Category Archives: First Nations

Essays on the First Nations of Canada, including Inuit and Métis, by Wayne K. Spear

Climate change and Indigenous peoples’ health in Canada, a report

Everything from air quality, personal safety, livelihoods, mental well-being, and cultures and identity are at risk as the world warms. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis knowledge offers mitigation and adaptation strategies.

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | AUGUST 5, 2022 • Current Events

neil ever osborne: gwaii-haanas

The man known as Guujaaw — hewer of wood, hauler of water — and the former president of the Council of the Haida Nation, lays chinook salmon over the rafters of his smokehouse in Skidegate, a community on British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii archipelago. Salmon have long played a key role in the Haida way of life, acting as both a food source and a symbol of fertility and abundance. Skidegate, Gwaii Haanas, British Columbia, Canada. (Neil Ever Osborne)

For the first time, an Indigenous-focused chapter has been included in Canada’s national climate change and health assessment. Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate: Advancing our Knowledge for Action, released earlier this year, describes the effects of global climate change on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities and the strategies in place to manage these effects.

The report chapter Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada predicts that Indigenous peoples will experience climate change in ways most Canadians won’t. In the North, where warming is three times the global average, severe disruptions are anticipated. A disproportionate burden of climate change will likely fall upon Indigenous peoples, whose reliance on seasonal roads and country foods contrasts mainstream Canadian life.

Indigenous communities are burdened by poverty, disease, poor infrastructure, a lack of access to clean drinking water, and compromised mental health. Inadequate clean drinking water alone is linked to eczema, skin cancer, infant mortality, birth defects, and elevated levels of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Climate change is making this bad situation worse.

There are just over 1.6 million Indigenous peoples in Canada, 4.9 per cent of the total population. It’s a young and fast-growing demographic. According to Statistics Canada data, the number of Indigenous people grew by 42.5 per cent between 2006 and 2016. It’s also an increasingly urban population, as Indigenous peoples move to cities for work, school, medical care, and other opportunities and necessities.

In the same period, 67 First Nations communities experienced nearly 100 flooding events and the wreckage that ensued: property and infrastructure damage, disruptions to community services, and health impacts. Kashechewan, a Cree community on the western coast of James Bay, has been evacuated a dozen times since 2004, at enormous financial, emotional, and psychological cost. Many used to go south to escape the floods, but increasingly the Cree have chosen to live out on the land, where they find peace and safety, rather than take up the risks of urban life.

Extreme weather events led to the evacuation of around 15,000 First Nations residents in a two-year period. Life on the land has its benefits, but climate change is introducing challenges, disrupting the distribution, health, and behaviours of wildlife, fish, fowl, berries, and other traditional foods on which Indigenous peoples rely. Everything from air quality, personal safety, livelihoods, mental well-being, and cultures and identity are at risk.

James "Jimmy" Haniliak was born in an igloo near Bathurst Inlet and works as a guide based in Cambridge Bay. Nunavut. Near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (Neil Ever Osborne)

James “Jimmy” Haniliak was born in an igloo near Bathurst Inlet and works as a guide based in Cambridge Bay. Nunavut. Near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (Neil Ever Osborne)

The report acknowledges the limitations of existing research on Indigenous peoples and climate change. Much of it examines Inuit in the Arctic and the harvesting of traditional country foods, with the remainder focused on Indigenous populations generally in rural and Northern Canada.

Less studied are the uses of grassroots knowledge and community-based initiatives to adapt to new climate realties. One such initiative is the Kanaka Bar First Nation Climate Change Strategy, developed by the Teqt’aqtn’mux of Lytton, British Columbia. Kanaka Bar’s community resilience plan lays out climate change adaptation strategies for water, food, housing, health, transportation and energy. “We’re facing a global existential crisis,” Chief Patrick Michell told The Weather Network. “We look at everything through a climate change lens.”

Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada also observes that “relevant, high-quality data are challenged by a lack of disaggregated and longitudinal First Nations, Inuit, and Métis-specific data.” Métis are especially under-represented in the research.

There’s a concerted effort underway, led by Indigenous peoples themselves, to mobilize First Nations, Inuit, and Métis knowledge and experiences in climate research, policy, and adaptation strategies. Research is increasingly going to be guided by OCAP principles (Indigenous ownership, control, access, and possession of data, data collection processes, and data usage) and conducted in a collaborative, rights-based approach that advances the wider project of decolonization.

Indigenous peoples are today leading a conversation on climate that asserts land and governance rights, the importance of traditional teachings, and the centrality of cultural values. The survival of Indigenous cultures will require more than reactively addressing the hazards of a changing climate. Indigenous peoples are calling for climate action that secures the full range of their inherent rights, as affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. ⌾

This article originally appeared Apr. 29, 2022 on The Weather Network.

NatChief PB is Doing Very Good Great Things at the AFN

I watched the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly. This is what I saw

✎  Wayne K. Spear | December 7, 2017 • Current Events

IF YOU FOLLOWED THE Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly this week, like I did, you heard two federal cabinet ministers (and omg one of them is Indigenous) say that Canada did some very no good very bad things in the past—but the Trudeau Liberal government is a new and different government altogether. And on account of this differentlyness very good great things are going to happen to us very soon because. WAIT shouted the chiefs WE HAVE SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT but the Ministers had to leave the moment their speeches were over. Just like pretty much every Minister at an AFN gathering ever but different.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde said much the same things the government people did—almost as if his speaking notes were coordinated with those of Ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jody Wilson-Raybould, who omg is Indigenous just like the rest of us. NatCheef B-Garde enjoys one of the warmest Crown-Chief relationships of the AFN’s history, so it was no surprise when his leather went all buttery-soft and he said dreamily that we are “in the midst of a tremendous opportunity” and that federal money is about to rain down upon us from the sky, along with big bucketsful of inherent Indigenous rights, no strings attached. The dangers, said Ency BeauGardz, are acrimony and division. Also, totally unrelated, there’s a National Chief election next year. The takeaway is that we must re-elect NC PeeBee (don’t get all dividey now, Chiefs!) and then also PeeEMJayT, so the wonderful things we have been promised will happen. In their second terms, for sure. Because.

Who Wants an Eagle Staff, Yo!

No Indigenous person outside of Ottawa actually knows what the AFN has been up to over the past few years. There’s an UNDRIP which sounds like a plumbing issue (if you’re fortunate enough to have actual plumbing) but isn’t. Also the AFN wants to close The Gap, which is fine because no Indian shops there anyway. None of us can point to a single improvement in our lives and say “Thank-you, National Chief, for this wonderful [fill in the blank]” but most of us can point to something that really sucks, like undrinkable water and moldy schools, and say ruefully that nothing appears to be changing. Fortunately that is all going to change lickety-split, because there’s a new Prime Minister in town who loves us, and we know this because tears fall from his dreamy bedroom eyes when he apologizes. He cares so much that, for the first time in Canada’s history, a federal government has a plan for the Indigenous people that is going to be great for them. We are going to love it! And it’s going to be different from the past because in the past governments never came up with ideas to make the Indians better-off.

For some reason there are Indigenous people who don’t trust the government or the AFN. (No, really.) These people say silly things like “Well what’s the plan exactly?” And by people I mean, of course, dangerous radicals. One of these unhinged extremists, the AFN’s Anishinabe Elder, Elmer Courchene, suggested that the AFN Chiefs were guilty of collaboration, which he defined as traitorous cooperation with the enemy. Whoa there, cultural Marxist SJW Elder Courchene! Not only that, he accused the AFN of disrespecting elders, then brought up National Chief Bellegarde’s gifting of an eagle staff to Marc-Andre Blanchard, Canada’s representative to the United Nations. I mean, what has the world come to when a Chief gets grief simply for handing sacred Indigenous objects over to random white guys?

Then other radicals jumped in and all hell broke loose. Even the youth took shots at poor nc/pErRyB. Mark Hill, Co-Chair of the AFN’s Youth Council, accused the AFN executive of centralizing power and authority, and he reminded everyone that the AFN is a lobby group and not a government elected to negotiate on our behalf. “The nation-to-nation relationship is between our peoples and the Crown,” he shouted, while setting his hair on fire. (Not really. I made that part up to sound more radical.) NatchyCheef PeBellGeGard didn’t look very happy about any of this, but later on he reminded everyone that this is a pivotal moment for a legacy so we are moving forward with much work to do it’s the grassroots let me tell you the youth they are our future. This didn’t convince anyone, so he pulled an 11.8-billion-dollar bill out of his headdress and waved it around until it was time for everyone to go to the casino.

Is it Even Possible for the MMIWG National Inquiry To Do Better?

The problem may well be the inquiry process itself

✎  Wayne K. Spear | November 2, 2017 • Indigenous Affairs

THE NOVEMBER 1 interim report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) is the first bit of positive news from an organization known for headlines like these:

– National inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls postpones first family fall hearing
– Trudeau sidesteps calls to reboot MMIW inquiry amid calls for resignations
– Manitoba families push for Indigenous-led MMIW inquiry, want commissioners to resign
– Government policies making it difficult for MMIW inquiry to do its work on time: chief commissioner
– Family members say Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry a failure; call for ‘hard reset’

There are only a few plausible reasons that an agency will tumble into the category “problem plagued,” as the National Inquiry clearly has. One is suggested by a headline, above: government policies. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was a mess in the beginning, because it was a micromanaged sub-department of the federal bureaucracy, subject to the government’s byzantine rules and lacking executive authority. Early on the TRC headlines had to do with things like the delays faced by the Commission while waiting for ministerial authorization to order furniture and paint offices. The work stalled and morale took a dive and everyone wondered if the TRC would be able to restore the lost trust and confidence, just as they wonder today about the wayward inquiry into murdered and missing women and girls.

mmiwg-national-inquiry.jpg

TRC Commissioners came and went—again, just as they have at the National Inquiry. I interviewed a number of people who told me the TRC departures were a result of political interference from the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. I was told that political agendas had contaminated the organization and made cooperation among the three commissioners impossible. Internal politics and political rivalry is a second plausible cause of dysfunction.

The third is personality conflict, and doubtless there’s some of this going on at the National Inquiry, as there was at the TRC and in every organization I’ve ever seen that was staffed by members of homo sapiens.

A moment ago I said that the interim report was the first bit of positive news from the National Inquiry, but that’s not entirely the case. The report has already been trashed by those who don’t see it as positive at all. Pam Palmater wrote on Twitter that “if u subtract references notes graphics definitions & recycled #MMIWG NI promo, then all that remains is a mini-literature review. #disgrace.” I wouldn’t say her assessment is wrong, but only that her expectations are high. Just as the expectations of the TRC were high. And not only high, but misguided.

At the onset of the TRC’s work, I had conversations with Indian residential school survivors who made no secret of their pleasure that justice was about to be served. I had read the Commission’s Terms of Reference and didn’t have the heart to tell them that there’d be no such thing. The lawyers who created the TRC are the lawyers fighting the Human Rights Tribunal ruling that orders Canada to bring on-reserve child and family services spending to parity with its non-native equivalent. They are the lawyers who have absorbed $110,000 in legal fees fighting a $6,000 dental procedure required by an Indigenous girl. The government’s lawyers are risk-averse and tenacious and not at all in the business of exposing their client to the messy inconveniences of justice.

The National Inquiry’s interim report is a literature review, as Pam Palmater says, because the Terms of Reference say so:

an interim report, to be submitted before November 1, 2017, setting out the Commissioners’ preliminary findings and recommendations, and their views on and assessment of any previous examination, investigation and report that they consider relevant to the Inquiry.

There’s even a helpful list of reports for review, such as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Invisible Women: A Call to Action, What Their Stories Tell Us: Research findings from the Sisters In Spirit initiative, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia. The TRC, like the National Inquiry, is mandated to “sit at the times and in the places, especially in Indigenous communities in Canada, that the Commissioners consider appropriate” for the “gathering of statements by qualified trauma-informed persons.” It is not mandated to go after the police or to point a finger at the corrupt or inept. The MMIWG National Inquiry is furthermore mandated to submit its findings, on or before November 1, 2018 (“without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization”) and a list of non-binding recommendations.

So far the MMIWG National Inquiry has been a disappointment, but I wonder how much it is within the power of this organization to do better. To what extent is the National Inquiry hindered by Canada? Over the years the federal government has mastered the art of politically expedient, toothless commissions which provide ministerial speaking points and aspirational calls to action that may be ignored or co-opted. The independent or arms-length inquiry, with powers of subpoena, has given way to therapeutic talking circles micromanaged by the Privy Council Office. Recent experience suggests that the inquiry process is broken, and it’s at this dysfunctional process itself we should be directing our ire.

Will colonial domination survive UNDRIP?

This week Canada’s ministers of Justice and Indigenous Affairs, Carolyn Bennett and Jody Wilson-Raybould, addressed the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The occasion was their government’s decision to revoke its “permanent objector status” vis-à-vis the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, also known as UNDRIP.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples goes back decades. The proposal to draft standards and principles confronting the injustices committed against the world’s indigenous peoples arose in 1982. At its September 2000 adoption, UNDRIP was opposed by four nations, among whom was Canada. (The others were Australia, New Zealand and the United States—all states with a colonial history.)

In 2010, the Harper Conservatives endorsed UNDRIP but qualified this meaningless gesture by asserting that the declaration was aspirational only, had no legal force, and was inconsistent with Canada’s constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A mere 15 pages, UNDRIP’s 46 articles can be read in a sitting. Here’s an example of language which Canada found objectionable:

Article 25

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

Article 26

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.

3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

At the time UNDRIP was adopted, Mr. Harper was promoting the oil sands and crafting resource-industry-friendly omnibus bills. His aspiration for Canada was energy superpower. A lot of the former Prime Minister’s thought, time, and energy were committed to energy, and especially to getting Alberta’s bitumen out of the ground and pipelining it westward to markets in China.

For the decade he held office, indigenous resistance was Stephen Harper’s Nemesis. The last thing the Conservatives needed, or wanted, was a UN endorsement of indigenous rights to own, use, develop and control their lands, territories and resources.

Canada’s Supreme Court wasn’t helping Mr. Harper much, either. A handful of rulings established that, at least in principle, aboriginal people could possess aboriginal land title and that their free, prior, and informed consent (here the acronym is FPIC) must be sought by governments prior to land and resource development. Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia went a step further. Not only was it possible to hold aboriginal title, but the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that a specific group, the Xeni Gwet’in, indeed held it to a territory of 1,750 square kilometres.

So is colonialism dead?

No, and here’s why the old business of colonial domination will probably survive UNDRIP, the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

First of all, UNDRIP is not, as the previous government of Canada has asserted, legally binding. There’s no court that can compel the government, and there is no mechanism to impose sanctions should Canada breach any of the Declaration’s 46 “aspirational” articles. As for the Supreme Court decisions, FPIC is a duty to seek consent rather than to obtain it. Under the present regime, the only unqualified Aboriginal right is the right to say Yes.

The courts are clear on the point that indigenous people do not hold veto rights over land and resource development. Where a proposal is likely to infringe upon aboriginal rights, there must be government accommodation, but any assertion of a right must be balanced against its counter-assertions. If Canada must reconcile with Aboriginal people, the opposite has also and always been true. At 4% of the population, aboriginal people are a tiny minority, and no Canadian court is ever going to affirm the proposition that the will of a majority could be overwhelmed by what is after all marginal peoples.

What the courts have articulated is simply and merely the principle of balancing minority and majority rights. Tsilhqot’in looks breathtakingly liberationist (or dangerously activist, if such are your politics) only against the disgraceful backdrop of rights-balancing from 1867 to-present. As I like to point out in my public lectures, the Indian Residential School System was entirely about reconciliation: namely, reconciling yourself to being told by Ottawa what’s best for you, and having it imposed under threat of fine, imprisonment, or even starvation. Under this model, the minority rights could be balanced against the majority will by absorbing that minority into the political body of Canada. No more minority, no more problem.

And, really, what has changed? When Attawapiskat hit the news yet again, the knee-jerk reaction of newspaper columnists was to call for absorbing the Cree into Canada’s towns and cities, much as the agents of Indian Affairs had advocated assimilation a century earlier. (The paradox is that they pursued this end by establishing remote reserves like Attawapiskat.) What the majority never appear to endorse are measures and arrangements that might promote strong, independent, aboriginal nations.

But I digress.

This business of reconciling rights involves the Crown and aboriginal people. The Crown asserts rights and prerogatives consistent with the traditions of English common law, while the Constitution Act of 1982 (specifically section 35) recognizes and affirms the “existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, has written in the Tsilhqot’in decision that “the s. 35 framework permits a principled reconciliation of Aboriginal rights with the interests of all Canadians.”

As discussed, s. 35  of the Constitution Act, 1982  imposes limits on how both the federal and provincial governments can deal with land under Aboriginal title. Neither level of government is permitted to legislate in a way that results in a meaningful diminution of an Aboriginal or treaty right, unless such an infringement is justified in the broader public interest and is consistent with the Crown’s fiduciary duty owed to the Aboriginal group. The result is to protect Aboriginal and treaty rights while also allowing the reconciliation of Aboriginal interests with those of the broader society.

All fine and good, but it isn’t the pit of history’s bitter fruit. As recognized by UNDRIP and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, for that matter—the crux of our problem is colonialism. Or, to put it another way, the reconciliation of English common law traditions and indigenous traditions.

Which are not reconcilable.

Colonialism can not be reconciled with decolonization. Canada’s assertion of Dominion from sea to sea to sea can not be reconciled with indigenous assertion of sovereignty, anywhere in Canada, and certainly not within a s.35 Constitution Act framework.

Either Canada gets to tell aboriginal people what’s good for them, and impose it from above (again, the only form of reconciliation ever even contemplated in Canada), or it doesn’t get to do that. Either Canada gets pipelines because the government wants pipelines, or a minority aboriginal population gets a veto. The Supreme Court, of course, would have no such thing. The vision they have put before us is of good-faith negotiations to balance majority and minority rights. And that’s probably as close to decolonization as we’re likely to get by the steam of a colonial institution, which is what the Supreme Court is.

Jody Wilson-Raybould is described as a “Kwakwaka’wakw Canadian politician.” I’ve met her and I’ve heard her speak about indigenous rights and self-determination. I know from personal experience that she can deliver a decent speech. At the UN this week, she said “let us make this the century of the world’s Indigenous peoples, one where Indigenous peoples, no matter where they live, deconstruct their colonial legacy and rebuild their communities.” Not a bad sentiment, that.

As a cabinet minister and Attorney General and a member of the Privy Council, Ms. Wilson-Raybould has sworn an oath to the Queen. Her sworn duty is to serve the Crown. That’s not just a principle or an abstraction or “aspirational.” It is backed by the full legal force of the state, and if she is derelict she can indeed be sanctioned by her government. And by her government, I don’t mean the Sovereign Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, which in any case is not recognized by Canada (just as the Tsilhqot’in Nation is not recognized) and has scant recourse should the good Minister of Justice happen to let them down.

Miche vs Canada: the dangerous quicksand of First Nations rights

This is a story about folks who just want a chance to clean the slate and get on with their lives

Meet my good friend, Miche. Here is his story.

miche

Some years ago, Miche and I belonged to a company called Native Leasing Services, based on my reserve—the Six Nations of the Grand River, near Brantford in Ontario.

The idea of Native Leasing Services is simple: you work for the company, and the company leases you to aboriginal organizations across Canada. NLS provides all the services typical of its industry: payroll, group benefits, HR, and so on. Miche and I worked at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, in Ottawa. That’s how we got to be good friends.

Because NLS is located on a reserve, our income was income-tax-free. We paid Employment Insurance and other common payroll deductions, including a leasing fee. It was legal and, in the opinion of NLS (which Miche and I share), consistent with long-standing Aboriginal rights in Canada.

Somewhere along the way, the federal government changed the rules concerning native income and taxation. They didn’t like the idea of NLS, so they came up with new rules that made it near-impossible for an Aboriginal person to claim income-tax-free status.

Today, you have to live and work on a reserve, and any product or service that you produce has to be delivered and consumed on a reserve as well. As soon as you or your product steps foot off a reserve, the federal government demands the taxes.

Tomorrow, who knows? The government is always changing its rules.

NLS went to court to fight the changes. The test cases dragged on for years (court cases usually do) and the Canadian courts ruled against us.

Typically in these test cases, the government will issue a Remission Order. The idea is that once you’ve lost in court, the ruling applies and you have to start paying taxes, as per the court’s decision. The Remission Order “forgives” the taxes up to that point, and you start from zero.

So far that hasn’t been the case. Revenue Canada, or CRA, is claiming all the back taxes from the roughly 4,000 former NLS employees. Some of us were with NLS as early the ‘80s and ’90s and face decades of back taxes. The government is pursuing hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who make, maybe, 30 or 40 thousand dollars a year. In some instances, tax bills that started out as $10,000 are now ten times that, due to compounding interest.

Miche takes home about $24,000 a year, after taxes, or just over $1,000 every two weeks. This month, CRA began to garnish his income. Even before this happened, he was borrowing money to pay the rent. He has a young daughter, and all the usual bills. He’s been struggling to make ends meet.

As a result of CRA’s actions, Miche’s wife has taken a new job a few hours away, on her home reserve in Akwesasne. Their daughter goes back and forth. The family gets to spend a day or two together each week, except when a shift comes up and Miche’s wife gets a last-minute call to come into work, as she did last weekend.

Miche is so stressed he’s been on medical leave. CRA is demanding over $195,000 in back taxes, a number that goes up every single hour of every single day due to compounding interest. Absent a Remission Order, he’ll be under financial stress for the rest of his life—even if he lives 50 more years and dies at 100. (He figures this is unlikely, and that stress is taking years off of his life.)

As crazy as this is, it’s not unusual. Former NLS employees are routinely hounded and threatened. Many, like Miche, work at health and social service agencies, for modest wages. CRA has clawed back the pensions of former NLS employees who are now sick and elderly. They’ve seized bank accounts. They’ve threatened further, unspecified legal actions. All for something that was legal not so long ago.

They have also made it impossible for people to plan and secure their financial future. What’s the point of getting a better job, saving for your child’s education, or putting retirement funds aside (asumming you’re even able to do this—which most NLS employees aren’t) if it’s just going to be suddenly taken away without your even knowing? Imagine looking 30 years down the road and still seeing an uncertain, even desperate, financial picture. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe that’s you. In any case, it’s the very definition of hopelessness.

Although we applied for the Remission Order 3 years ago, no progress has been made. The Minister of Revenue has to sign the order, and when we ask about progress we get a bureaucratic answer: “we’re looking at it.” And looking, and looking.

Meanwhile over at CRA they’re wreaking havoc with marriages, families, and lives. Here’s the best-worst part: the pocket change they are getting from Miche (about $300 a month) is not even going to pay for the psychological and physical help he needs already. He’s a wreck. He can’t sleep. He can’t focus. He breaks into tears. He worries, understandably, about his wife and daughter. Things were already tough. Now he’s being pushed to the end of his rope.

There are many, many of these stories that I could tell. As we’ve all seen in the recent KPMG affair, if you are a millionaire or billionaire, CRA has bottomless understanding and compassion. Your Remission Order is on the way, even before you ask. But if you live paycheck-to-paycheck, and you owe even $100 dollars, expect to be hunted to the ends of the earth and squeezed for every last dime. CRA has even sent people to banks to get a few bucks from NLS employees.

Let’s be clear: the government is never going to get this money. They will get cents on the dollar, because that’s all that there is to be had. No one has $200,000 sitting in a pile, in the corner of the room. CRA will spend a hundred dollars to get one dollar back, and the cost of getting this dollar won’t just be financial: it will be emotional and psychological.

A lot of good, generous people have written letters to the new federal government asking that the Remission Order be issued for the NLS employees. I’d like to think the Prime Minister and his cabinet will look at this issue and see it for what it is: an impossible situation. For the federal treasury, Miche’s debt is an irrelevance. It’s less money than the rounding error on a new military fighter jet or the federal cabinet’s annual meal budgets. Pocket change.

But for Miche, this debt is a burden that’s slowly grinding him down, and the same is true for many others.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 4.01.34 PM

This is a story about folks who just want a chance to get on with their lives. That’s why Miche and Ramona Dunn (above) have gone public: to resolve an impossible situation. They are not scam artists or criminals. They have jobs and families and hopes for an ordinary decent life, a hope that is slipping away.

Go here to read Ramona Dunn’s petition to have the Remission Order Application moved quickly through the assessment process to bring closure and to allow the individuals affected to get on with their lives.

The Indian Residential Schools Are Still With Us

In 2010, I interviewed the former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, about his many years as a politician. The conclusion of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement negotiations was a few years behind, and I asked Phil for his assessment. What did he think of the agreement?

Never mind that this settlement was, as people like to say, “historic”—at $5-billion and more, the largest court-supervised class action in Canada’s history. Never mind that it had involved dozens of lawyers in simultaneous, multi-city sessions, or that it was front-page news for months and even years running. Indeed, today’s Globe and Mail headline reads “Residential Schools: Bennett puts settlement onus on Catholics.” Who would have thought the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement would be news nearly a full decade after its 2007 roll-out. Maybe Phil. But on that day he shrugged and pulled a face. He was proud of the agreement and said something to the effect that it was the best they were going to get. But there was something wrankling him, and he told me what it was.

Phil had many accomplishments over his career. He listed a few. I couldn’t dissent: he’d been more than a few places, made more than a few waves. Yet inevitably when he’s introduced, he pointed out, it’s the residential schools that everyone mentions, and only the residential schools. Everything else disappeared.

I don’t usually commiserate with politicians, but in this instance I knew exactly how he felt. I’ve written on hundreds of topics over the past three decades, but to the degree I’m known for anything at all, it’s the Indian Residential School System. My articles on residential schools, routinely the most-visited pieces on this blog, are about the only thing I’ve composed that could be called “evergreen.” My book on residential schools is by far my most successful book, by which I mean it’s the book that people actually read, more than any other of mine.

I’m not complaining. I am, however, registering genuine surprise. I never expected the article I wrote in May 2002, for the Globe and Mail, to be at the top of the most-read list in May 2016. In the meanwhile I’ve written nearly a thousand essays that have dropped (as they do, for most writers of current event) into the black hole of yesterday. Perhaps I should have expected this. Twenty years ago I’d learned to assert that, just as the Indian residential schools had done decades worth of damage, it would take decades to heal and restitute. Canada may wish to be done with its residential school history, but history is not done with Canada. Not even close.

Today’s Globe and Mail headline refers to the amounts negotiated in Schedule 0-3 of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, by the Corporation for the Catholic Entities, Parties to the IRSSA (or CCEPIRSSA). Why then an “onus”? The short answer is that the (in my estimation) badly-written agreement committed the Catholic Entities to the “best effort” fund-raising of a $25-million “Canada-Wide Campaign.” It didn’t pan out, according to lawyers for the CCEPIRSSA. So the federal government released the Catholic Entities, who ran ~65% of the residential schools, from this settlement obligation.

I mention the badly-written bit because the current mess was created by the agreement, insofar as it is a vaguely-composed document with no clear timelines or enforcements. And what exactly constitutes a “best effort”? Who decides? These and many other questions are not answered by Schedule 0-3, which bears all the evidence of having been drafted by junior lawyers while, elsewhere, the bulk of the effort went into the Common Experience Payment.

All of this makes me wonder where we’ll be five years from now. Or ten, or twenty. With some confidence, I can say that the Indian residential schools will probably be with us. The question is, will we be inching closer to restitution, or slinking yet further away?

The power of broadcasting positive indigenous stories

JAM18cover.png

I love being an entrepreneur.

Why? Because every day, for me, is an opportunity. An opportunity to connect, to help someone, to make a small difference. Maybe that sounds corny, and if so I don’t care. It also happens to be the truth. Being an entrepreneur is simply a mindset of looking at the world as one big opportunity.

What’s not to like about that?

Each day, I try to send an email or make a phone call to someone I truly believe I can help. I’m not talking about cold-calling or pitching or lead generation. I’m talking about giving my best ideas to people who I am confident could put them to practical use. I routinely give away ideas that could potentially be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Maybe that sounds arrogant. If so, understand that I have decades of experience at what I do. I have worked in my field a long time, and I’ve studied it carefully. I’ve had great mentors. I think constantly about my industry. Every day I am working to get better.

You can’t buy expertise on the cheap. It’s valuable.

If you give your expertise away, in the hope it will make something positive happen, sometimes people will like your ideas so much they’ll hire you. Sometimes however they’ll say “thank-you,” and that will be the end of that.

Thing is, a nice thank-you email makes my day.

Here’s where I’m going with this. I have an idea that I know is game-changing, and I’m going to tell you what it is.

Actually, I’m surprised no one is doing it already. You see, I have the privilege and pleasure of working with a lot of energetic, driven, successful, and goal-oriented people. The kind of people who get things done.

All of my clients are Aboriginal. They work in a wide variety of fields, from health-care to finance to investing to the arts. Some of my clients are charities, some are for-profit, some are governments, some are NGOs. Some are business-oriented, others are more focused on their traditional cultures. They all have one thing in common, and it’s this:

They are trying to help people, and they are making a positive difference.

All of them have the same complaint. They all say that the media only pay attention to negative stories about indigenous people. Positive stories, they say, are ignored. No one ever gets to hear about indigenous successes. Only misery and poverty and failure make the news.

They’re right. The media are failing.

We native people are just as guilty as the mainstream media. Think about it. Whenever we want to drum up support for our causes, what do we do? We talk about our problems and challenges. We make lists of grievances. We quote the horrible statistics. We try to make people angry and sad and outraged, in the belief that these are the best ways to inspire action.

I see it all the time. I’ve even been guilty of it myself.

Then one day I realized that even though the bad news was all true, no one was truly listening anymore. It’s not anyone’s fault. The truth is that you can only hear the same tragic story so many times before you stop actually hearing it. Unconsciously, you shut down. You decide nothing will ever change.

Face it. There’s nothing new or surprising about a sad story involving indigenous people in Canada.

Everyone pretty much expects it. After a while, the tsunami of bad news is paralyzing. A feeling of inevitability seeps in. What’s the point? Nothing can be done, and nothing will ever change.

That brings me to my radical, outside-the-box, man-bites-dog idea. Here it is….

Positive stories.

Behind the scenes I am quietly starting a revolution. I’m giving everyone I come into contact with a strategic pathway. Not just an idea, but a plan. Why? Because I believe that we’ve been making, and we continue to make, an easily-avoidable communication mistake.

A mistake with a huge opportunity cost.

The astonishing thing is that the positive stories are already out there. So are the means to broadcast them. For example: anyone with a laptop could start a curated website or app like Digg, Flipboard, or Boing Boing, focusing on positive indigenous news stories. I am 100% confident that a site like that would be hugely successful.

Instead of paralyzing people with an endless stream of the depressing and frustrating news we’ve all come to hate, we could energize and mobilize people around hopeful messages of transformation.

All we need is to put the pieces together, in a strategic way, and that’s what I’m showing people how to do.

Speaking of positive broadcasting, watch for the next issue of the Journal of Aboriginal Management, out next week. (The picture above is the cover.)

I am the editor of this unique magazine focusing on excellence in Aboriginal finance and management. It’s just one of the vehicles out there providing an alternative to the failed mainstream media.

 

An interview with Justice Murray Sinclair

Wayne K. Spear in conversation with Justice Murray Sinclair | August 1, 2015
Murray Sinclair
Photo by Fred Cattroll

The reality is that until we have fundamental change about the way we see things and think about things, there’s not going to be effective change

WKS: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released an Executive Summary this June, and in December you’ll be releasing the full TRC report. What can we expect from that?

JMS: Many people are still looking for the basis for why we said what we said. The full report will reveal all of that. We have to produce that report in French and English, so that takes time.

WKS: At the final TRC event in Ottawa, the media seized on the phrase “cultural genocide.” Do you think this was a good place to start the conversation about the meaning of residential schools and reconciliation? Or would you have preferred the focus to have been elsewhere?

JMS: I was quite fine with it. We knew when we were writing the report that it was going to be the big question. It’s not only important to Survivors, but I think Canada and the political leadership of the country needed to know what we were going to say about it. It’s an important part of the foundation for the conversation going forward. It puts all of this experience into a proper perspective. This was not simply nice people who made a mistake. This was a truly unacceptable intention to wipe out Aboriginal people through the elimination of their cultures.

WKS: During the TRC you had occasion to comment on murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada. Your comments made me think of the death of Helen Betty Osborne and your work with the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba. It seems that little has changed. Looking back over you long career, do you feel there’s been much positive progress?

JMS: I’ve always maintained that the kind of change we need—the change I’ve been talking about since the AJI [Aboriginal Justice Inquiry] days, which is really systemic change—is going to take a long time to achieve. It’s going to take several generations before we can realistically say that we are on our way to a decent end. Changing systems requires changing the way people believe about the law, they way they believe about their political systems, the way they believe about their institutions, and the way they believe about how they’ve been educated themselves. Those challenges are hard for people to come to terms with.

I think we expect that there will be some conscious, and unconscious push-back even, on the part of the people who are going to wonder if there’s not a different way of doing it. The reality is that until we have fundamental change about the way we see things and think about things, there’s not going to be effective change.

WKS: How do we even have a conversation about systemic change when we are on the margins—of the media, of the institutions which will necessarily provide a space for conversations to happen? Aboriginal people have to be invited into these spaces, at someone’s good grace. It sounds to me like we may need to envision and create new institutions, new spaces to host the discussion about the change we need.

JMS: If we start thinking about things that way, we will immediately reject any solutions, because the idea of building from scratch is too overwhelming for most people. But what we’ve said in our report is that you can take what we now have, and you can build on that. This came out of the past. This will soon be our past. We need to figure out how do we take what we now have and change it enough that we can be assured that, in the future, we will have a better relationship, starting with a vision of what the future is going to look like. We have to ask ourselves “Is what we are doing each step of the way going to get us to that vision?” It’s feasible. Highly possible.

WKS: Thank-you, Justice Sinclair.

JMS: Thank-you.

External links: TRC | Murray Sinclair Biography | Settlement Agreement

94ways: how we will ensure the TRC report is not the RCAP report

 RCAP

A COUPLE WEEKS AGO, Zoe Todd posted a YouTube video inviting people to read from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 388-page executive summary. The video was conceived by Erica Violet Lee and co-organized by Zoe Todd and Joseph Murdoch-Flowers, and its inspiration came from Chelsea Vowel’s blog post “Reaction to the TRC: Not all opinions are equal or valid.” Ever good one, that.

You can read a CBC article about this project here.

As a result of these amazing folks, people are now posting their readings of the TRC summary on YouTube.

Chelsea’s post, which I recommend, was itself a response to Conrad Black’s National Post article “Canada’s treatment of aboriginals was shameful, but it was not genocide.”

Black took up a Utilitarian argument, heavily inflected by 19th-century tropes and by the White Man’s Burden—arguing that European civilization was such a gift to the natives that there’s no way you could call what Canada attempted genocide, even if you preface it with the qualifier cultural.

His point-of-view, that aboriginal people should be thankful for the gifts of human civilization, has a vocal following. Maybe not a majority following, but likely a sizeable minority. And since it’s a common enough position, it should be aired and not just dwell in the dirty cracks of CBC’s comment section.

I love a heated debate, and I’d be happy to undertake one in my (limited) spare time. But, OK, I’m coming down now from the soapbox. Lord Black is not the point of this post!

That National Post article has indirectly inspired a YouTube campaign, in which ordinary people—i.e. people who are not referred to in public as “Lord Such & Such”—are reading the very report that Black dismisses—without having read it! Seems to me like a decent turn.

But I had another idea, too. That’s the real reason I have written this post—to tell you about my idea.

It’s called 94ways. I’m not 100% settled on this name, but it’s the best I’ve come up with so far, in my opinion.

The idea is to create a website and the related social media where people can post simple, practical, actionable ideas related to each of the 94 recommendations of the TRC’s document Calls to Action. It could be an idea they are planning to do, or one they’ve already done. We could all brainstorm. We could trade experiences and stories. We could bring the report to life.

Nowadays you can even do things like organize a Meetup or host a Webinar. All of this could be part of the 94ways.com or 94campaign.com or 94toRestore.com or whatever it ends up being called.

All of this and more. The only limits are imagination, human will, and courage.

One final thought

Years ago I had a conversation with Georges Erasmus about RCAP—the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. (Actually, we had a lot of conversations over the years about RCAP!)

Georges was reflecting on the 1996 final report. It had just come out, and he was looking forward to a holiday, after his intense traveling and media work around that extraordinary and unprecedented five-volume, 4,000-page work.

You see, he went straight from being National Chief of the AFN to being co-chair of the Royal Commission. Every time the man tried to take a holiday, someone would arm-twist him into another job. In fact, that’s what happened after RCAP. Phil Fontaine called and said, “Georges, you’ve got to come help create this Aboriginal Healing Foundation. If we don’t do it by April 1st, we’ll lose the $350 million.”

Georges said, “I’m not looking for a job, Phil!” But it was futile.

He spent the next 14 years at the AHF, and even today he is hard-at-work, building up a nation run by the Dene, for the Dene.

Anyway, what Georges told me was that, just as the report was to be distributed, the feds pulled the funding. As a result, RCAP lacked the resources it needed to properly and effectively get the report into the hands of Canadians.

Remember, this is before YouTube and Twitter and Facebook. It would be years before the technology existed to put RCAP on the Internet, and even more years before anyone did. (You can now find it here.) So back then, if you didn’t have an actual printed copy, you were pretty much out of luck.

And most of us did not have printed copies.

RCAP’s final report became a cliché: you know, the report that collects dust sitting on a shelf. Only I doubt it even did sit on a shelf in more than a couple Parliamentary offices. There were some great efforts to get the word out, for example by reading the entire report, page-by-page, on the radio.

A few lucky people (like me) managed to get the report on CD, but back then the technology was so primitive that they may as well not have bothered. It was designed for installation on a server running Windows NT, because back then a five-volume report was basically an unimaginably huge amount of data—certainly not something you’d pop into your lousy desktop.

I never did get that darn RCAP CD-ROM to work!

I’m sure the feds were happy to have a report no one could access. Because that meant no one could challenge the government to do something.

Well, it’s now 2015, and the people can do all sort of things. It will be 100% impossible for Mr. Harper and his kind to bury the TRC report, the way RCAP was buried, although they will try as best they can.

And they will fail.

Contact me if you think 94ways is a good idea.


Update (06/25): I have registered the domain 94ways.com and am gradually building the site. You can now visit and have a look around. The next step is to create the social media accounts. I hope to have this done in the coming days. Please share your comments, ideas, suggestions or other content here, or at 94ways.com. Thanks!

Education is the key to reconciliation

100 Years of Loss

BRITISH COLUMBIA’S Education Minister, Peter Fassbender, announced late last week that the province will introduce a new education curriculum on Aboriginal cultures and history this autumn.

Education was a focus of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 recommendations. (Download the TRC’s “Calls to Action” document here.)

Here’s an excerpt from the TRC’s education-specific recommendations:

Education for reconciliation

62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:

i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.

ii. Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.

iii. Provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.

iv. Establish senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minister level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education.

63. We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:

i. Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.

ii. Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.

iii. Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.

iv. Identifying teacher-training needs relating to the above.

There are many more education recommendations in Calls to Action. Murray Sinclair, Chair of the TRC, has said that “Education is the key to reconciliation.”

It makes sense for him to say this. The residential school system was an education system of a sort. It didn’t provide much at all by way of skills or learning. Mostly, it was a child labor system.

Always poorly-funded, the residential schools depended upon the output of child workers. Relatively little teaching and learning took place, especially until the 1950s, when reforms gradually were introduced.

The point is that the present-day education system can help to redress what was done by an education system of the past.

For this reason, I’ve been working for years on residential school curriculum. One of the projects with which I’ve been involved—”100 Year of Loss”—is already in use in two Canadian school systems, Nunavut and Northwest Territories.

Next month, I’ll start work on an exciting new curriculum project which I will say more about when the time arrives.

In the meantime, I commend British Columbia. And I look forward to more school systems responding to the TRC’s recommendation to “make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students,” in “consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators.”

Looking back on this week’s Truth and Reconciliation final event

The Delta Hotel

It’s a sunny Tuesday in Ottawa, and I’m having shawarma with my son on Bank Street. We are the only customers this late in the afternoon. On the TV there’s a live broadcast from the nearby Delta Hotel, where I too had been only minutes ago. Earlier in the day, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its report “What We Have Learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation.” As I eat my shawarma I try to imagine all the restaurants, all the bars and lobbies and lounges across Canada, and elsewhere, that this broadcast is reaching.

It’s difficult to summarize how I feel.

It’s earlier in the week and I am tucked into a corner of the second-floor balcony, looking into the Delta foyer. There are people everywhere. It smells of burning sage and the grilled chicken from the restaurant below. Voices combine to an indecipherable roar that resembles crashing water. The noise is punctuated by the sounds of forks surrendered to exhausted plates, of drumming, of abrupt laughter. A drum group whose members include Wab Kinew plays a song, and right above the drummers, on the same second-floor balcony to which I’ve escaped, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada taps his foot.

My senses are numbed. It’s relieving, and also a bit strange, to realize that I can walk two blocks in any direction and find myself in the sleepy day-to-day of downtown Ottawa.

I see many familiar faces. I’ve been at this long enough now that I catch myself reminiscing about the old days. The people I talk to agree: it was different then.

Twenty years ago the pain of Indian residential schools was raw. It tore through the rooms where we gathered. Anger and hurt so fresh, so intense, it was frightening to behold. I’ve lost count of the gatherings of residential school survivors I’ve attended—some well over a decade before there was a TRC—but the emotions are something you can never forget. I knew more than a few senior bureaucrats who didn’t mind admitting they were terrified, half-convinced they wouldn’t get out unscathed.

All these years later, there are survivors of terrible abuse who are telling their story for the first time. The familiar anger, and the hurt, remain. But the mood at this week’s final event is not what is used to be at gatherings of this sort. We aboriginal people are stronger than we were. We are no longer so filled with shame and self-loathing that we are unable to talk about what happened in those institutions. Survivors know that it wasn’t their fault, and one by one they are letting go of the destructive emotions which have held them back. We are looking to the future, and we’re in no mood to settle for anything less than what we consider good and just.

Healing and reconciliation, as Justice Murray Sinclair notes, are personal matters. It’s up to individual survivors to assess progress. Everyone wants to believe, but when it comes to the relationship between aboriginal people and the Canadian government we are all agnostic. For a century now native people have complained of politicians who deal only in fine-sounding words. Although the mood of the week is positive, I note the standing ovations given to people who, like Ellen Gabriel, have had their goodwill and patience depleted—not only by inaction but by government actions which are seen to contradict the spirit of reconciliation.

Here, at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final event, we are reliving the June 2008 apology. On that day the painful experiences of aboriginal people were recognized and validated by every political party, including the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. No longer could anyone credibly argue (as I remember people did) that there was nothing to apologize for, beyond perhaps the unfortunate zeal or wickedness of “a few bad apples.” Now, as in 2008, we were receiving official acknowledgement of the pain and injustices inflicted on us.

It took decades to get here. Years of survivors telling their stories, year after year pushing for recognition, apology and restitution. It’s been over 20 years since Phil Fontaine saw his story of residential school abuse on the front page of the Globe and Mail. (He later told me he didn’t expect this airport conversation to end up in print.) In the years following this revelation, many hundreds of survivors organized themselves.

A remarkable coalition formed around the cause of truth-telling, healing and reconciliation. Survivors, churches, activists, artists, politicians, elders, front-line workers, citizens, and other joined for a common cause. Survivors and their supporters published books and commissioned reports. They created support groups and lobbied for an apology. They launched what would become Canada’s largest-ever class action lawsuit, the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.

Out of this exhausting and relentless effort came the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To understand the feelings in that room, as the TRC summarized its findings, you have to understand the amount of time and work that went into making that day a reality. In terms of sheer human will and commitment, the determination to have the history of Indian residential schools properly recognized rivals anything else this country can put up—including the building of a transcontinental railroad, or the establishment of a nation from sea to sea.

It’s done now. There’s no turning back.

My Truth, My Reconciliation

TRC

Will Canadians learn anything of useful value from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada? Will they even be interested in doing so?

These and other questions are on my mind as I prepare for the final closing events of the TRC, from May 31 to June 3. I don’t expect to find the answers to my questions in Ottawa. It will take years to assess the efficacy of this commission. And ordinary Canadians, not the Establishment, will be the ones who decide. Or perhaps not.

I’ve been asking questions about the Indian residential schools, and looking for answers, for a quarter century now.

In the early years of the last century, my grandfather Gowandehsonh was in the Anglican-run Mohawk Institute (the longest-running Indian residential School, better known today as the Mush Hole). He rarely spoke of it, mentioning as we drove by the building that he used to dig in the moonlight for raw potatoes to eat. This information—delivered casually and in passing—came without context or further explanation, and young as I was I could do nothing but sit in confused silence.

In the 1990s I began studying the residential schools for my doctoral thesis. Around the time former AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine went public with his story of residential school abuses, and others soon came forward. In 1992 I had my first candid conversation with a former student, or “inmate” as Indian Affairs had once termed them, about what really happened.

Since then I’ve interviewed hundreds of people and written several books, including Full Circle: the Aboriginal Healing Foundation & the unfinished work of hope, healing & reconciliation (get your free ebook version here) and Residential Schools: with the words and images of survivors.

Bob Watts, who played an instrumental role in setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said something to me I’ll never forget. It’s quoted in my book Full Circle:

I don’t think of reconciliation as the Prime Minister of Canada and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations having some sort of hug-fest on Parliament Hill, and then everything will be okay. I think about my friend Ken, who was in his sixties when he told his daughter for the first time that he loved her. He didn’t know that was part of the deal being a parent, because he never got that himself as a kid. To me that’s reconciliation. I think there’s going to be hundreds and thousands and maybe tens of thousands of little wee tiny reconciliations. But all those have a force.

I’ve interviewed former students, church leaders, therapists, lawyers, journalists and government officials from the front-lines right up to the Prime Minister. I’ve found that everyone has their own ideas about what reconciliation is and how we get there. My book ended up being a collection of personal truths, jostling against and conflicting with one another. I expect the TRC’s final report to be the same, offering to Canadians myriad reflections on the truth of experience rather than the objective Truth of a judicial inquiry. I also think my friend Bob is closest to being right about the nature of reconciliation.

I was in the House of Commons when the Prime Minister of Canada apologized for the government’s role in residential schools. It was a powerful speech, and I was frightened at how unprepared I’d been for my nearly-overwhelming emotional reaction. But even then I knew that, on their own speeches and slogans and photo-ops are not going to get us very far. This isn’t about the National Chief nor the Prime Minister, although they doubtless have a role to play. The thousands of unseen, unreported, uncelebrated gestures of ordinary folks are what will make the difference—if there’s going to be a difference at all.

I’m going to Ottawa in search of this.

You can join me this weekend, wherever you are, by participating in the Legacy of Hope Foundation’s #hopeis social media campaign.