Reconciliation – Ready, Set, Go. Did we forget the “ready”?

3 minute read

By Stephen Van Dine, Senior Vice President – Public Governance

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The fifth anniversary of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Report and its 94 calls to action to respond to the legacy of the residential school system is a natural time to review how far we have come and how much further we need to go.

While in Opposition, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau committed to implementing all 94 calls to action. In forming Government in 2015, the Trudeau Government began in haste to advance an agenda that put the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples at the centre of its relationship compass.

Momentum was visible immediately. The new Government launched pre-consultation on the subject of a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) within hours of being sworn in. The Speech from the Throne, Mandate letters and Budget 2016 revealed action on boil water advisories, billions of new dollars for infrastructure and housing, plans to establish “Permanent Bi-lateral Mechanisms” with each of the three national Indigenous Organizations, changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, child protection reforms, the start of specific apologies for historic grievances and much more.

Despite introducing Bill C-15, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act two weeks ago, momentum to respond to the 94 Calls to Action is slowing. This is evidenced by the recent acknowledgement that the Government will not meet its own boil water advisory elimination targets, strife on the East Coast in the lobster fishery, and criticism over the pace of change to respond to the National Inquiry into MMIWG. So…where to from here?

Reconciliation is a difficult concept to pin down as an endpoint. The TRC itself said:

“Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed. It also requires an understanding that the most harmful impacts of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people, and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours. Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.”

Reconciliation, therefore, is ongoing.

Yet, the lack of definition puts the current government in a difficult place to measure progress and to define a solution or end.

To solve the Canadian problem of Reconciliation, Indigenous people and colonial settlers have some work to do to define reconciliation, build a plan, and identify key milestones so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can all measure, see, and feel the progress of this momentous journey.

Where are we in our journey? The Truth chapter of the TRC process uncovered difficult and painful truths of the residential school system and provided a cogent set of prescriptions to address those truths. The government received the 94 calls to action produced as a result of that process, and began work almost immediately.

Before undertaking the process to Reconcile, did we ask ourselves “Are we ready?” To date, actions taken towards Reconciliation have left some Canadians wondering whether the recent investments have been worth it while others are impatient for more and faster change.

What if some action was devoted to readiness? What if organizations including companies, public education systems and governments had access to ‘reconciliation readiness’ frameworks or playbooks to guide them safely through the history, the pain, and equipped them with critical core knowledge to be reconciliation ready? If the federal government did, would we be asking the same questions about reconciliation progress five years from now?

What might these products look like? For starters, they could have five basic elements:

  • An Uncommon History
    • Pre-contact – life and geography of Indigenous peoples before Columbus and Jacques Cartier;
    • Contact and the Royal Proclamation;
    • Colonization, Residential Schools and Federal Policy
  • Rights, Racism & the Socio-Economic Gap
    • The political awakening
    • Two Canada’s
    • Legacy of residential schools and federal policy
  • Know thy Neighbour: A local, regional and national portrait of Indigenous communities in Canada
    • Geography
    • Demographics
    • Governance
    • Language, Culture & Traditions
  • Taking Stock
    • What has been the relationship between you/organization and Indigenous communities closest to you over the past 5/10 years?
      • Socially/Culturally
      • Politically
      • Economically
      • What are the areas of friction and opportunity for reconciliation?
  • Moving Forward Together some Guiding Thoughts
    • Choose a starting point and make an invitation or accept one
    • Its about the relationship and not the task
    • Accept new mistakes will be made
    • The journey is about mutual respect and recognition

Reconciliation is not easy work. Investing in readiness is about doing the background work to get to the staring line much like the dryland training is to an athlete. Once complete, you are set to begin (go) to move the needle forward in reconciliation. It all begins with wanting to.

About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

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