The road to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada remains a long one, says Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, who estimates it will take 40 years at the current pace to achieve the more than 90 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
It has been a process of two steps forward and one step back over the past year, Archibald said in an interview ahead of Friday’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
The day was declared last year after hundreds of potential unmarked burial sites of Indigenous children were found by First Nations near former residential schools, including by the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc nation in Kamloops and Saskatchewan’s Cowessess First Nation.
The national chief was in Regina Thursday along with Gov. Gen. Mary Simon for a reconciliation ceremony at Mosaic Stadium and co-hosted by Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess.
“At that rate we’re going with the number of calls to action that have been actually implemented, it’s going to take 40 years to complete all the calls to action,” she said in an interview.
“That’s how slow the process has been,” said Archibald. “That’s kind of disheartening that we’re not moving faster. The Canadian government and all the partners that are mentioned in these calls to action are not moving as quickly as they could be.”
Making progress on the 94 calls to action is a subject of the federal government’s “relentless commitment” on reconciliation, Marc Miller, federal Crown-Indigenous relations minister, said Thursday in an interview.
“It’s ongoing,” he said. “It’s incomplete. I’m not satisfied. I don’t think anyone is.”
Miller said many of the calls to action involve long-term investments, which the government is determined to achieve.
“This isn’t an operation of ticking off boxes,” he said. “It has to have the relentless commitment of our government, particularly in light of the horrific discoveries in and around Kamloops, and really the impact that had on all Canadians, shocking their conscience and a re-examination of what it means to be Canadian.”
Miller said he’s heard others beyond Archibald say the process to achieve the calls to action could take many years, but many of the issues can’t be resolved in short periods of time.
“We’ve heard from some people doing searches, for example, that it could take up to 10 years to get a full picture of what it is in and around those unmarked graves,” he said.
The 4,000-page report released in 2015 by the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission detailed harsh mistreatment at residential schools, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children, and at least 4,100 deaths at the institutions.
Archibald said there have been positive reconciliation steps this past year, but “we’ve had a couple of real steps backwards in relation to reconciliation.”
She cited court cases over Indigenous rights to self-determination, self-government and jurisdiction over their children as examples of backtracking,but the recent establishment of an independent National Council on Truth and Reconciliation and the raising of the Survivors’ Flag on Parliament Hill were steps forward.
Archibald said the Pope’s visit to Canada last summer and his apology to residential school survivors “was very much appreciated by some survivors.”
But the progress toward addressing many of the calls to action remains slow, she said.
“The real, deeper issues under the TRC’s report have yet to be fulfilled. So, it’s as though governments are trying to find the, I guess, easiest to implement,” said Archibald. “I suppose it makes sense, but you know when it comes to systemic changes we need in Canada, we need those deeper issues looked at. We need some of the issues around justice and policing, all of those things to be actioned as well.”
Organizations monitoring reconciliation in Canada, including the completion of the 94 calls to action, report the resolution of up to 12 of the commission’s calls.
Indigenous Watchdog, a federally registered non-profit dedicated to monitoring and reporting on how reconciliation is advancing on the critical issues affecting the Indigenous world, reported 12 completed actions in August.
The group also reported 35 per cent of the 94 calls to action have not been started or are currently stalled.
In June 2021, the First Nations-led Yellowhead Institute reported nine completed calls to action, including the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry and federal acknowledgment of Indigenous language rights.
Archibald said the National Truth and Reconciliation Day is a time for Canadians to pause and consider the history and reality of residential schools.
“It’s really an opportunity for reflection,” she said. “It’s a call to action for non-Indigenous peoples to do some basic things like get a copy of the summary of the TRC calls to action. It’s really worth it for non-Indigenous people to read that particular handout pamphlet.”
—Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press