What does it take to do real reconciliation?

Hill Times, September 29 2021

Six years after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and here we are—struggling to get consensus in Canada to even recognize the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

Some might say it will take time, but unfortunately that defence has been used for decades now. The recipe is vapid lines of commitment coupled with concerned need for delay. About the right to clean water for Indigenous communities or quality education for First Nations kids or equitable health services for Inuit, we have heard it before. “We are committed, and it’s going to take some time.” It really means “your life is not worth my urgency.” When Alberta says it won’t recognize Sept. 30, have no fear that First Nations in Alberta fully understand the implications.

Reconciliation is not superficial lip service; it is about changing hearts and minds. Reconciliation is not a policy; it is about changing the process of how to make policy. Reconciliation is not an approach to apply across a system; it is about changing the system. Reconciliation is not led by the federal government; it is about changing the federal government from the inside out.

How do we know? Because superficiality, a reconciliation policy, some more talk, and tears—it hasn’t changed a thing in the life of that First Nations four-year old living in an uninsulated house with 15 other family members, without clean water or a sewer system, without daycare, without access to a doctor. Iterations of the same policy made by the same bureaucracy conveniently arguing for its own jobs and status quo—it should come as no surprise that it hasn’t changed a thing for that First Nations child.

So how does reconciliation happen now?

Change occurs individual by individual, leader by leader. We choose to be open to new information, we choose to learn more, and we choose to integrate new ways of being. We don’t do change, we change.

It’s not easy. It involves learning and integrating knowledge that will challenge assumptions of what Canada is. Thousands of Canadians took another step in their reconciliation journey this summer in learning about the rediscovery of unmarked graves of children at residential schools. It is a particularly painful journey for generations of Canadians brought up in the insidious myth that the federal government knows what’s best for those Indigenous communities. Not only do Canadians need to come to grips with the facts that the country has ardently fought against Indigenous rights, and just as resolutely stood idly by as children died. But Canadians are also coming to grips with the fact that the federal government is still not acting in the best interest of Indigenous kids.

Concerted and relentless demands for change are the only way forward. Citizens of all cultures and backgrounds are needed to add their voice and amplify the demand. Perhaps then the managers of central agencies who work to protect the status quo, and political party insiders who focus on easy wins for quick visibility, maybe just maybe they will hear the demands.

The 44th Parliament will start just after the very first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. MPs will be noticed immediately for their humble commitment to learn more about the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in their riding, or they will be immediately noticed for their arrogant refusal and lack of empathy. It truly is empathy that matters. Racism is really about a lack of empathy, a lack of caring about another human. To avoid that label, it’s time every MP committed to their own learning.

MPs: learn about Canada’s history, the history that wasn’t taught in schools. Learn about the white supremacy that founded the Indian Act, the blasé racism that underwrote the residential schools, the uncaring system of government that turned its back on Indigenous children which contributed to their deaths at residential schools, and then learn about the strength of that same system to resist change. Because now you are part of that system.

Bring others along in your learning. Talk to your peers about your learning. Talk to your family.  Talk to Hill staffers. Talk about your learning in committees, in Question Period, in the closed-door meetings.

hallenge others to refuse to accept the status quo because it hasn’t helped the rights of Indigenous peoples at all. Challenge your riding office and political staff to apply an Indigenous lens to every single decision your office makes: will this support Indigenous voices and inclusion, or not? If it doesn’t support Indigenous voices, inclusion, and success, then how can we possibly put forward a policy or position which actively excludes a group by culture?

Then gird yourself for the fight. The Hill more often than not will protect itself over the lives of Indigenous peoples. Find yourself a circle of support and mentors to help you in the fight for the rights of the Indigenous citizens in your riding, as it will indeed be a fight. Build your circle of Indigenous peoples back home for advice and strength.

It will help to be clear on the goals of reconciliation. Build your hope for the future because hope is what fires reconciliation. Consider our future … the Inuit baby who is born in community because there is excellent health care and midwifery. Born surrounded by family and aunts and uncles, blanketed in love. Brought up in safety with daycare and excellent schools fit for any Canadian kid. The Inuit youth who never knows what suicide is, but instead is deeply connected to land and culture and community and self-identity. Or the First Nations school which leads the country on academic success. Or the Métis community hospital which leads the world in the integration of mainstream and Indigenous ways of health care. Build your vision. Because this is what reconciliation is intended to achieve, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Reconciliation is about changing the country so we are truly proud to be an Indigenous country.

Start on Sept. 30. Go to a First Nations or Inuit or Métis community in your riding to show your respect. If there is a search for unmarked graves occurring in your riding, your place is there to stand with them and show your quiet support.

As an MP you have a few years, or four, to make a difference for Indigenous citizens in your riding, but regret for inaction lasts much longer than your term. Take your place as a leader for the fundamental changes needed to bring about reconciliation.