Reconciliation has hit a roadblock.
On Sept. 30, 2022, the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, 38% of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 94 Calls to Action (C2A) are either NOT STARTED (15) or STALLED (21). That’s a slight decrease from Sept. 15, 2019 when that number was 43%.
And this result comes 7+ years after “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada” was released on June 2, 2015 – 38%!
What does that really say about how reconciliation is advancing or not? There is no question that hundreds of positive commitments have been made and actions taken by most stakeholders who are accountable for specific outcomes as identified in each of the Calls to Action. Why then are 38% not started or stalled? That number has fluctuated over the last three years but has remained fairly constant over the last year. Why?
Their are five fundamental reasons for the 38%:
- Governments and colonial legal systems that enforce their laws resist accepting Indigenous laws, legal traditions and governance systems
- Structural barriers between federal, provincial and territory governments impede the collection and dissemination of quality data making accurate reporting on various statistical measures difficult
- Structural barriers embedded in the federal, provincial and territory governance systems, legislative bodies and institutions
- Systemic racism that has deep roots in multiple sectors of society are hard to eradicate
- Calls to Action that are technically “complete” but the “spirit” of the C2A is not
The findings that follow offer insight and validation that the 38% is an accurate assessment of an objective reality based on evidence gathered from multiple, credible sources.
Calls to Action that are “NOT STARTED”
The simple answer is that 12 of the 15 Calls to Action that have NOT STARTED are based on two deep-seated issues:
- A deeply entrenched legal system based on a 155 year-old colonial governance system and attitudes that still struggle to acknowledge and accept Indigenous legal systems and governance structures that pre-date confederation
47% of the 15 Calls to Action that have not started are due to this factor alone that from a government’s perspective threaten the legal and economic foundations of the Canadian state. Ditto the provinces.
|26||Statute of Limitations||All levels of government to commit to not “rely on limitation defences to defend legal actions of historical abuse brought by Indigenous people”. The governments of Canada and Manitoba have all used the “limitation” defence within the last year to try and squelch Indigenous land claims. The federal “Drinking Water” settlement from July 2021 also uses the “limitation” defence to restrict who can apply for a claim|
|42||Aboriginal Justice systems||Calls directly for all levels of government “to commit to the recognition and implementation of Aboriginal justice systems in a manner consistent with the Treaty and Aboriginal rights, the Constitution Act, 1982 and UNDRIP|
|45||Royal Proclamation||Royal Proclamation “reaffirms nation-to-nation relationship with the Crown” based on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and Treaty of Niagara of 1764 neither of which Canada recognizes. Speaks directly “to recognition and integration of Indigenous laws and legal traditions… involving Treaties, land claims and other constructive agreements”|
|46||Covenant of Reconciliation||Call for all parties to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement that would include among six specific actions “the transformation of laws, governance structures and policies within their respective institutions….”|
|47||Doctrine of Discovery/terra nullius||By renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery, Canada would remove the foundation of their territorial claims upon the lands of Canada. The Doctrine of Discovery justifies the colonial actions of expropriating the territories of non-Christians to subjugate their people and exploit their resources. The Doctrine allows Canadian law to prevail over indigenous rights and title even under UNDRIP which falls under s.35 of the constitution.|
|51||Publishing legal opinions||A principle of the federal governments’s fiduciary responsibility to publish “legal opinions it develops and upon which it acts or intends to act, in regard to the scope and extent of Aboriginal and Treaty rights|
|52||“Acceptance & burden of proof”||Calls on federal, provincial and territory governments to stop imposing the “burden of proof” on any Aboriginal title claims. Once title is established, the burden of proving any limitation of rights rests on whoever is making the claim|
Is it any wonder that these seven Calls to Action have not started?
- Structural barriers between federal, provincial and territory governments that impede the flow of data necessary to deliver the Annual Reports called for by the TRC Calls to Action to assess how well reconciliation is working across key social determinants
27% of the C2A that have not started are due to the difficulty in getting 13 distinct governments of different political stripes to cooperate especially when some are opposed to any expansion of indigenous rights
|2||Child welfare reports||Child Welfare is an area of provincial/territory jurisdiction and since First Nations, Métis and Inuit are a federal responsibility, structural and funding issues abound. For example, Jordan’s Principle, passed unanimously in Parliament on Dec. 12, 2007 is still having jurisdictional and funding issues in the provinces – 15 years later!|
|9||Education Reports||Education is an area of provincial/territory jurisdiction and since First Nations, Métis and Inuit are a federal responsibility, structural and funding issues abound. Add to this that the majority of First Nations now live in cities and not on reserves which is where federal funding goes. There is not much focus on Métis and Inuit or off-reserve First Nations|
|55||Social Determinant reports||Foundational data essential for the National Council for Reconciliation to fulfill its mandate as an “independent, national, oversight body” to determine how well reconciliation is working across the country. This data must be aggregated from multiple stakeholders in all jurisdictions across Canada|
|56||State of Aboriginal People’s Report||Totally dependent on deliverables prepared by the National Council for Reconciliation for the Prime Minister “to issue an annual State of Aboriginal Peoples Report which would outline the governments’s plans for advancing the cause of reconciliation”|
The Council of the Federation, a biannual meeting of the Provincial and Territory Premiers is the perfect forum to address these structural barriers. The Council, however, excludes representation from any of the national Indigenous advocacy groups from any of the main meetings: Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
The Indigenous groups are relegated to a short pre-meeting discussion where issues can be raised in a limited way.
Calls to Action that are “STALLED”
The 21 Calls to Action that are STALLED are much more fluid and go back and forth between the various states based on what is happening at a particular point in time. In general, there are three main issues that are behind the 21 Calls to Action that are STALLED:
- Structural issues embedded in the federal, provincial and territory governments whose governance systems, legislative bodies and institutions have restrictive policies, frameworks and attitudes that impede progress
52% of the STALLED Calls to Action are in this category
|8||On vs Off reserve funding||Almost all of the information available form the federal government has to do with on-reserve funding. The April 27, 2022 update on the official government website makes no reference to off-reserve funding|
|10||Indigenous Education Act||The official government website update on April 27, 2022 makes no reference to an Indigenous Education Act but instead refers to a new engagement process, new funding models and discrete Education Agreements with individual Indigenous organizations|
|14||Indigenous Language Act||Bill C-91 “An Act Respecting Indigenous Languages” had the support of the First Nations and Métis but not the Inuit who did not see many of their recommendations integrated into the Languages Act. Inuktitut, spoken by the vast majority of Inuit, is less protected than English and French in their own territory|
|17||Reclaiming Indigenous names||Only the federal government, Ontario, Alberta, NWT and Nova Scotia have made reclaiming Indigenous names possible. A major structural issue is the limitation of computer systems recognizing characters within Indigenous syllabics|
|19||Identify & close health gaps||Since health is under provincial, territory jurisdiction, all health related data must be aggregated from their disparate internal systems and shared with a federal government with whom many have an adversarial relationship. All data must also comply with Indigenous Data Sovereignty protocols|
|30||Overrepresentation in jails||The incarceration rates for indigenous people has increased every year since 2015 (25.4%) through 2021 (32%) and for women it is now almost 50% despite a number of initiatives at the federal and provincial levels|
|32||Mandatory Minimum sentences||Federal govt. has been trying since 2019 to pass this legislation. Reintroduced in December, 2021 the legislation has been critiqued as not doing enough|
|71||Residential School records||As of Nov. 1, 2021 only BC and Alberta have fully complied. Most provincial vital statistics offices have not submitted records at all|
|77||Archive records||Each jurisdiction has accountability: federal, provincial, territory. Archives also have their own C2As # 69 (Library and Archives Canada) and # 70 (Cdn Assoc. of Archivists). Most archives have still NOT sent statistical records including residential school death certificates to the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation|
|92||Business and Reconciliation||IndigenousWorks identified that 85% of businesses surveyed have not prioritized engagement with Indigenous peoples.|
|93||Citizenship Guide||The Citizenship Guide has been under development since 2015. A launch date is still to be determined|
- Systemic racism is endemic within all the “legacy Calls to Action”: Child Welfare, Education, Language and Culture, Health and Justice
29% of the STALLED Calls to Action are in this category
|12||ECE Programs||There has been no update on the ECE Program’s “National Progress Report on Early Learning and Childhood ” since 2018. The federal government lumps Indigenous children “with children with additional support needs, children from francophone communities, and recent immigrants.|
|18||Healhcare rights||The federal govt. called an emergency meeting of all the provinces and territories after the death of Joyce Echequan in a Québec hospital in Sept. 2020 to address systemic racism within the Canadian health system. Indigenous Watchdog has documented current cases of systemic racism in virtually every jurisdiction in Canada|
|20||Distinct Métis, Inuit and First Nation off-reserve needs||Most of the focus from the federal government is on First Nations on reserve who represent 28.3% of the total Indigenous population in Canada (2016 census) and mostly ignores the larger first Nation off-reserve population and distinct needs of Métis and Inuit. A significant problem identified by the Our Health Counts surveys conducted by Well Living House in Toronto and the Yellowhead Institute is the undercounting of urban Indigenous people that directly impacts policy and funding decisions by governments|
|29||Settlement Agreements||The original Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement excluded a number of other entities who resorted to the courts to force the government to reach settlement agreements. A number have been settled but the government continues to fight the survivors of the St. Anne’s Residential School, one of the worst in Canada, in court|
|62||Indigenous education reform||The conservative governments of Alberta and Ontario have both implemented K-12 education reforms that exclude Indigenus content. Alberta has recommended removal of the history of residential schools and replacing it with feudalism, Chinese dynasties and Homer’s Odyssey. Ontario has made Indigenous content “optional” in 9-12 and removed all reference to Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing from the elementary science curriculum|
|87||Story of Indigenous athletes||The federal government only focuses on the Tom Longboat awards. Very little activity at the provincial or territory level|
- These Calls to Action are either technically complete (41 and 58) or have been deliberately ignored as nothing has changed with either since 2015
|41||MMIWG Inquiry||The federal government DID call a National Inquiry as stated by this C2A but it cannot be complete until the 231 Calls to Justice have been implemented by the federal Action Plan that when released was immediately criticized by Indigenous leaders for a lack of substantive details, timelines or budget|
|58||Pope’s Apology||Yes, the pope did apologize but he did not apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church as an institution and he only mentioned sexual abuse and genocide once he left Canada. Also left unstated: renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery, the return of Indigenous artifacts from the Vatican and access to residential school records|
|78||Community Funding||The April 1, 2022 update posted on the official government website states “Work continues with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on how to proceed with other elements of this Call to Action”|
|25||Independence of RCMP||A federal mandate letter issued in 2018 to the Commissioner of the RCMP is not the same as the specific “written policy” that this C2A asks for|
38 Calls to Action “NOT STARTED” or “STALLED. Indigenous Watchdog has catalogued 553 specific actions and/or commitments made by all stakeholders across all 94 Calls to Action since February, 2020. Those are all positive steps to advance reconciliation and make a difference to the lived experience of Indigenous people throughout the country. So far, 11 Calls to Action are COMPLETE and the vast majority of the Calls to Action – 47 – are IN PROGRESS.
The challenge is how the key stakeholders – primarily governments – will address the five issues identified above that encroach on their power and authority. Will they follow their conscience or their political instincts to preserve as much of the existing status quo as possible? Beyond governments, the same question can be asked of the corporate elites who help determine the economic agenda for the country.
What is right choice?
The weight of history is on the side of Indigenous people just as it is on climate change that also has an enormous and direct impact on Indigenous people who are on the front lines. But climate change impacts everyone. The bigger challenge facing everyone is, how do we make this world a better place for everyone. The truth is that Indigenous people can have an enormous amount of influence on that discussion given their ties to the land and to all of creation.
Now, if we can just get governments to listen and act.