What is the Truth about Reconciliation? 2023 Year-End Review: Indigenous Watchdog


Indigenous Watchdog monitors and reports on critical Indigenous issues including all 94 Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action (C2A). The intent is threefold:

  • Hold ALL stakeholders accountable for the specific outcomes identified for each Call to Action
  • Identify where the roadblocks are for each stakeholder and each Call to Action
  • Recognize the positive steps each stakeholder is taking to make reconciliation a success

This is the fourth year of tracking progress. Unfortunately, reporting of relevant data from the various levels of government continues to be a major problem. Good policy and program development requires good data. How else can you measure if reconciliation is succeeding or not in closing the socio-economic gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. So why – almost nine years after the TRC asked for it – can’t any level of government provide answers? Where is the data, especially for the following Calls to Action that are either Not Started or Stalled?

CTA ThemeCTA #Current StatusCall to Action Outcome
Child Welfare 2Not StartedPublish annual child welfare reports
Education9Not StartedPrepare and publish annual education reports
Health19StalledEstablish measurable goals to identify and close health gaps
Justice30StalledIssue detailed annual reports that monitor and evaluate progress in eliminating overrepresentation of aboriginal people in custody
Justice39StalledDevelop a national plan to collect and publish data on the criminal victimization of Aboriginal people, including data relating to homicide and family violence victimization
NCTR55Not StartedProvide annual reports or any current data requested by the National Centre for Reconciliation so that it can report on the progress towards reconciliation

The biggest disappointment of 2023 is the failure to implement Bill C-29 “The National Council for Reconciliation Act“, the legislation called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada as “an independent, national oversight body” to track and report on all aspects of reconciliation. The Interim Board of Directors submitted their Final Report on June 12, 2018 – almost 5 years ago! This legislation would enable the National Council to, among other things, collect all the relevant data identified above from all government and other stakeholders across the country.

There are two ways to look at reconciliation.

First, at a macro level, are governments actually doing what they have said they will? Second, at a micro level which themes are causing the most problems and where? Answering these will at the very least identify what is wrong and where and even perhaps offer some insight as to why?

What Can We Conclude from the Above?

The most obvious conclusion is that there are far more problems than positive actions and commitments: almost 2.5 x as many (727 positive vs 1,805 negative). In fact, 6 of the top 8 themes with the most positive actions had considerably more negative ones. So what does that say about reconciliation?

The main conclusion seems to be twofold: first, the focus for positive activity for the most part is too narrow and second, the actions are not directly addressing the more serious problems identified in each theme

  1. Only three of the 8 top themes are Legacy Themes: Health, Justice and Education. Child Welfare and Language and Culture are missing. These five themes are foundational to change structural, legislative and institutional barriers that continue to oppress, marginalize and disenfranchise Indigenous people. And each has significant issues:
    • Health is the # 1 issue in most jurisdictions, primarily due to systemic racism and discrimination that is endemic across healthcare systems in Canada
    • Justice with issues in policing, systemic racism and discrimination, slow progress in implementing MMIWG recommendations, continuing increase in Indigenous incarceration
    • Education with issues in Indigenous identity, Indigenous History and Residential School Denialism
  2. There is a significant gap between positive and negative actions in Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation that indicates governments are not doing what they say they are
  3. The biggest gap is in Treaties and Land Claims where a majority of governments continue to fight against Aboriginal Rights and Title and Duty to Consult/Free, Prior and Informed Consent
  4. The rise of Business and Reconciliation activities is testament to the shifting and rising dialogue around Economic Reconciliation
  5. Environment carries a double wallop with climate change and the destructive impacts on Indigenous territories from the resource extraction industry, especially oil and gas, mining and forestry with little to no compensation for the land expropriated or the damage inflicted

What does the above say about all the positive “Actions and Commitments” that are advancing Reconciliation in every jurisdiction in Canada?

  1. The fact that only Housing and Business and Reconciliation are close to being balanced raises a question of why are the positive actions and commitments for the other six dwarfed by the number of problems in each?
    • Housing is the only category where the positive actions outnumber the problems primarily due to the multiple government housing programs and investments across the country. Not surprising since housing is a major national problem for non-Indigenous Canadians as well
    • Business and Reconciliation represents a noticeable shift in the reconciliation dialogue as more and more businesses and governments invest in economic reconciliation which is much easier than committing to UNDRIP as a reconciliation framework and also is good PR
  2. Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation was # 1 in activity across all jurisdictions indicating that governments are to some degree more focused on the macro level commitments vs the micro level actions that have more of a direct impact on policy and programs
  3. Treaties and Land Claims has the biggest gap between positive (40) vs negative (237). Most of the positive actions relate to Comprehensive Claims and Treaty Land Entitlements which are arguably more defined and easier to implement. Also, a number were court cases where governments lost
  4. Justice is the most problematic Indigenous issue with the largest number of Calls to Action (21) devoted to the legal system. Of the 23 Justice sub-themes across the 21 Calls to Action, 16 only had one commitment from one jurisdiction
  5. Health saw numerous commitments by various governments to improving access to health including for mental health and addictions and continuing the fight to eliminate systemic racism and discrimination in healthcare systems
  6. Environment saw significant investments in Indigenous Conservation Areas that were well identified and mostly not contentious and Green Energy programs that score a lot of political points

Are governments doing what they said they would do?

Few levels of government – federal, provincial and territory – are living up to their public statements about Truth and Reconciliation.

  • Federal government saying for almost nine years that nothing is more important than reconciliation with Indigenous people. Yet they changed the leadership of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada that has slowed down the already glacial progress on a number of Indigenous issues
  • No Indigenous Health leaders were invited to the National Health meetings in Feb. 2023 despite commitments made after the three National Health Dialogues held after the death of Joyce Echaquan to engage with Indigenous leaders on any health issues that would impact them
  • Northern Development Ministers Forum that promises economic reconciliation among other things while at the same time fighting Indigenous groups in the courts in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Yukon
  • The first group that the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador apologized to for the treatment of Inuit was to NunatuKavut who the Inuit Tapariit Kanatami does not recognize as Inuit
  • Governments talk about their commitments to Truth and Reconciliation and improving the lives oif Indigenous people yet continue to use the courts to deny those same rights:
    • Child Welfare: Québec, Alberta, Manitoba, Northwest Territories
    • Justice: Indigenous Policing, Suing Land Protectors, Forced Sterilizations, Injunctions
    • Treaties and Land Claims: Duty to Consult/Free Prior and Informed Consent: BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • etc. etc. etc.

What follows are representative examples of various issues. Full details of all “Actions and Commitments” and “Current Problems” can be found on the Home Page of each of the 30 Themes that Indigenous Watchdog tracks.

Which Themes are causing the most problems and where?

2023 Current Problems Sorted by Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction Total Them with themes problem
Federal 483 Govt. Commitments (85), Justice (83), Treaties & Land Claims (61), Environment (54), Missing Children & Burial Information (44), Health (39),
BC 184 Environment (36), Treaties & Land Claims (35), Justice (23), Health (19), Child Welfare (18), Govt. Commitments (12)
Ontario 183 Treaties & Land Claims (57), Health (21), Justice (18), Govt. Commitments (16), Environment (16), Education (15)
Manitoba 162 Justice (49), Govt. Commitments (33), Health (21), Environment (8), Missing Children & Burial Information (8), Child Welfare (8), Education (8)
Alberta 129 Health (30), Environment (30), Justice (18), Child Welfare (9), Education (8), Govt. Commitments (7), Treaties & Land Claims (6)
Québec 112 Health (17), Justice (15), Education (10), Child Welfare (10), Missing Children (11), Environment (11), Treaties & Land Claims (8), Govt. Commitments (11)
Saslatchewan 102 Justice (21), Health (17), Govt. Commitments (13), Treaties & Land Claims (12),Education (8), Environment (6), Child Welfare (5)
New Brunswick 74 Treaties & Land Claims (15), (Health (12), Justice (8), Govt. Commitments (8), Education (6), Environment (6),
Nunavut 70 Health (15), Justice (8), Education (8), Environment (8), Child Welfare (6), Govt. Commitments (5), Treaties & Land Claims (4)
Nfld. & Labrador 68 Health (12), Justice (9), Education (9), Treaties & Land Claims (8), Environment (7), Child Welfare (6)
Yukon 65 Health (12), Justice (11), Environment (9), Treaties & Land Claims (6), Missing Children & Burial Information (5)
NWT 62 Health (13), Environment (10), justice (7), Education (6), Child Welfare (4), Treaties & Land Claims (4), Missing Children & Burial Information (4(
Nova Scotia 61 Health (10), Justice (10), Treaties & Land Claims (8), Education (7), Environment (6), Govt. Commitments (4)
PE 50 Health (10), Justice (7), Education (5),
Total 1805

The table above identifies the number of “Current Problems” by the numbers in brackets after each theme.

Drilling down on all the Themes listed above is the following disturbing fact: systemic racism and discrimination is the # 1 issue across all the Legacy Calls to Action. Go to the Indigenous Watchdog Home Page for any of the following themes and look under “Current Problems” for full details:

  • Child Welfare: 70% of the 108 identified problems: Systemic Racism (40), Jordan’s Principle (15), Court Challenges (13), CHRT Tribunal (8)
  • Education: 93% of the 119 identified problems: Indigenous History (51), Systemic Racism (34), Indigenous identity (26)
  • Language and Culture 93% of the 15 identified problems: Cultural Appropriation (6), Indigenous Languages in Canada (4), Bill 96 in Québec (3), Inuktuk Language (1)
  • Health: 67% of the 248 identified problems: Systemic Racism (105), Ongoing Health Crisis (61)
  • Justice: 70% of the 287 identified problems: Targeted Indigenous Groups (125), Systemic Racism including in policing (76)

Justice (287): The theme with the most Calls to Action (21) has the most problems (287)

  1. Targeted Indigenous Groups: (125) – deals with the ongoing challenges of MMIWG and slow progress on implementing MMWIG National Inquiry recommendations. Major focus around the landfill site search in Manitoba for the bodies of 4 Indigenous women
  2. Systemic Racism: (54) – Multiple examples from numerous jurisdictions across Canada
  3. Systemic Racism in Policing: (22)The James Smith Cree Nation stabbing massacre highlighted a number of major problems: lack of funding and support for First Nations Policing, significant operational issues with the RCMP response
  4. Court Challenges + Supreme Court: (35) – In the last 10 years the prison population has decreased by 16.5% but the Indigenous population increased by 22.5%. (Correctional Investigator, Nov. 2023).
  5. “Decarceration through Self-Determination: Ending the mass incarceration of Indigenous People in Canada”: Prisoner’s Legal Services funded by Law Society of BC and Legal Aid BC made significant recommendations on addressing the overincarceration issue

Health (248): # 1 in 8 jurisdictions and is in the top 3 in 4 others

  • Systemic Racism: (105) – Multiple examples from numerous jurisdictions across Canada
  • Health Care Reform: (80)- Access to health, National Dental Plan, Bill 32 in Québec
  • Ongoing Health Crisis: (61) – Opioid Crisis, Mental Health Crisis, Suicide Crisis, TB among the Inuit
  • Canada Medical Association announced on June 13, 2023 that they will formally apologize for harms to Indigenous people in health care
  • On Dec.11, 2033, the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing issued a formal apology to Indigenous people “for colonial harms resulting from nursing education

Treaties and Land Claims (237) – Ongoing litigation in almost every province and territory

Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.

UNDRIP Article 28

  • Treaties and Land Claims are a problem – 237 documented – in almost every jurisdiction in Canada where governments continue to trample on Aboriginal Rights and Title (116) and the Duty to Consult/Free Prior and Informed Consent (53). The result: court challenges (27) throughout the county plus the Supreme Court (9). The Doctrine of Discovery underlies Canada’s claim that the provinces and territories have total and exclusive control over the land despite what the treaties say.

For example:

  • Saskatchewan: First Nations are preparing a legal battle over “The Saskatchewan Sovereignty Act” ignoring of treaty rights. Focus is on “The 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreements
  • Alberta: First Nations are fighting the “Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act” in court as an infringement of their constitutionally protected rights
  • BC: Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders vs Coastal Gas Link and Trans Mountain,
  • Ontario: Government refuses to meet with 5 First Nations around the Ring of Fire mining development; 10 First Nations in Treaty 9 sue federal and Ontario governments for $95B
  • New Brunswick: Wolastoqey title claim to more than half of New Brunswick
  • Manitoba: Dakota Teepee First Nation sues federal government for $475M
  • Federal: Moderate Living Fishery on east coast and Salmon Farming on the west coast
  • etc. etc. etc.

Environment (210): Impacts of Climate Change and Specific Industry environment issues

  • Climate Change: (66) – The most visible impact was the wildfires throughout Canada. “By mid-2023 106 wildfires had affected 93 First Nations communities with 64 evacuations involving almost 25,000 people (Indigenous Services Canada)
  • Specific Industries: (50) – Environmental impacts of oil and gas, mining and forestry industries on Indigenous territories often with no consultation and little or no compensation; extensive and recurring flooding on First Nations reserves placed on flood plains or due to Hydro projects
  • Environmental Impacts: (39) – Ontario refuses to discuss Muchkegowuk Council’s conservation zone to protect the 300,000 sq. km peatlands in Northern Ontario, home to the Ring of Fire

Education (119):

  • Indigenous History: (51) – Residential School Denialism, History beyond that of two founding peoples: English and French
  • Indigenous Identity: (26) – Pretendians, Indigenous identity Theft

Missing Children and Burial Information (106): # of “potential” unmarked graves is now 2,444 in 20 residential schools

  • Discoveries of Unmarked Graves: (38) – 9 First Nations in BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Ontario made announcements of the discovery of ground anomalies
  • Challenges for Special Interlocutor: (29) – Residential school denialism, unwanted engagement of International Commission to help with search for unmarked graves
  • Residential School Denialism: (19) – primarily from the Federal government

Which Themes are Generating the Most Positive Actions and Commitments

2023 Positive Actions and Commitments Sorted by Jurisdiction

The following table identifies which of the 30 Themes (Call to Action and Other Issues) are generating the most activity as identified by the numbers in brackets after each theme,

Jurisdiction Total Themes with the Most Actions and Comitments
Federal 254 Justice (53), Govt. Commitments (32), Environment (32), Health (23), Treaties and Land Claims (24)
BC 79 Environment (15), Govt. Commitments (13), Health (9), Treaties and Land Claims (7), Housing (6), Justice (6)
Ontario 69 Health (22), Business and Reconciliation (10), Govt. Commitments (8), Education (7), Treaties and Land Claims (5)
Manitoba 63 Govt. Commitments (20), Health (12), Justice (10), Education (4), Business & Reconciliation (4)
Alberta 46 Health (12), Govt. Commitments (10), Housing (6), Justice (4), Business & Reconciliation (4), Education (3), Commemoration (2), Child Welfare (2)
Yukon 36 Health (7), Justice (8), Govt. Commitments (6), Education for Reconciliation (5), Environment (2)
Saskatchewan 34 Govt. Commitments (8), Health (5), Justice (5), Treaties and Land Claims (3), Housing (2), Education (3)
Québec 32 Justice (5), Health (5), Govt. Commitments (4), Treaties and Land Claims (3), Language and Culture (2). Housing (2)
Northwest Territories 31 Education (6), Health (5), Justice (4), Education (4), Govt. Commitments (4), Environment (2), Housing (2)
Nfld. & Labrador 22 Govt. Commitments (9), Justice (5), Business & Reconciliation (3), Health (2)
Nova Scotia 20 Health (6), Justice (3), Govt. Commitments (2), Housing (2), Sports & Reconciliation (2)
Nunavut 20 Health (6), Govt. Commitments (4), Justice (3), Education (2)
New Brunswick 14 Health (3), Justice (3), Govt. Commitments (3), Education (1),
PEI 7 Health (2), Justice (1), Education (1), Housing (1)
TOTAL 727

Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation (124 actions and commitments)

Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation was # 1 in activity across all jurisdictions with 124 positive actions and commitments. Canada (32), Manitoba (20), BC (13), Alberta (10), Newfoundland and Labrador (9), Saskatchewan (8)

  • Agreements: (16) – Multiple agreements signed impacting First Nations, Métis and Inuit: BC, Canada, A, SK, MB, QC, NS, NB, NL NU
  • Investments: (24) – Numerous funding investments to Indigenous organizations: Canada, MB, AB, ON, NL
  • Political: (45) – Multiple Indigenous appointments to leadership positions in government: first Indigenous Premier in Manitoba, new Métis Premier in NWT, first Indigenous Lieutenant-Governor in Québec; inaugural meeting of Provincial Indigenous Women’s Reconciliation Council; multiple national meetings with political and Indigenous leaders
  • Treaty Relationships and Indigenous Rights: (14) – Relationship Agreements (BC, SK, YT, MB, ON

Health (123 Actions and Commitments)

123 actions and commitments) ranks first in (7) and second in (5) jurisdictions and especially in the federal government (23), Ontario (22), Alberta (12), Manitoba (12) and BC (9)

  • Govt. commitments to Indigenous Health: (62)
    • Federal government announces co-development of distinctions-based Indigenous health legislation
    • Multiple commitments to mental health and addictions support: Canada, AB, MB, ON, YT
    • Multiple initiatives to address anti-indigenous racism in provincial healthcare systems: Canada, AB, BC,
  • Commitments to Indigenous HealthCare workers: (18) – Canadian Academy of Health Care Workers released a “Health Human Resources Assessment Report” including a section on Indigenous health care workers
  • Investments in Indigenous Healing Centres: (16) – Multiple initiatives: Federal (5), NU (3), QC (3)

Justice (108 Actions and Commitments)

Federal government is accountable for 49% (53) of the activity followed by Manitoba (10), Yukon (8) BC and Saskatchewan with (5) each and Alberta and Northwest Territories with 4 each

55% of the positive actions devoted to investments and programs in MMIWG and preventing gender-based violence. Followed by continued actions on Indian Residential School Settlement Agreements and actions to reduce overrepresentation

  • MMIWG: (28) – Multiple funding initiatives across Canada including for Land Fill search for remains of 4 Indigenous women in Winnipeg;
  • Commitments to end gender-based violence: (31) – Multiple initiatives across Canada primarily funded by federal government
  • IRSSA (11) Ottawa announces $2.8B settlement for remaining part of BC day scholar lawsuit and also a final agreement to resolve Federal Indian Boarding Homes (Percival) class action

Environment (61 Actions and Commitments)

The environment is a global issue primarily driven by climate change and the adverse effects of the oil and gas industries. Given how climate change negatively impacts indigenous people and communities to a much greater degree, more focus on positive actions is critical

  • Govt. Commitments to the Environment: (38) – Federal (19) and BC (12)
    • Multiple conservation areas announced by Canada in different regions
  • Climate Change: (6) Relief Programs in YT, AB, ON; AFN and Canada chart a new path for new and updated priorities on climate action
  • Indigenous Conservation Areas: (9) Designated areas in MB, QC, BC; Canada establishes goal for 10 new national marine conservation areas
  • Indigenous Leadership Initiatives: Guardians: (4) Expansion of Guardian programs in Inuit lands and BC

Education (47 Actions and Commitments)

Most activity was focused on Mandatory K-12 Indigenous curriculum reform (23)

  • Mandatory commitments to Indigenous curriculum: (23) in ON (5), MB (3), YT (4), NT (2)
    • Manitoba provided update on K-12 Education Action Plan
    • Ontario adds mandatory Indigenous course for Grade 11 English credit
  • Provinces and territory investments in Early Childhood Education (5)
    • Federal government issues Call for Proposal for high-quality Indigenous early learning and child care
  • Commitments to C2A # 7: (3) – MB, NT and ON through investments in skilled trades education

Business and Reconciliation (47 Actions and Commitments)

Focus is on Economic Reconciliation which is around jobs, training, and economic spinoffs from business development projects in Indigenous territory NOT around adopting UNDRIP as a reconciliation framework.

  • Individual Business Initiatives (30): Ontario (6), Federal Govt. (4), BC (4), Manitoba (3), Québec (2), Saskatchewan (2), Newfoundland and Labrador (2)
    • Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) program of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business expands Gold, Silver and Bronze level commitments for business
    • Multiple commitments to DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion): KPMG, Deloitte
    • Corporate partnerships with Indigenous communities: SUN Life, BMO, Telus, AtkinsRéalis, HydroOne, TD
  • Government Programs (16): Federal (7), Alberta (3), Ontario (3)
    • Canada Infrastructure Bank launches Indigenous Equity Initiative with loans between $5 and $100M for Indigenous infrastructure projects that CIB is also investing in
    • Support for the CCAB ‘Supply Change” program to support Indigenous procurement
    • Investments in Clean Energy projects: i.e Wind Farms

Treaties and Land Claims (40 Actions and Commitments)

Although governments have made positive actions and commitments, a large number have been a direct result of litigation where the government(s) lost in court.

  • Treaty Land Entitlements (10): Federal government (6), BC (2), SK (1), ON (1)
    • Treaty 8 Nations in BC given $800M and 109,385 acres of land as compensation for government breaking 1899 treaty
    • Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation awarded $43.3M for violation of 1876 Treaty 6 in Saskatchewan
  • Aboriginal Rights and Title (9): Federal government (5), ON (2), BC (1), SK (1)
    • Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation
    • Pacheedaht First Nation returned stewardship control over territory taken without permission to create Pacific Rim National Park
    • Federal Court affirms validity of Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation’s rights and Indigenous laws in fisheries agreement with Canada
  • Comprehensive Claims and Modern Treaties (7): Federal Government (5), BC (2)
    • Whitecap Dakota First Nation signed treaty with Canada after centuries of being unrecognized as Indigenous people
    • Canada announces “Collaborative Modern Treaty Implementation Policy” to address issues in implementation of modern treaties
  • Indigenous Victories (8): Federal (5), BC (1), ON (1), QC (1)
    • $10B settlement of Robinson-Huron Annuity Claims treaty violation by Canada and Ontario
    • Pine Creek First Nation reaches $200M treaty settlement on broken treaty from 1874
    • Flying Dust First Nation to get land back from Canadian government expropriated in 1932

Conclusion

The Indigenous Watchdog 2022 Year-end Review identified four basic issues that were impeding reconciliation:

  1. Lack of political will to tackle the hardest issues, specifically issues around land and self-government
  2. Structural, legislative and institutional barriers embedded in colonial governance systems
  3. Systemic racism and discrimination entrenched within multiple sectors of society
  4. Failure to collect and disseminate quality data that makes accurate reporting difficult

The above analysis indicates that all 4 are very much still active, indicating that we still have a long way to go. Given that we are approaching the ninth anniversary of the release of the TRC Summary Report in June with only 13 Calls to Action completed and 37% either Not Started or Stalled, the question has to be asked of all levels of government: When will you get serious about true reconciliation and do the real work needed to remove the barriers keeping Indigenous people impoverished and marginalized.

That would mean actually taking action. 150+ years of waiting is long enough. And we are not going anywhere!

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