Discovery of anonymous graves sheds light on reconciliation in 2021

Sinclair, like so many other Indigenous leaders, says the discovery by First Nations of hundreds of anonymous graves at the sites of former Indian residential schools has led more people to learn and come to terms with what the survivors of these institutions experienced. .

“It has raised the credibility of other issues related to residential schools, the history of colonialism and the impact of colonialism by several notches,” he said in a recent interview.

It is estimated that as many as 150,000 Aboriginal children in Canada were forced to attend these government-funded faith-based institutions for over a century.

Thousands of residential school survivors have described seeing their culture suppressed and experiencing physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as neglect and malnutrition.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation maintains a memorial register with the names of over 4,000 children who died in these institutions.

At the end of May, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation of the interior of British Columbia made the shocking announcement that a ground-penetrating radar had located 215 anonymous graves believed to contain the remains of children. died in a boarding school.

In three weeks, the federal government responded to three more of the commission’s 94 calls to action, according to the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-run research center at Ryerson University, which is changing its name due to the role of its namesake in the residential school system.

This included Parliament marking September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, changing the wording of Canada’s citizenship oath to include mention of Indigenous rights, as well as the appointment of an Indigenous Languages ​​Commissioner.

Eva Jewell, Research Director at the Yellowhead Institute, has helped track progress to date on the TRC recommendations. She says that while it was amazing how quickly Canada advanced three more, it made it into the spotlight of international attention on a genocide.

Plus, she added, the calls to action he filled were largely symbolic.

“If Canada’s response to these revelations was to act on symbols, then what will it take for Canada to work on the substance? “

“This is a troubling question,” says Jewell.

From now on, she’s hoping that September 30 becomes a day for people to reflect on outstanding calls to action. One of the obstacles to advancing reconciliation, according to the researcher, is Canada’s emphasis on symbols.

“It’s important to remind Canadians (not to) let reconciliation become a performance.

“If it continues to be just a performance, native people aren’t going to be interested in it, I don’t think so. And I think at some point Canadians will be exhausted as well, ”she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government took office in October 2015 and made reconciliation a signing priority. The TRC had issued its calls to action earlier that year and Trudeau, who was an opposition leader at the time, called for their full implementation.

The findings of the anonymous graves, which prompted Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians to respond with shock, grief and calls for justice, have increased scrutiny of Trudeau’s commitments.

Lynne Groulx, CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, says she has never seen a wave of support from Canadians and the business community come to the organization like she did in 2021 .

Despite increased awareness of reconciliation, she said, the action plan Ottawa unveiled earlier this year to address the findings of a 2019 national inquiry into murdered Indigenous women and girls and missing did not respond to what her organization had hoped for.

“There is a lot of expectation on this side of the table that reconciliation means action. It really means action, ”said Groulx.

Among the chronic issues she says need to be addressed, including housing and health, is First Nations access to clean water.

Trudeau missed his own deadline, set during the 2015 election campaign, to end all long-term drinking water advisories within five years. But the commitment to lift them all remains alive, with the government saying work to get there is underway.

In early December, Indigenous Services Canada reported that 42 of these advisories remained in place in 30 different communities, primarily in Ontario, but also in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

For Cindy Blackstock, a longtime social worker and advocate for First Nations children, the discovery of anonymous graves has raised awareness of the most recent inequalities the government has allowed for Indigenous children today.

She is among the parties involved in confidential negotiations with Ottawa to reach a settlement agreement that would see the federal government compensate Indigenous children who have been separated from their families due to its chronic underfunding of child and welfare services. families on reserve, as well as systemic changes to child protection.

The damages were awarded by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, a decision the federal government appealed to the Federal Court.

Negotiations began in the fall after federal ministers said they hoped it would lead to an out-of-court settlement. The talks are scheduled to expire on Friday. The fall economic statement showed Ottawa is on the verge of paying $ 40 billion.

Blackstock said she believed that figure would not have been on the table if more people had not paid attention to the case and the issue of child welfare for Indigenous children.

She believes the public understood the connection between the government’s role in the residential school system and how those who survived it put child welfare changes at the top of the TRC’s 94 recommendations.

“People really care about these kids,” Blackstock said.

The Residential School Health Support Program has a hotline to assist residential school survivors and their loved ones with trauma from recalling past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 30, 2021.

Stéphanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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