Description: Senator Murray Sinclair discusses the legacy of the Canadian government's policy towards Indigenous people, and the path towards reconciliation.
Date: February 8, 2017
Reconciliation is about atonement. It's about making amends. It's about apology. It's about recognizing responsibility. It's about accounting for what has gone on. But ultimately, it's about commitment to maintaining that mutually respectful relationship throughout, recognizing that, even when you establish it, there will be challenges to it.
From the perspective of survivors, wanting Canada, the people of Canada, to acknowledge the wrong, to atone for it and to amend their ways, I think it's fair to say that they're probably quite pleased with the reaction to the TRC's report, hopeful that in fact things will change, but we're still too early in that change process to be able to say it's going to happen.
For public servants, what's important is to understand, when the government makes a commitment like they have done to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or to establishing a Nation–to–Nation relationship… Understanding what that means and what that means to government policy, government actions and government programs is very key.
There are a number of things that public servants need to be aware of in order for us to have a better relationship. We need to be aware of the fact that a lot of the social problems that young people are presenting to the Canadian justice system, to the child welfare system and to Canadian society generally are a legacy of residential schools, are a legacy of the Canadian government's policy towards Indigenous people. So, from the perspective of the public service, they need to know that history. They need to know that that's part of the equation of discussion that they're going to encounter when it comes to Indigenous people, talking to them, dealing with them. In particular, the young Indigenous population today will still trot out the history of residential schools as a basis for claiming that more needs to be done.
But more does need to be done. We mustn't forget that. Language programs need to be established to allow Indigenous people to recover their language. Culture revival programs are very important to Indigenous youth, survivors of residential schools and survivors of those survivors. They want to look at ways that they can bring their culture back so they can live in accordance with the teachings of their ancestors. Cultural revival is not something that's funded by existing program dollars in a significant way. It needs to be acknowledged as valid. It's in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada is now a full signature to. Figuring out a way to make all of that happen in a cohesive, coherent manner is very important.
The Canadian public believes that something needs to be done because of this history of residential schools and cultural oppression since Confederation. What we want people in government to understand is, you need to be ahead of this curve or you'll be swept along with it and you will be responding to public demands and public criticism, sometimes in a way that's inappropriate if you haven't given careful planning to what it is that we need to do.
The Government of Canada needs to have a vision about reconciliation. It's in our report—not the fact that you need a plan, but what the vision looks like. Take this as your vision and make it happen. Recognize that it's going to take a long time. We need to be patient with ourselves. We need to recognize that we're going to stumble, we're going to make mistakes and we're going to get things wrong initially because we're going down a whole new road here. We need to stay committed. As long as our hearts are aimed in the right direction and we're moving in the right way, we'll get there.
Understanding why Indigenous people are suffering or are complaining about the treatment at the hands of the public or the Canadian government or by provincial governments of their sense of rights is something that many public servants still need some work to understand. If I could provide them with the opportunity to feel that at their inner core, that's what I would give them as a Christmas gift.