We’ve got the report from the Truth and Reconciliation commission now, but what happens from here?
Seven years ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood up in the House of Commons and issued a formal apology for the residential school system and the Truth and Reconciliation commission began its work. The resulting report released last week is damning, including an accusation that Canada was committing cultural genocide. The report also made it clear this wasn’t a problem of the distant past, but a very real issue still affecting First Nations people today.
After all, as the report points out, the government compelled aboriginal parents to give up their children until the late ’60s, tearing an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children out of their homes to send them to schools where they were taught their culture, their language and their very identity was worthless.
The consequences still echo down through the generations. That’s not an easy thing to bear, even for the collective conscience of a country. But is the issuing of this report going to change anything? After all, the Truth and Reconciliation commission is not the first group to study the problem or make recommendations to government.
Since Harper’s apology on behalf of Canada, change has been slow. Over the last five years, the Department of Indian Affairs has held back $1 billion in spending that should have been targeted at social services. We can hope that the government will act on the 94 recommendations in the report, especially those aimed at breaking down the barriers of prejudice, and the lack of appropriate resources in schools, hospitals and prisons.
But even if the federal government fails to act, we can, and should, continue to work at the local level, as the Penticton Indian Band has been doing for many years, building relationships and agreements between our communities for the benefit of all.