We must create the climate for reconciliation

The final ceremony for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission took place in Ottawa this week and there was an extensive list of recommendations delivered by Commission Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair.  The list may seem daunting, but it represents a unique opportunity for us to move past the heinous legacy of Residential Schools that still reverberates throughout First Nations populations across Canada. 

The biggest worry going forward has to be the over-whelming silence of the Conservative government which cannot be seen as anything more than calculated. Remember, it was Stephen Harper who struck the commission in the first place.  Indeed many observers are wondering if the whole exercise was one intended for public relations only.  If that is the case it is beyond a shame.

What the Prime Minister and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and his government are missing is that the Commission’s report is showing us a path forward towards finally implementing real reconciliation.  It is not intended to be damning for any one political party or any single government, but Stephen Harper’s reactions are in danger of making it become such a thing.

Surely, as Canadians we all share a responsibility to at least learn about this dark chapter of our history.   I hear from people who feel this relates to events that happened long ago and in other places which is really not the case.  The last residential school only closed its doors in 1996 and they were being built as recently as 1976.  This is a phenomenon that took place over many generations and all across Canada.  Inside Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing there were the Wikwemikong Indian Residential School, the Chapleau Indian Residential School, and the Spanish Indian Residential Schools.  In nearby Sault Ste. Marie, the Algoma University campus is actually the site of the former Shingwauk Indian residential School.   It is indeed, our history.

It is important that we understand that history so we can see how we all have a stake in this.  By understanding that, we can move towards real reconciliation, which will allow us to move forward together all the stronger for our efforts. 

For parliamentarians, the report is a call to action and now is the time for some real leadership so that we can demonstrate that the 2008 Apology was indeed an historic moment and not just a lot of wind fueled by empty words.   For its part the federal government can begin to create the conditions for reconciliation by taking immediate action in areas like education, child welfare, and health services, so that the legacy of the Residential schools has a chance to end now.  Additionally, we must ensure our commitment to repair broken relationships on a nation to nation basis.

That call to action is made on tenuous ground with the current government.  When Justice Sinclair read the recommendation to create a national inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women, the room erupted into a standing ovation with one exception.  It was the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development who remained both seated and frowning, which lets Canadians know all they need to about this government’s actual commitment to reconciliation.