders from the First Peoples House at the university to guide her in this process: Tousilum (Ron George), who is a residential school Survivor; and Sulsa’meeth (Deb George), his wife. They helped her to reach out to Survivors, Elders, and chiefs in Port Alberni in Nuu-chah-nulth territory when the group travelled there with the paintings. As community members leafed through the paintings drawn by children’s hands so many years ago, memories were shared about the artists, the school, and the parents and communities they had left behind.
Working under the direction of these community members, and in collaboration with her colleague, Qwul’sih’yah’maht (Dr. Robina Thomas), and TRC staff, Walsh began preparations to bring the artwork to the Learning Place at the TRC’s Victoria Regional Event in April 2012. In a powerfully moving ceremony, Nuu-chah-nulth Elders, Survivors, and Hereditary Chiefs drummed, sang, and danced the art into the Learning Place. In this way, each painting, carried with respect and love by a Nuu-chah-nulth woman dressed in button blanket regalia, was brought out to be shared with others.
The community later received commemoration project funding to hold a traditional feast on March 30, 2013, in Port Alberni to reunite artists and their families with the paintings. Robert Aller’s family members were also invited to attend. They were visibly moved when they heard the stories of the paintings, and said that Aller would have been happy that the paintings were being returned. Paintings were returned to those who wished to have them; the remaining art was loaned to the University of Victoria, where it will be housed, cared for, and exhibited, based on agreed-upon protocols with Survivors and their families.219
In a media interview, Survivor and Hereditary Chief Lewis George said that the art classes probably saved him from being sexually abused by convicted pedophile Arthur Plint, who had taught at the Alberni residential school. He remembered the kindness shown to him by Aller as being in stark contrast to the harsh realities of life at the school, and he said, “I want my story kept alive.” Wally Samuel, another Survivor of the Alberni school who helped co-ordinate the project, said everyone reacted differently when told about the paintings. “Some got really quiet and others looked forward to seeing them … but they all remembered being in art class.”220
In May of 2013, the Alberni residential school paintings were displayed in a special exhibit, To Reunite, To Honour, To Witness, at the Legacy Art Gallery at the University of Victoria. Survivors, Elders, and community members continue to work with Walsh and Qwul’sih’yah’maht to document the story of the creation and return of the children’s paintings as part of reconnecting individual, family, and community memory, and educating the public about a previously unknown part of the history and legacy of the residential schools.
In September 2013, the paintings returned once again to the Learning Place at the TRC’s British Columbia National Event in Vancouver, and the group made an expression of reconciliation by providing copies of the artwork to the Commission’s Bentwood Box, to become part of the permanent record of the Commission’s work.
The Commission takes note of the federal government’s own national commemoration initiative, which was described as an “expression of reconciliation” when it was publicly announced at the Atlantic National Event in 2011. It is a specially commissioned stained-glass window entitled Giniigaaniimenaaning or Looking Ahead, designed by Métis artist Christi Belcourt. Its two-sided imagery depicts the history of the residential schools, the cultural resilience of Aboriginal peoples, and hope for the future. The window was permanently installed in the Centre Block of the federal parliament buildings, and unveiled in a dedication ceremony on November 26, 2012.221 Putting this window in such a prominent public place helps to make the history and legacy of residential schools more visible to the Canadian public and the world at large, while also acknowledging the federal government’s responsibility in establishing the residential school system.
At the dedication ceremony, artist Christi Belcourt said that her inspiration for the window’s design came from Survivors themselves. She said,
The stories of residential school students were never told in this building, so I’m going to tell you one now.… I asked Lucille [Kelly-Davis] who is a residential school survivor what she wanted to see on the window. I had assisted her through the residential school settlement process, and like so many survivors, her story is horrific.… Despite her childhood, she married, had four children, and now has many grandchildren. She is a pipe carrier, attends traditional ceremonies, and helps younger people learn the traditions. She’s a powerful Anishnabeg grandmother who is generous, loving and caring, and gives all she can to her community and her family. She is not a victim, but a survivor. When I asked her what to put on the window, she said, “Tell our side of the story.”… She said, “Make it about hope.”… It’s about looking ahead, as the name of the window says, “giniigaaniimenaaning” looking to the future for those yet unborn.…
Because she told me to make it about hope, what I’ve tried to show in the design is all the positive things I’ve seen in my life. Despite residential schools, children, adults, and Elders dance in full regalia in celebration of who they are as Indigenous people. We see Métis youth learning fiddling and jigging with pride across the country. We see arenas full of Inuk Elders drum dancing, with little kids running around, speaking Inuktitut. We see whole communities come together in times of joy and in times of great grief. The lodges are growing, the traditional songs are being sung, the ceremonies are being taught, and the ceremonies are still practiced.
I wish I could show the government that reconciliation has the potential to be so much more. I wish I could convince them that reconciliation is not an unattainable goal, if there’s the will and the courage to discard old paternalistic ways of thinking and of behaviour. We need action, and where we need action, don’t meet us with silence. Where we need support, don’t accuse us of being a burden.… I wish I could speak to the hearts of mps, whether Conservative, or ndp, or Liberal, and let them know that renewal and reconciliation can be found between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada through the sustained wellness of generations of Aboriginal people to come.222
At Commission hearings, we heard from many Survivors about windows. We heard from those who looked out from the school windows, waiting and hoping to see their parents come for them; those who cried when no one came for them, especially when it was Christmas or another holiday. We heard from those who were told, sometimes being pulled away from the window by the hair, to “get away from that window,” or “your parents are not coming for you anyway.” We heard from those who simply looked out into the dark or into the distance, crying because they were so lonesome and homesick. Windows were also a beacon of hope. Survivors also told us how they smiled and laughed and couldn’t contain their tears of joy when they looked out the window and saw their parents or grandparents coming to visit them or take them away from the school.223 The windows of the residential schools evoked both good and bad memories for Survivors. Thus, a commemorative window seems a fitting monument to remember and honour the children who went to residential schools.
Commemorations in highly visible public spaces such as the parliament buildings create openings for dialogue about what happened, why, and what can be learned from this history. Through dialogue, citizens can strengthen their ability to “accommodate difference, acknowledge injustice, and demonstrate a willingness to share authority over the past.”224 In the context of national reconciliation, ongoing public commemoration has the potential to contribute to human rights education in the broadest sense.
Although Canada’s commemorative window was a significant gesture of reconciliation, the Commission believes that the federal government must do more to ensure that national commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools becomes an integral part of Canadian heritage and national history. Under the Historic Sites and Monuments Act (1985), the minister responsible for Parks Canada has the authority to designate historic sites of national significance and approve commemorative monuments or plaques.225 The minister is advised by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada “on the commemoration of nationally significant aspects of Canada’s past, including the designation of national historic sites, persons and events.”226 The board reviews and makes recommendations on submissions received from Canadian citizens who make nominations through the National Program of Historical Commemoration.227 Heritage sites, monuments, and plaques that celebrate Canada’s past are common, but commemorating those aspects of our national history that reveal cultural genocide, human rights violations, racism, and injustice are more problematic.
As we noted earlier, at the international level, the Joinet-Orentlicher Principles adopted by the United Nations have established that states have a responsibility to take measures to ensure that collective violence against a targeted group of people does not reoccur. In addition to providing compensation, making apologies, and undertaking educational reform, states also have a duty “to remember.” Under Principle 2,
A people’s knowledge of the history of its oppression is part of its heritage and, as such, must be preserved by appropriate measures in fulfillment of the State’s duty to remember…. On a collective basis, symbolic measures intended to provide moral reparation, such as formal public recognition by the State of its responsibility, or official declarations aimed at restoring victims’ dignity, commemorative ceremonies, naming of public thoroughfares or the erection of monuments, help to discharge the duty of remembrance.228
In 2014, the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, Farida Shaheed, issued a report on memorialization processes in countries where victims and their families, working collaboratively with artists and various civic society groups, have commemorated their experiences in unofficial ways that may run counter to state-sanctioned versions of national history.229 Shaheed observed that the commemorations of Indigenous peoples’ experience—both their oppression and their positive contributions to society—that have occurred in many countries, including Canada, have not been state-driven initiatives. Rather, they have been initiated by Indigenous peoples themselves.
In Canada, a memorial to indigenous veterans from the First World War was built at the request of indigenous peoples, integrating many elements of indigenous cultures. This recognition took place at a later stage in history, however, and in a different venue to the main memorial established for other Canadian soldiers. Commemoration projects are also taking place … regarding the history of Indian residential schools.230
The report concluded that state authorities have a key role to play in the commemoration process. The state is responsible for managing public space and has the capacity to maintain monuments and develop long-term national commemoration policies and strategies.231
The Special Rapporteur further concluded that states should ensure that memorial policies contribute to, in particular … providing symbolic reparation and public recognition to the victims in ways that respond to the needs of all victims oppressed in a recent or distant past and contribute to their healing … the development of reconciliation policies between groups … [and] promoting civic engagement, critical thinking and stimulating discussions on the representation of the past, as well as contemporary challenges of exclusion and violence.232
The report recommended that states and relevant stakeholders
promote critical thinking on past events by ensuring that memorialisation processes are complemented by measures fostering historical awareness and support the implementation and outreach of high-quality research projects, cultural interventions that encourage people’s direct engagement and educational activities…. States should ensure the availability of public spaces for a diversity of narratives conveyed in artistic expressions and multiply opportunities for such narratives to engage with each other…. [States must also] take into consideration the cultural dimension of memorial processes, including where repression has targeted indigenous peoples.233
The Commission concurs with these conclusions and recommendations. They are consistent with our own findings on the residential schools commemoration projects. These Survivor-driven, community-based initiatives revealed the importance of integrating Indigenous knowledge and revitalizing Indigenous memory practices in commemorating the history and legacy of residential schools. They demonstrated the critical role that artists play in healing and commemoration.
The Commission believes that Canada’s national heritage network also has a vital role to play in reconciliation. Our views were further confirmed in a study of residential school commemorations in the context of Canada’s national heritage and commemoration policy. The research documented the Assembly of First Nations’ and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s national commemoration project to create a heritage plaque program to place commemorative markers at all residential school sites across the country.234 Faced with logistical challenges and based on input from Survivors and communities, “the project transformed from what ostensibly had been an irs [Indian Residential School] site heritage plaque program to a community-oriented public monumental art project.”235 The commemorative markers were not placed at residential school sites, many of which are in remote locations or otherwise inaccessible. Instead, they were placed in Aboriginal communities where Survivors and their families could access them more easily, where ceremonies and community events could be held, and where there were opportunities for ongoing healing, commemoration, and education.236
The study revealed the fundamental tensions that exist between the goals of Aboriginal peoples and Canada with regard to the commemoration of residential schools. Under the existing policies of Parks Canada’s Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada National Program of Historical Commemoration, residential school sites do not meet the program criteria for heritage designation, which is based on Western heritage values of conservation and preservation.237 For Survivors, their families, and communities, commemorating their residential school experiences does not necessarily involve preserving the school buildings, but is intended instead to contribute to individual and collective healing. For example, a residential school located in Port Alberni, British Columbia, was demolished by Survivors and their families, who burned sage and cedar in ceremonies in order to “cleanse and allow the trapped spirits to finally be freed.”238 Where commemoration activities have involved the destruction of a residential school structure, such actions are in direct conflict with Canadian heritage goals.239
Ultimately, reconciliation requires a paradigm shift in Canada’s national heritage values, policies, and practices that focus on conservation and continue to exclude Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices, which prioritize healing and the reclaiming of culture in public commemoration.240 For this to happen, Parks Canada’s heritage and commemoration policies and programs must change.
By shaping commemoration projects to meet their own needs, Survivors, their families, and communities have provided a wealth of information and best practices for commemorating the history and legacy of the residential school system. These can inform and enrich the National Program of Historical Commemoration and the work of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to ensure that Canada’s heritage and commemoration legislation, programs, policies, and practices contribute constructively to the reconciliation process in the years ahead.
Calls to Action
79) We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal organizations, and the arts community, to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. This would include, but not be limited to:
i. Amending the Historic Sites and Monuments Act to include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and its Secretariat.
ii. Revising the policies, criteria, and practices of the National Program of Historical Commemoration to integrate Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.
iii. Developing and implementing a national heritage plan and strategy for commemorating residential school sites, the history and legacy of residential schools, and the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canada’s history.
80) We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
81) We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools National Monument in the city of Ottawa to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.
82) We call upon provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools Monument in each capital city to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.
83) We call upon the Canada Council for the Arts to establish, as a funding priority, a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process.
The media has a role to play in ensuring that public information both for and about Aboriginal peoples reflects their cultural diversity and provides fair and non-discriminatory reporting on Aboriginal issues. This is consistent with Article 16:2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says, “States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity.” Canada’s Broadcasting Act (1991) sets out national broadcasting policy for all Canadian broadcasters with regard to Aboriginal peoples. The policy states the need to,
through its programming and employment opportunities arising out of its operations, serve the needs and interests, and reflect the circumstances and aspirations of Canadian men, women, and children, including equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society, and the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society. [S. 3.\1.d.iii]
The Act then states a more controversial obligation, that “programming that reflects the aboriginal cultures of Canada should be provided within the Canadian broadcasting system as resources become available for the purpose” (S.\3.\1.o).241
A submission to the federal Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures in 2004 pointed out deficiencies in the Broadcasting Act related to these service provisions for Aboriginal peoples. It stated:
The Act did not enshrine Aboriginal language broadcasting as a priority: instead it noted that … [S. S. 3.\1.d.iii] means that Aboriginal language programming is not recognized nor protected to the same extent as English and French programming … [and that] the phrase “as resources become available for the purpose” [S.\3.\1.o] has become a stumbling block for many producers and programmers, linking the availability of Aboriginal language broadcasting to the political process.242
The report recommended that the Broadcasting Act be revised to address these gaps. As of 2014, these provisions of the Act remain unchanged.
As Canada’s national public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC/Radio-Canada) is responsible for fulfilling national broadcasting policy. For many years, it has been providing a minimum level of Aboriginal radio and television programming and news, in a few specific regions, including some Aboriginal-language programming, especially in northern Canada. In the Commission’s view, the budget cuts to the CBC over the past decade have significantly reduced and further limited its capacity to provide Aboriginal programming and dedicated news coverage on Aboriginal issues, and to increase the number of Aboriginal people in staff and leadership positions. As of March 31, 2014, Aboriginal people made up 1.\6% of the CBC workforce, well below the demographic makeup of Aboriginal people, who represent 4.\3% of the total Canadian population.243
The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (aptn), an independent, non-profit broadcaster, has taken a leadership role since the 1990s, in part to make up for the programming and scheduling limitations of CBC/Radio-Canada, to provide nationwide programming and news that reflects Aboriginal peoples’ perspectives, concerns, and experiences. The aptn has provided an outlet for Aboriginal journalists, producers, directors, writers, artists, and musicians, and attracts a wide Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadian and international audience.244 As of 2014, over 75% of aptn employees were Aboriginal, and 28% of its programming was broadcast in various Aboriginal languages.245 In the Commission’s view, the aptn is well positioned to provide media leadership to support the reconciliation process.
National public and private broadcasters must provide comprehensive and timely information and services to Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian public.
Calls to Action
84) We call upon the federal government to restore and increase funding to the CBC/ Radio-Canada, to enable Canada’s national public broadcaster to support reconcil iation, and be properly reflective of the diverse cultures, languages, and perspec tives of Aboriginal peoples, including, but not limited to:
i. Increasing Aboriginal programming, including Aboriginal-language speakers.
ii. Increasing equitable access for Aboriginal peoples to jobs, leadership posi tions, and professional development opportunities within the organization.
iii. Continuing to provide dedicated news coverage and online public informa tion resources on issues of concern to Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians, including the history and legacy of residential schools and the reconcilia tion process.
85) We call upon the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, as an independent non-profit broadcaster with programming by, for, and about Aboriginal peoples, to support reconciliation, including but not limited to:
i. Continuing to provide leadership in programming and organizational culture that reflects the diverse cultures, languages, and perspectives of Aboriginal peoples.
ii. Continuing to develop media initiatives that inform and educate the Canadian public, and connect Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
In a submission to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) in 1993, the Canadian Association of Journalists noted, “The country’s large newspapers, tv and radio news shows often contain misinformation, sweeping generalizations, and galling stereotypes about Natives and Native affairs…. The result is that most Canadians have little real knowledge of the country’s Native peoples, or the issues that affect them.”246 In 1996, the RCAP report had noted,
Public opinion polls in the past few years have consistently shown broad sympathy for Aboriginal issues and concerns, but that support is not very deep. More recent events have brought a hardening of attitudes towards Aboriginal issues in many parts of the country…. This growing hostility can be traced in large part to recent negative publicity over land claims, Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights, and issues of taxation.247
More recent studies indicate that this historical pattern persists.248 Media coverage of Aboriginal issues remains problematic; social media and online commentary are often inflammatory and racist in nature.
In August 2013, the Journalists for Human Rights249 conducted a study of media coverage of Aboriginal issues in Ontario from June 1, 2010, to May 31, 2013. The study found that:
1) “the Aboriginal population is widely underrepresented in mainstream media”;
2) “when Aboriginal people choose to protest or ‘make more noise’ the number of stories focused on the community increase”; and
3) “as coverage related to the protests and talks between Aboriginal people and government became more frequent, the proportion of stories with a negative tone correspondingly increased.”250
Media coverage of residential schools was low. From June 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012, media coverage of Aboriginal issues in Ontario accounted for only 0.\23% of all news stories, and, of these, only 3.\0% focused on residential schools. From June 1, 2012, to May 31, 2013, news stories on Aboriginal issues amounted to 0.\46% of all news stories, and, of these, 3.\0% focused on deaths in residential schools.251
The report included expert opinions on its findings, including those of CBC journalist Duncan McCue, who observed that editorial opinions “are often rooted in century-old stereotypes rather than reality.”252 He pointed out:
Yes, protests often meet the test of whether a story is ‘newsworthy,’ because they’re unusual, dramatic, or involve conflict. Yes, Aboriginal activists, who understand the media’s hunger for drama, also play a role by tailoring protests in ways that guarantee prominent headlines and lead stories. But, does today’s front-page news of some traffic disruption in the name of Aboriginal land rights actually have its roots in a much older narrative—of violent and “uncivilized” Indians who represent a threat to ‘progress’ in Canada? Are attitudes of distrust and fear underlying our decisions to dispatch a crew to the latest Aboriginal blockade? Is there no iconic photo of reconciliation, because no one from the newsrooms believes harmony between Aboriginal peoples and settlers is ‘newsworthy’?253
Historian J. R. Miller has observed that when conflicts between Aboriginal peoples and the state have occurred in places like Oka or Ipperwash Park, for example, “politicians, journalists and ordinary citizens understood neither how nor why the crisis of the moment had arisen, much less how its deep historical roots made it resistant to solutions…. [This] does not bode well for effective public debate or sensible policy-making.”254
In the Commission’s view, the media’s role and responsibility in the reconciliation process require journalists to be well informed about the history of Aboriginal peoples and the issues that affect their lives. As we have seen, this is not necessarily the case. Studies of media coverage of conflicts involving Aboriginal peoples have borne this out. In the conflict between some of the descendants of members of the Stony Point Reserve and their supporters and the Ontario Provincial Police in Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995, which resulted in the death of Dudley George, journalism professor John Miller concluded,
Much of the opinion—and there was a lot of it—was based not on the facts of the Ipperwash occupation, but on crude generalizations about First Nations people that fit many of the racist stereotypes that … have [been] identified.… Accurate, comprehensive coverage can promote understanding and resolution, just as inaccurate, incomplete and myopic coverage can exacerbate stereotypes and prolong confrontations.… Reporters are professionally trained to engage in a discipline of verification, a process that is often mistakenly referred to as “objectivity.” But … research shows that news is not selected randomly or objectively.255
Miller identified nine principles of journalism that journalists themselves have identified as essential to their work. Of those, he said,
Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.… Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or philosophical sense, but it can—and must—pursue it in a practical sense.… Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built—context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. The truth, over time, emerges from this forum.…
Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience. Every journalist must have a personal sense of ethics and responsibility—a moral compass. Each of us must be willing, if fairness and accuracy require, to voice differences with our colleagues.… This stimulates the intellectual diversity necessary to understand and accurately cover an increasingly diverse society. It is this diversity of minds and voices, not just numbers, that matters.256
With respect to the history and legacy of residential schools, all the major radio and television networks and newspapers covered the events and activities of the Commission. The TRC provided regular information briefings to the media who attended the National Events. We discussed earlier how students must not only learn the truth about what happened in residential schools, but also understand the ethical dimensions of this history. So too must journalists. Many of the reporters who covered the National Events were themselves deeply affected by what they heard from Survivors and their families. Some required the assistance of health-support workers. Some told us in off-the-record conversations that their perspectives and understanding of the impacts of residential schools, and the need for healing and reconciliation, had changed, based on their observations and experiences at the National Events.
Call to Action
86) We call upon Canadian journalism programs and media schools to require education for all students on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations.
The Commission heard from Survivors that the opportunity to play sports at residential school made their lives more bearable and gave them a sense of identity, accomplishment, and pride. At the Alberta National Event, Survivor Theodore (Ted) Fontaine placed a bundle of mementoes into the Bentwood Box as expressions of reconciliation. It included a pair of baseball pants that he had worn at residential school. He said,
These woollen baseball pants carry a story of their own … these are the baseball pants that I wore in 1957–58, as a fifteen-year-old incarcerated boy at the Fort Alexander residential school.… Little did I know that my mom would treasure and keep them as a memento of her youngest boy. When I leave this land, they won’t have anywhere else to go, so I hope the Bentwood Box keeps them well.…
When we were little boys at Fort Alexander residential school, our only chance to play hockey literally did save our lives. A lot of people here will attest to that. As a young man, playing hockey saved me.… And later, playing with the Sagkeeng Old-Timers saved me again.… I came back twenty years later, fifteen years later and started playing with an old-timers hockey team in Fort Alexander.… In 1983, we ended up winning the first World Cup by an Indigenous team, in Munich, Germany.… So I’m including in this bundle, a story of the old-timers, a battalion of Anishinaabe hockey players who saved themselves and their friends by winning, not only winning in Munich, Germany, but in three or four other hockey tournaments in Europe.… People ask me, “Why don’t you just enjoy life now instead of working so hard on reconciliation and talking about residential schools? What do you expect to achieve?” The answer is “freedom.” I am free.257
Later that same day, journalist Laura Robinson’s expression of reconciliation was a copy of the documentary FrontRunners, which she produced for aptn, about some residential school athletes who had made history. She said,
In 1967, ten teenage First Nations boys, all good students and great runners, ran with the 1967 Pan Am Games torch, from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Winnipeg, a distance of 800 kilometres, which they did successfully.… But the young men who delivered that torch to the stadium were turned away at the door. They were not allowed in to watch those games. They were not allowed to run that last 400 metres. One of them told me that he remembered being turned around, [and] put back on the bus to residential school.… In 1999, Winnipeg hosted the Pan Am Games again and the organizers realized what had happened. They tracked down the original runners, apologized, and thirty-two years later, as men in their fifties, those runners finished that 400 metres and brought the torch in.…
Sport is a place that we speak a universal language—a language of shared passion for moving our bodies through time and space, with strength and skill. This summer , Regina will host the North American Indigenous Games.… Let us all hope, and commit to reconcile divisiveness, racism, and stereotypes through the world of sport and support each and every young person attending those games. Because they are the frontrunners of the future.258
Such stories are indicative of the need for the rich history of Aboriginal peoples’ contributions to sport to become part of Canadian sport history.
On November 18, 2014, we attended an event hosted by the Law Society of Upper Canada to celebrate the first time an Aboriginal community—the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation—was to be the Host First Nation for the Pan-Parapan American Games, held in Toronto in July and August of 2015. The FrontRunners attended and were honoured in a traditional blanketing ceremony.259
Calls to Action
87) We call upon all levels of government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, sports halls of fame, and other relevant organizations, to provide public educa tion that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history.
88) We call upon all levels of government to take action to ensure long-term Aboriginal athlete development and growth, and continued support for the North American Indigenous Games, including funding to host the games and for provin cial and territorial team preparation and travel.
Aboriginal youth today face many barriers to leading active, healthy lives in their communities. They lack opportunities to pursue excellence in sports. There is little access to culturally relevant traditional sports activities that strengthen Aboriginal identity and instill a sense of pride and self-confidence. Lack of resources, sports facilities, and equipment limits their ability to play sports. Racism remains an issue. Aboriginal girls face the extra barrier of gender discrimination.260 Despite the many achievements of individual Indigenous athletes, too many Aboriginal youth remain excluded from community-based sports activities and the pursuit of excellence in sport. The Physical Activity and Sport Act (2003) set out the federal government’s sport policy regarding the full and fair participation of all Canadians in sport, and mandated the minister to “facilitate the participation of under-represented groups in the Canadian sport system” (S. 5.m). However, the Act made no specific reference to Aboriginal peoples.261
Call to Action
89) We call upon the federal government to amend the Physical Activity and Sport Act to support reconciliation by ensuring that policies to promote physical activity as a fundamental element of health and well-being, reduce barriers to sports par ticipation, increase the pursuit of excellence in sport, and build capacity in the Canadian sport system, are inclusive of Aboriginal peoples.
In 2005, Sport Canada developed the Aboriginal Peoples’ Participation in Sports Policy, which recognized the unique circumstances of Aboriginal peoples and the role of sport as a vehicle for individual and community health and cultural revitalization. It recognized that Aboriginal peoples have their own culturally diverse, traditional knowledge and cultural teachings of play, games, and sports.262 However, no action plan was subsequently developed to implement the policy.263 In 2011, in preparation for revising the 2002 Canadian Sport Policy (CSP), Sport Canada conducted a series of consultations across the country, including a roundtable on “Sport and Aboriginal Peoples.” The roundtable summary report noted:
Participants believe that the needs and issues of Aboriginal Peoples were not adequately reflected in the 2002 CSP.… The feeling among the participants was that the previous policy had “no teeth.”… The new CSP should acknowledge the unique identity of Aboriginal Peoples, what Aboriginal Peoples can contribute to Canadian sport … and make a clear commitment to action. The CSP can support sport for Aboriginal Peoples by reflecting Aboriginal culture and realities, cross-cultural issues between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Peoples, and an understanding of the motivation behind the interest of Aboriginal Peoples in sport.… If the new policy doesn’t reflect the needs and issues of Aboriginal sport, then it will not be relevant to the Aboriginal population.… It would be important to recognize that the barriers to sport extend beyond a lack of resources and gaps and weaknesses in the sport system. Aboriginal peoples are also affected by issues of identity and historical trauma.264
Despite this roundtable report based on the 2011 consultation, the Commission notes that the subsequent Canadian Sport Policy released in 2012 contains no specific references to Aboriginal peoples.265
Call to Action
90) We call upon the federal government to ensure that national sports policies, programs, and initiatives are inclusive of Aboriginal peoples, including, but not limited to, establishing:
i. In collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, stable funding for, and access to, community sports programs that reflect the diverse cul tures and traditional sporting activities of Aboriginal peoples.
ii. An elite athlete development program for Aboriginal athletes.
iii. Programs for coaches, trainers, and sports officials that are culturally relevant for Aboriginal peoples.
iv. Anti-racism awareness and training programs.
The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, were held on the traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Lil’wat peoples, and they were an integral part of the event. In the spirit of reconciliation, which aligns easily with the spirit of the games themselves, the Four Host First Nations and the Vancouver Olympic Committee formed a partnership that ensured that Indigenous peoples were full participants in the decision-making process—a first in Olympic history. At the opening ceremonies and throughout the games, territorial protocols were respected, and the Four Host First Nations and other Indigenous peoples from across the province were a highly visible presence at various Olympic venues.
91) We call upon the officials and host countries of international sporting events such as the Olympics, Pan Am, and Commonwealth games to ensure that Indigenous peoples’ territorial protocols are respected, and local Indigenous communities are engaged in all aspects of planning and participating in such events.
Survivors and their family members told us that their hope for the future lies in reclaiming and regenerating their own cultures, spirituality, laws, and ways of life that are deeply connected to their homelands. Indigenous nations are already doing this work in their communities, despite the many challenges they face. At the TRC’s Traditional Knowledge Keepers Forum, Elder Dave Courchene said,
As people who have gained this recognition to be Knowledge Keepers for our people, we accept that work in the most humble way.… It’s going to be the spirit of our ancestors, the spirit that’s going to help us to reclaim our rightful place in our homeland. We do have a lot of work and there’s certainly a lot of challenges, but with the help of the spirit we will overcome [these].… We’ve arrived in a time of great change and great opportunity … we are the true leaders of our homeland and they cannot take that away from us and they never will because our Creator put us here. This is our homeland and we have a sacred responsibility to teach all those that have come to our homeland how to be proper human beings because we have all been given original instructions on how to be a human being. We have great responsibilities as people to take care of the Earth, to speak on behalf of Mother Earth. That is our responsibility and that’s the kind of leadership that we must reflect as a people.266
That same day, Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation said,
I want to acknowledge my grandparents and my mentors for their generosity in teaching us our connections to our lands and our territories. Right now we’re preparing back home for a canoe journey as our young people are training to represent our people on their journey to Bella Bella in a couple of weeks.… A number of families are travelling all up and down the coast to celebrate the resurgence of our identity, of our culture.267
In the face of global warming, growing economic inequities, and conflicts over large-scale economic development projects, there is an emerging consensus that the land that sustains all of us must be protected for future generations. In the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqot’in decision, Aboriginal peoples, corporations, and governments must find new ways to work together. Speaking to local community leaders at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in September 2014, Tsilhqot’in Chief Percy Guichon said,
We do live side-by-side and we need to work on a relationship to create or promote a common understanding among all our constituents … we need to find the best way forward to consult with each other, regardless of what legal obligations might exist. I mean, that’s just neighbourly, right? … We share a lot of common interests in areas like resource development. We need to find ways to work together, to support one another on these difficult topics.268
In 1977, the Report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry recommended that a proposed natural gas pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories not be built before Aboriginal land claims in the region were resolved and environmental concerns were addressed. Justice Thomas Berger, who led the inquiry, identified the potentially devastating consequences that building a pipeline through the North would have for Dene and Inuvialuit peoples and for the fragile ecosystems. His observations, made almost forty years ago, foreshadow similar controversies and conflicts over proposed pipelines still occurring in various regions of Canada as the TRC has prepared this final report.269
The political and legal landscape has shifted significantly since Justice Berger issued his report in 1977. As Canada maps its economic future in regions covered by historical Treaties, modern land-claims agreements, and unceded Aboriginal title, governments and industry must now recognize that accommodating the rights of Aboriginal peoples is paramount to Canada’s long-term economic sustainability. Governments aim to secure the necessary economic stability and growth to ensure prosperity for all Canadians. Corporations invest time and resources in developing large-scale projects that create jobs and aim to produce profits for their shareholders. Although the corporate sector is not a direct party to Treaty and land-claims agreement negotiations, industry and business play an extremely significant role in how the economic, social, and cultural aspects of reconciliation are addressed, including the extent to which opportunities and benefits are truly shared with Indigenous peoples and the environment of traditional homelands is safeguarded.
The 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples noted that, historically, land and resource development activities, such as hydroelectric dams, mines, and agricultural and urban development, have had many adverse impacts on Aboriginal communities. Communities were not consulted before they were relocated from their vast traditional territories to much smaller, more remote, and more crowded reserves to make way for government and industrial land and resource development projects. Even when they were not relocated, Aboriginal peoples were economically marginalized in their own homelands when irreversible environmental damage was done in the name of ‘progress.’ All too often, economic development has disrupted Indigenous peoples’ cultural, spiritual, and economic ties to the land, resulting in the devastation of traditional economies and self-sufficiency, community trauma, public welfare dependency, and poor health and socio-political outcomes.270
In the post-RCAP period, the Supreme Court of Canada has developed a body of law on the federal, provincial, and territorial governments’ duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples where land and resource development might infringe on their Aboriginal or Treaty rights.271 The court has ruled that governments can still infringe on Aboriginal rights if it can demonstrate that it is in the broader public interest to do so. In the Delgamuukw case, the court described the nature of that public interest:
[T]he development of agriculture, forestry, mining and hydroelectric power, the general economic development of the interior of British Columbia, protection of the environment or endangered species, the building of infrastructure and the settlement of foreign populations to support those aims, are the kinds of objectives that are consistent with this purpose and, in principle, can justify the infringement of aboriginal title.272
Governments must also demonstrate that any infringement of Aboriginal rights is consistent with the Crown’s fiduciary duty towards Aboriginal peoples and upholds the honour of the Crown. To meet these legal obligations, governments in all jurisdictions have developed Aboriginal consultation policies.
Although the court has ruled that the duty to consult rests solely with governments, it has also said that “the Crown may delegate procedural aspects of consultation to industry proponents seeking a particular development.”273 On a practical level, the business risks associated with legal uncertainty created by the duty to consult have motivated industry proponents to negotiate with Aboriginal communities to establish a range of mechanisms designed to ensure that Aboriginal peoples benefit directly from economic development projects in their traditional territories. These may include, for example, joint venture business partnerships; impact and benefit agreements; revenue-sharing agreements; and education, training, and job opportunities.274
Between 2012 and 2014, several reports highlighted the fact that Canada is once again facing significant challenges and potential opportunities related to land and resource development. Economic reconciliation will require finding common ground that balances the respective rights, legal interests, and needs of Aboriginal peoples, governments, and industry in the face of climate change and competitive global markets. In addition to the concrete remedial measures required, these reports also emphasized the importance of so-called soft skills—establishing trust, engaging communities, resolving conflicts, and building mutually beneficial partnerships—to advance reconciliation.
In 2012, Canada’s Public Policy Forum, a non-profit organization, held a series of six regional dialogues across the country, bringing together Aboriginal leaders; senior federal, provincial, and territorial government officials; and representatives from industry, business, and financial institutions. The purposes of the dialogues were to discuss issues, identify best practices, and make recommendations for action on how to ensure that Aboriginal communities benefit from large-scale resource development projects. The resulting report, “Building Authentic Partnerships: Aboriginal Participation in Major Resource Development Opportunities,” identified five key opportunities for action: (1) developing authentic partnerships among Aboriginal communities, industry, governments, and academic institutions by building trust; (2) developing human capital by removing barriers to education, training, and skills development for Aboriginal entrepreneurs, workers, and leaders; (3) enhancing community control over decision making; (4) promoting entrepreneurship and business development; and (5) increasing financial participation.275 The report concluded:
Natural resource companies are recognizing that their operational success relies on strong, authentic community engagement. Private sector initiatives have already demonstrated positive examples in areas such as revenue sharing, skills training, and business development for Aboriginal communities. Now corporations and governments need to build on these successes to keep up with the rapid pace of development, moving beyond superficial consultations toward genuine engagement. Aboriginal communities must also play a leadership role to help forge these relationships, to develop local and adaptive solutions that will be essential to success.276
In November 2013, after eight months of consultations with representatives from Aboriginal communities, industry, and local and provincial governments in British Columbia and Alberta, Douglas Eyford, Canada’s special representative on west-coast energy infrastructure, issued his report to the prime minister. “Forging Partnerships, Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development” focused on Aboriginal–Crown relations in the context of proposed energy infrastructure projects in British Columbia. He noted that although there are many differences among Aboriginal representatives, there was general consensus that development projects must respect constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights, involve Aboriginal communities in decision making and project planning, and mitigate environmental risks.277 Eyford made recommendations for taking action in three key areas: building trust, fostering inclusion, and advancing reconciliation. He noted in particular that “Aboriginal communities view natural resource development as linked to a broader reconciliation agenda.”278 This is consistent with the Commission’s view that meaningful reconciliation cannot be limited to the residential school legacy, but must become the ongoing framework for resolving conflicts and building constructive partnerships with Aboriginal peoples.
In December 2013, a group of current and former high-profile leaders from Aboriginal communities, business, banking, environment organizations, and federal and provincial governments released a report, “Responsible Energy Development in Canada,” summarizing the results of a year-long dialogue. They concluded that Canada is facing an “energy resource development gridlock.” In their view, the potential economic and social benefits derived from the exploitation of Canada’s rich natural resources must be weighed against the potential risks to Aboriginal communities and their traditional territories, and must also address broader environmental concerns associated with global warming.279 They emphasized that there are significant barriers to reconciliation, including conflicting values, lack of trust, and differing views on how the benefits of resource development should be distributed and adverse effects be mitigated.280 The report identified four principles for moving forward on responsible energy resource development: (1) forging and nurturing constructive relationships, (2) reducing cumulative social and environmental impacts, (3) ensuring the continuity of cultures and traditions, and (4) sharing the benefits fairly.281
Writing about the 2014 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, Kenneth Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan, and Dwight Newman, law professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights in Constitutional and International Law at the University of Saskatchewan, concluded that although many challenges and barriers to reconciliation remain,
[w]hat the Supreme Court of Canada has highlighted at a fundamental level is that Aboriginal communities have a right to an equitable place at the table in relation to natural resource development in Canada. Their empowerment through Tsilhqot’in and earlier decisions has the potential to be immensely exciting as a means of further economic development in Aboriginal communities and prosperity for all…. [T]he time is now for governments, Aboriginal communities, and resource sector companies to work together to build partnerships for the future…. We need to keep building a national consensus that responsible resource development that takes account of sustainability issues and that respects Indigenous communities, contributes positively—very positively—to Canada and its future.282
Internationally, there is a growing awareness in the corporate sector that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an effective framework for industry and business to establish respectful relationships and work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples. In 2013, the United Nations Global Compact published a business guide that sets out practical actions that corporations and businesses can undertake in compliance with the Declaration. It notes:
Business faces both challenges and opportunities when engaging with indigenous peoples. When businesses collaborate with indigenous peoples, they are often able to achieve sustainable economic growth, for example, by optimizing ecosystem services and harnessing local or traditional knowledge. Positive engagement with indigenous peoples can also contribute to the success of resource development initiatives—from granting and maintaining social licenses to actively participating in business ventures as owners, contractors and employees. Failing to respect the rights of indigenous peoples can put businesses at significant legal, financial and reputational risk.… Continuing dialogue between business and indigenous peoples can potentially strengthen indigenous peoples’ confidence in partnering with business and building healthy relationships.283
In the Commission’s view, sustainable reconciliation on the land involves realizing the economic potential of Indigenous communities in a fair, just, and equitable manner that respects their right to self-determination. Economic reconciliation involves working in partnership with Indigenous peoples to ensure that lands and resources within their traditional territories are developed in culturally respectful ways that fully recognize Treaty and Aboriginal rights and title.
Establishing constructive, mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships with Indigenous communities will contribute to their economic growth, improve community health and well-being, and ensure environmental sustainability that will ultimately benefit Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. Unlike with the residential schools of the past, where Aboriginal peoples had no say in the design of the system and no ability to protect their children from intrinsic harms, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples today want to manage their own lives. In terms of the economy, that means participating in it on their own terms. They want to be part of the decision-making process. They want their communities to benefit if large-scale economic projects come into their territories. They want to establish and develop their own businesses in ways that are compatible with their identity, cultural values, and world views as Indigenous peoples. They want opportunities to work for companies that are proactively addressing systemic racism and inequity. Corporations can demonstrate leadership by using the United Nations Declaration as a reconciliation framework.
Call to Action
92) We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following:
i. Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.
ii. Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic develop ment projects.
iii. Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
The Commission believes that reconciliation cannot be left up to governments, the courts, and churches alone. There must also be dialogue and action in communities across the country. Reconciliation must happen across all sectors of Canadian society. Canadians still have much to learn from each other. Past generations of newcomers faced injustices and prejudice similar to those experienced by residential school students and their families. More recent immigrants have struggled with racism and misconceptions as they come to take their place in the Canadian nation.
Despite the many barriers to reconciliation, this Commission remains cautiously optimistic. At the Alberta National Event in March 2014, TRC Honorary Witness Wab Kinew spoke about the changes that are already happening across this land that give rise to hope. He began by explaining that all day he had been carrying with him
a ceremonial pipe, a sacred pipe, which when you bind the two sides together— the stem and the bowl—it offers us a model of reconciliation, of two forces coming together to be more powerful than they were otherwise. So it’s important for me to come up here before you all and to speak Anishnaabemowin, and a little bit of Lakota, and to carry a pipe because it sends a message. It sends a message to those who designed the residential school system, that you have failed. We were abused. Our languages were assaulted. Our families were harmed, in some cases, irreparably. But we are still here. We are still here. So in honour of my late father, Tobasonakwut, a Survivor of St. Mary’s residential school in Rat Portage, Ontario, I wanted to say that. I so wish that he could have seen this—the final event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—so that he could see how this country has changed. How when he was a child, he was told that he was a savage. He was told that he was nothing. He was assaulted, taken away from his family, taken away from his father’s trapline. To see the change that has happened, where today in Canada, there are tens of thousands of people from all walks of life gathering together to set that right and to stand up for justice for Indigenous peoples.
The world has changed in another way as well; the old dichotomy of white people versus Indians no longer applies. Look around at Canada today. There are the descendants of Europeans. There are the descendents of Indigenous peoples. But there are also the descendants of Arab nations, of Iran, of the Slavic nations, of Africa, of the Caribbean, Southeast Asian, Chinese, and Japanese peoples. The challenge of reconciliation may have begun between Indigenous peoples and Europeans, but now the project of reconciliation will be undertaken by the children of all those nations that I just mentioned. And though the world has changed, and Canada has changed, we still have a long way to go.… We are all in this together. Let us commit to removing the political, economic, and social barriers that prevent the full realization of that vision [of reconciliation] on these lands. Let us raise up the residential school Survivors, and their example of courage, grace, and compassion, in whose footsteps we walk towards that brighter day.284
At the community level, where contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples is often minimal or marred by distrust and racism, establishing respectful relationships involves learning to be good neighbours. This means being respectful—listening to, and learning from, each other; building understanding; and taking concrete action to improve relationships. At the Victoria Regional Event, intergenerational Survivor Victoria Wells said,
I’ll know that reconciliation is happening in Canadian society when Canadians, wherever they live, are able to say the names of the tribes with which they’re neighbours; they’re able to pronounce names from the community, or of people that they know, and they’re able to say hello, goodbye, in the language of their neighbours…. That will show me manners. That will show me that they’ve invested in finding out the language of the land [on] which they live … because the language comes from the land … the language is very organic to where it comes from and the invitation to you is to learn that and to be enlightened by that and to be informed by [our] ways of thinking and knowing and seeing and understanding. So that, to me, is reconciliation.285
Former public school teacher Lynne Phillips cautioned that establishing trust will be one of the major challenges of the reconciliation process. She said,
I really understand the reticence of some First Nations people about wanting to accept offers of friendship and possibilities of interaction. I understand why that is and I hope that in time we will be able to gain trust and some kind ways of interacting with one another that will be mutually beneficial.… I think we’re moving.… I think civil society, non-governmental organizations, church organizations, Aboriginal organizations are moving in the direction of openness … and I think we have a long ways to go.286
In July of 2013, at the Community Hearing in Maskwacis (formerly Hobbema, Alberta), at the former site of Ermineskin residential school, Professor Roger Epp said that over the years, his Cree students helped him to understand
what it was that a fourth-generation grandson of settler people needed to know in order to live here … with a sense of memory and care and obligation. For I too have ancestors buried on Treaty 6 land.… I learned from a student from Hobbema that we’re all Treaty people here.… A Treaty is a relationship after all and we live here on the basis of an agreement signed in 1876, 1877; the first time, not very far from where my settler ancestors homesteaded.… While it is good for national leaders to make public apologies, the work of reconciliation is not just for governments. Actually, I don’t think they’re very good at it. The work of reconciliation is work for neighbours.… I think the words [of the apology] were sincere, but they were not enough. They did not change relationships, not enough.287
We also heard that day from Mayor Bill Elliot, from the nearby city of Wetaskiwin. He explained that prior to the TRC’s Community Hearing, he, along with Grade Ten students and others from Hobbema and Wetaskiwin, had attended a workshop with Survivors. Listening to their residential school experiences helped those who attended to begin to understand how deeply the residential schools had scarred Survivors, their families, and the whole community. He said,
I think it helped the people of Wetaskawin come to an understanding of some of the trials and tribulations that our neighbours to the south have been going through all their lives.… We are working on a healing journey between the City of Wetaskiwin and the Cree First Nations.… As you come into Wetaskiwin from the south, you will see that our [city] sign is in Cree syllabics as well—that welcomes you.… We still have a long way to go. We are taking baby steps in the healing process. But we are working together for better communities, to understand and respect the differences and similarities in our cultures.288
At the Alberta National Event in 2014, Mayor Elliot, who was also inducted as a TRC Honorary Witness, offered an expression of reconciliation:
Our community is trying to learn more about the Survivors and the residential schools. Our schools, churches, and community have made cupcakes and birthday cards for the big birthday party tomorrow. Members of our community have been here for the last two days.… They are very, very supportive and they want to learn. We are trying to learn more about and understand the effects of residential schools and our friends from Maskwacis because we want to be good neighbours.289
The cities of Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary have also issued proclamations declaring a year of reconciliation. In 2014, Vancouver went a step further, declaring that it was now a “City of Reconciliation,” and it has established a long-term framework for partnership and relationship building with the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations and urban Aboriginal people.290 At the British Columbia National Event, TRC Honorary Witness Mayor Gregor Robertson said,
We are blessed to have so many different cultures in this place, and all of us who come from afar … have been incredibly lucky to be able to come to this place. Many of us come from families, from clans, from cultures, that were wiped out, that had to leave. We were forced off our territories, and somehow we’ve managed to make a home here. That’s largely because of those First Nations ancestors who welcomed us … who made it possible for refugees, for people of broken cultures all over the world to settle here, to stay here, even though our predecessors and our ancestors turned it right around and terrible things have happened. I think the strength that is in Aboriginal peoples across Canada is something for the world to learn from, something that we can apply to the big decisions that we have to make in our governments, our communities, our cities.
When I hear the strength in Survivors, when I hear the phrase “brave children,” when I think about brave Elders, I think “brave culture”—that bravery and that determination to learn from this past and to make the best decisions about how we look after each other, how we take care of each other, and those that need that help the most…. That we lift each other up; that we take care of the land and the sea that we inherited for the generations to come.291
At the British Columbia National Event, the Commission, in partnership with the Inspirit Foundation, hosted a Youth Panel, “Be the Change: Young People Healing the Past and Building the Future.” In this cross-cultural dialogue, youth leaders described the intergenerational impacts of human rights violations such as the residential schools, the Holocaust, Canada’s internment of Japanese Canadians during World War Two, and the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants to Canada. They spoke about community and about turning reconciliation into action. Tsilhqot’in intergenerational Survivor Kim Harvey said,
I encountered many uncomfortable moments trying to explain what happened to my people and why there is so much alcoholism and drug abuse. There is so much focus on all the negative things.… No one talked about the residential schools.… There are so many horrible stereotypes that our young people face every day. I struggle with issues of family, identity, and community every day.… Reconciliation to me comes down to truth, education, and knowledge sharing practices.… Reconciliation is about relationship. To reconcile, I really need to understand what happened to you, who you are, and what, as a community member, I can do to make our community better.…
Reconciliation is a shared experience.… The residential schools were done [to us] by an outside party … when people ask “why don’t you just get over it?” I find that frustrating because it takes the onus off the shared relationship [as if ] somehow this entire country is not involved in the reconciliation process.… That, to me, is a disservice to this nation in terms of reconciliation.… It’s everyone’s responsibility to educate themselves about what happened.… With relationship comes respect.… What helps young people, Indigenous or not, is to find your role, have adult allies to help you find that role, fulfill your responsibilities within that role, and then be of service to the community.… If we all did that … to me that would be reconciliation in action.… It’s about finding out about your neighbour.292
Kevin Takahide Lee, an intergenerational Survivor of the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, said,
I acknowledge that we are on Coast Salish lands. It was also on these very lands here at the pne [Pacific National Exhibition fairgrounds] that my family was held during the war before being sent to the internment camp. It is my parents and grandparents who are Survivors…. [They] never talked about what happened in the internment camps … even after the Japanese-Canadian redress happened … hearing these stories from our Elders is very rare.… When I was four or five, I came here to the pne as most families do.… When it came to going inside the barn here, just two doors away, my grandmother would not come in. That’s because that livestock building was used to hold her and other women and children, during the war, for months.… When I was a child, I couldn’t comprehend this, but as an adult, I understand.… This is what it means to me, as an intergenerational Survivor. People who I love and admire were wronged, humiliated, and forgotten, and unjustly imprisoned by the country I … call home.… [The part of the Japanese redress program that worked best] was the investment in communities and culture … [and the establishment of ] the Canadian Race Relations Foundation … to ensure that this never happened again.… Only when “you” and “me” become “us” and “we” can there be any reconciliation.293
Caroline Wong said that as an intergenerational Survivor of the Chinese head tax, which her grandfathers had to pay when they entered Canada from China,
I grew up rejecting the stereotypical [identity] of the Chinese person because I wanted to be as ‘white’ as possible.… In terms of reconciliation, my grandmother is a warrior … she’s been fighting for head tax redress. In 2006, the federal government offered an apology and compensation for head tax survivors and their spouses, but very few were still living. It was a huge slap in the face for many Survivors like my grandmother and other first-generation Chinese Canadians who suffered the impacts of discrimination.… What is the price you can put on loss of life, loss of land, loss of family, and discrimination and abuse. You can’t put a price on these things…. Compensation is only part of the answer.… Reconciliation is not just an apology but a two-way path of apology and forgiveness.… Education … exposing the truth of what happened and making sure it’s never forgotten.… Reconciliation starts with youth and building intercultural understanding…I hope this is the start of many other intercultural dialogues.… We need to understand about residential schools and also what other cultural groups have experienced. I challenge all of you to ask, “What does it mean to be Canadian?” Or, if you’re from another place, “What is your role in this community?”294
Danny Richmond, an intergenerational Holocaust Survivor, said,
My grandmother and grandfather lived through things in their twenties that I can’t even begin to imagine … for my people, this history is still an open wound … what can I tell you that will give you understanding of this? … It’s always been part of my life.… Because the Holocaust was at such a widespread global level … who is the perpetrator? Every day, people were implicated … and there were systems and nations involved … so there’s no one person I can accept an apology from. The German government has apologized. It’s about the reconciliation of trust in humanity that this kind of persecution won’t happen again to the Jews or globally.… Reconciliation is about making sure that none of our communities suffer that persecution again … for me it’s about guarding our institutions to make sure they aren’t continuing this kind of persecution … we’ve had the apology from the government but how are we checking in to see how we’re doing today? … We need to create a National Day of Reconciliation that deals with these past human rights abuses, and educates [people] about what [what happens when we] dehumanize people. Canada was a safe haven for my family but it’s also a nation with a lot of pain and warts in its background. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about that and to institutionalize the healing process at a national level.295
For new Canadians, many of whom carry their own traumatic memories of colonial violence, racism, and oppression, finding common ground as Treaty people involves learning about the history of Aboriginal peoples and finding ways to build stronger relationships of solidarity with them. The Commission believes there is an urgent need for more dialogue between Aboriginal peoples and new Canadians. At a forum, “From Remembrance to Reconciliation,” co-sponsored by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Colour of Poverty, Colour of Change, and the Metro Toronto Chinese and South-East Asian Legal Clinic, and attended by the TRC Commissioners, participants reflected on how their own histories shaped their understanding of violence, oppression, and racism, the stereotypes they learned about Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and the challenges and opportunities of building alliances together.
Akua Benjamin, who came from the Caribbean, with its history of slavery, said,
How is it that our histories … [have] so many similarities in terms of violence? The violence of slavery is the violence of destruction in Aboriginal communities.… These are societies that are shaped by violence.… My grandmother talked about working in the fields and being beaten … my mother carried coal on her head as a child … so we have a lot in common.… How do we reconcile? How do we have those difficult conversations that say that you are implicated in my struggle? You have privilege that I don’t. You have an education that I was not privy to.… This is a safe place for us to really have those difficult conversations.296
Ali Kazimi said,
I came [to Canada] from India thirty years ago.… One of the things that became apparent to me right away was that I came [here] with my own baggage of stereotypes [of Aboriginal peoples]. These were defined by what I had seen in Hollywood films and comic books.… I spent a lot of time in Toronto going to soup kitchens, hanging out with people, trying to understand what the current reality is of First Nations people in an urban centre like Toronto. It was an incredible learning experience. It really humbled me. It really opened my eyes.… I remember having those discussions with people who would challenge me, and those challenges were absolutely essential.… That led me to my own question.… How do I fit into this landscape?
Many Canadians feel that Canadian identity and cultural identity is somehow defined by this universal humanism. On the flip side, we have Prime Minister Harper who says Canada has no history of colonialism. They do the same thing. They deny colonialism and racism and [attitudes of ] white superiority … whose legacy we continue to see today.… It’s a very toxic legacy.… One of the truths about Canada is that it was created as a white man’s country and this term was used over and over again.… Twenty years ago, I became a Canadian citizen and one of the things that wasn’t made clear to me … was that when we took that oath [of allegiance] we would become party to the Treaties that were signed.… We were given this very uplifting lecture on the rights of Canadian citizenship but what was excluded was [information] on our responsibility and obligations … as now being parties to these Treaties.297
Winnie Ng said,
I was born in Hong Kong and came to Canada in 1968.… I landed in Victoria, bc, the oldest Chinatown in the country.… It has been a journey for me as a person of colour, as a person of the non-Indigenous communities … to learn about the history of this Native land and my own social location and privilege as a member of the newer arrival communities.… From the [Chinese] labour of the cpr, to the head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act … the Chinese, along with Indigenous children, were secluded in the education system for so many years … there’s been a constant narrative of systemic racism, exclusion, and exploitation.… I think [we need to talk about] remembrance, resistance, and reconciliation.298
In preparing to become Canadian citizens, all immigrants to Canada study a booklet called Discover Canada. It explains, “To understand what it means to be Canadian, it is important to know about our three founding peoples—Aboriginal, French and British.” It says the following about Aboriginal peoples:
The ancestors of Aboriginal peoples are believed to have migrated from Asia many thousands of years ago. They were well established here long before explorers from Europe first came to North America. Diverse, vibrant First Nations cultures were rooted in religious beliefs about their relationship to the Creator, the natural environment and each other. Aboriginal and treaty rights are in the Canadian Constitution. Territorial rights were first guaranteed through the Royal Proclamation of 1763 by King George III, and established the basis for negotiating treaties with the newcomers—treaties that were not always fully respected. From the 1800s until the 1980s, the federal government placed many Aboriginal children in residential schools to educate and assimilate them into mainstream Canadian culture. The schools were poorly funded and inflicted hardship on the students; some were physically abused. Aboriginal languages and cultural practices were mostly prohibited. In 2008, Ottawa formally apologized to the former students. In today’s Canada, Aboriginal peoples enjoy renewed pride and confidence, and have made significant achievements in agriculture, the environment, business and the arts.299
The guide explains the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. In describing Canada’s legal system, it states,
Canadian law has several sources, including laws passed by Parliament and the provincial legislatures, English common law, the civil code of France and the unwritten constitution that we have inherited from Great Britain. Together, these secure for Canadians an 800-year-old tradition of ordered liberty, which dates back to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 in England.300
Discover Canada ignores Indigenous peoples as being a source of law for Canada, and says that Canada’s tradition of an “ordered liberty” is due to England, and not at all to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, who welcomed the European explorers, helped them survive in this climate, guided them throughout the country, and entered into Treaties with them to share their land with the newcomers from Europe.
The guide includes the Oath of Citizenship to the Queen that all new citizens must currently pledge: “In Canada, we profess our loyalty to a person who represents all Canadians and not to a document such as a constitution, a banner such as a flag, or a geopolitical entity such as a country.” The current oath requires new Canadians to pledge as follows: “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”
Precisely because “we are all Treaty people,” Canada’s Oath of Citizenship must include a solemn promise to respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights.
Calls to Action
93) We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with the national Aboriginal organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its cit izenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residen tial schools.
94) We call upon the Government of Canada to replace the Oath of Citizenship with the following:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
On September 22, 2013, the day after the British Columbia National Event, the Commissioners joined 70,000 people gathered in the pouring rain to participate in a Walk for Reconciliation, organized by Reconciliation Canada, a non-profit organization. If one was looking down Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver, a sea of multicoloured umbrellas was visible as far as the eye could see. Traditional ceremonies and protocols began the walk. Chiefs in regalia, women wrapped in button blankets and cedar capes, and drumming, dancing, and singing accompanied Survivors, their families, and people from multiple faith traditions and all walks of life, who marched together in solidarity. We walked for Survivors and all that they have done to bring the long-hidden story of residential schools to the country’s attention. We walked to remember the thousands of children who died in residential schools. We walked to honour all Indigenous peoples as they reclaim and restore their identity, equality, and dignity. We walked to stand up for the transformative social change that is so urgently needed in Canada. And, we walked for the uplifting solidarity of being united with tens of thousands of others, all joined together in a new community of common purpose. Residential school Survivor and Gwawaenuk Elder Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, speaking as Reconciliation Canada’s ambassador, has said, “Reconciliation includes anyone with an open heart and an open mind, who is willing to look to the future in a new way. Let us find a way to belong to this time and place together. Our future, and the well-being of all our children, rests with the kind of relationships we build today.”301
In November 2012, Elders from Indigenous nations and many other cultures gathered for two days in Musqueam territory in Vancouver, British Columbia, to talk about how reconciliation can help Canada move forward. In a statement afterwards, they said,
As Canadians, we share a responsibility to look after each other and acknowledge the pain and suffering that our diverse societies have endured—a pain that has been handed down to the next generations. We need to right those wrongs, heal together, and create a new future that honours the unique gifts of our children and grandchildren.
How do we do this? Through sharing our personal stories, legends and traditional teachings, we found that we are interconnected through the same mind and spirit. Our traditional teachings speak to acts such as holding one another up, walking together, balance, healing and unity. Our stories show how these teachings can heal their pain and restore dignity. We discovered that in all of our cultural traditions, there are teachings about reconciliation, forgiveness, unity, healing and balance.
We invite you to search in your own traditions and beliefs, and those of your ancestors, to find these core values that create a peaceful harmonious society and a healthy earth.302
The work of the TRC has shown just how difficult the process of truth determination has been. Thousands of Survivors came forward and, in tears and with anger, shared their pain. They showed how humour, perseverance, and resilience got them through the hardest of times, and how life after the schools sometimes just got too hard. They came forward to share their stories, not just to ease their burden, but also to try to make things better for their children and their grandchildren.
Reconciliation is going to take hard work. People of all walks of life and at all levels of society will need to be willingly engaged.
Reconciliation calls for personal action. People need to get to know each other. They need to learn how to speak to, and about, each other respectfully. They need to learn how to speak knowledgeably about the history of this country. And they need to ensure that their children learn how to do so as well.
Reconciliation calls for group action. The 2012 Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee recognized, paid tribute to, and honoured the Four Host First Nations at all public events it organized. Clubs, sports teams, artists, musicians, writers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges, and politicians need to learn from that example of how to be more inclusive and more respectful, and how to engage more fully in the dialogue about reconciliation.
Reconciliation calls for community action. The City of Vancouver, British Columbia, proclaimed itself the City of Reconciliation. The City of Halifax, Nova Scotia, holds an annual parade and procession commemorating the 1761 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Speeches are delivered and everyone who attends is feasted. The City of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, erected a sign at its outskirts with the city’s name written in Cree syllabics. Other communities can do similar things.
Reconciliation calls for federal, provincial, and territorial government action.
Reconciliation calls for national action.
The way we govern ourselves must change.
Laws must change.
Policies and programs must change.
The way we educate our children and ourselves must change.
The way we do business must change.
Thinking must change.
The way we talk to, and about, each other must change.
All Canadians must make a firm and lasting commitment to reconciliation to ensure that Canada is a country where our children and grandchildren can thrive.