SPECIAL REPORT

Calls to Action Accountability:
A 2021 Status Update on Reconciliation

By Eva Jewell and Ian Mosby

OVERVIEW

It has now been six years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its six-volume Final Report along with the 94 Calls to Action, meant to remedy the ongoing structural legacy of Canada’s Residential Schools and to advance reconciliation in Canada.

Framed by the recent revelations of thousands of children’s graves discovered on the grounds of several Residential Schools and by signs of a new resolve among Canadians to work toward reconciliation, this year’s report finds three new Calls to Action have been completed. Despite this, we also find an ongoing failure by the federal government to meaningfully enact the Calls to Action that would alter the disparate realities that Indigenous peoples experience in this country. With each passing year, Canada opts to perform reconciliation in an effort to shape a benevolent reputation rather than enact the substantial and structural changes that would rectify ongoing harms and change the course of our collective relationship.

Thunderbird Nest by Blake Angeconeb

Thunderbird Nest by Blake Angeconeb (Anishinaabe, Lac Seul First Nation)

To the question, “When will it be enough?” we say: it will be enough when the systems of oppression no longer exist. We will arrive at reconciliation when Indigenous peoples in this country experience, at the bare minimum, a living standard that reflects their visions of healthy and prosperous communities.

– EVA JEWELL AND IAN MOSBY

2021 Findings:
Three Calls Completed, Low Hanging Fruit

Three Calls to Action were acted upon in the three weeks following the first revelations of children’s graves outside Residential Schools.
This is more movement on the Calls to Action in three weeks alone than in the last three years. 

Call to Action #14
Appointed a Language Commissioner
Announced on June 14, 2021
Call to Action #80
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Announced on June 3, 2021
Call to Action #94
Citizenship Oath
Announced on June 21, 2021

Any completed Call to Action is welcome news. But why did it take the profoundly disturbing revelations of thousands of unmarked graves being found on the grounds of residential schools across the country to see Canada begin to make reconciliation a priority? And what does it mean that the Calls to Action that Canada did complete were also arguably the easiest, most of the symbolic gestures we allude to as “low hanging fruit” in this year’s report?

Why the lack of action on the Calls to Action?

5 Reasons:

01.
Paternalism

“We know best” mentality of policymakers that excludes Indigenous peoples from leading with their own solutions.

02.
Structural anti-Indigenous discrimmination
Canada asserts legal myths to justify dispossession and poverty.

03.
“The Public Interest”
Using the interests of non-Indigenous Canadians to explain their actions (or lack thereof).

04.
Insufficient Resources
Canada refuses to adequately address funding inequities.

05.
Reconciliation as Exploitation or Performance
Most actions are symbolic and serve to manage Canada’s reputation.

CANADIAN GOVERNMENT AND THE UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
(#41-43 | Reconciliation Calls to Action)

“…land and redress are still largely absent from the conversations on UNDRIP implementation. The focus seems to be about consent and trying to define consent by agreement and in less threatening ways — ways where it can be exercised predictably and jointly with the provinces or the federal government. So we might have consent-based decision-making, but what about Indigenous peoples’ ownership and control of their lands and the resources? What about the fact that Indigenous peoples and not the Crown own the trees and minerals, even under Canadian law?”

– KRIS STATNYK (Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation)
Lawyer and Yellowhead Institute Board of Advisor

MISSING CHILDREN AND BURIAL INFORMATION (#71-76 | Reconciliation Calls to Action)

“I’ve been working with my fellow archeologists to try to coordinate efforts to offer at least a reliable source of information, on top of working with individual communities. We are trying to do what the federal government should’ve done from the beginning, which is coordinate the national conversation.”

– DR. KISHA SUPERNANT (Métis)
Director of the Institute of Prairie & Indigenous Archeology; Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta

CHILD WELFARE (#1-5 | Legacy Calls to Action)

“The government is now paying a high price for not fixing its unequal funding of First Nations children’s services… The [$40 billion] price tag is so high today because the Government of Canada did not implement available solutions to address the serious harms to First Nations children and families, despite knowing about the problems for decades.

Let this be the lesson — that governments need to do better when they know better — the children and the country cannot pass the costs of discrimination down the road by choosing to ignore clear problems with clear solutions.”

– DR. CINDY BLACKSTOCK (Gitxsan First Nation)
Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

The only way to breathe life back into the conversation on reconciliation would be for Canada to first accept the truth that there are too many systems still in place that actively harm Indigenous peoples, particularly the most vulnerable.

Accepting this truth exposes any notion of simply “repairing” the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canadians for what it is: pure fantasy. Real and meaningful transformative change to underlying systems of oppression — not just individual tinkering around the edges of a broken colonial machine — is, therefore, required.

Design Element

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