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The Big Questions: Indigenous Rights

Canada is still colonizing Indigenous peoples and their ancestral territories. Canada is far from a state of reconciliation – we are still collectively learning truths about the legacy of the Indian Residential School system and the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous relations. Indigenous-led movements highlight the truth of Canada’s ongoing colonization and its impact on Indigenous communities, and they identify the actions we need to take to begin any form of honest reconciliation.

Below are questions that we urge you to ask your local candidates about their plans for addressing systemic injustices that Indigenous peoples face in Canada.

1) Have you read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission conducted extensive hearings in Indigenous communities across what is currently known as Canada from 2008-2015 and produced 94 Calls to Action for all levels of government and settler society. These have become the leading resource for revealing the impact of violent colonization of Indigenous lands and peoples, and the pathway to reconciling after those truths are revealed.

The commission produced numerous reports and resources to guide us down the long road to reconciliation. The 94 Calls to Action are the shortest summary of the outcomes of the commissions’ hearings. Politicians must read these recommendations as a necessary first step for any meaningful action towards reconciliation.

2) What will you do to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action?

The Calls to Action were collectively created by Indigenous peoples across the country after a seven-year process of community gatherings, where people shared deeply painful stories about the impacts of colonization and worked hard to determine specific things that needed to be done to right the many wrongs of Canada’s ongoing colonial history.

It is critical that members of the next federal government commit to honouring these calls. However, an analysis by the Yellowhead Institute showed that, as of 2020, only eight Calls to Action had been implemented. Politicians must pair their commitment to reconciliation with a concrete plan to address the legacy and ongoing impacts of colonization.

3) How will you act on the recommendations from the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls?

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls compiled stories of trauma and survival from more than 2,380 family members, survivors of violence, experts, and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. It delivered 231 individual Calls for Justice. Among them was a call to implement a National Action Plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and another to immediately take all necessary measures to prevent, investigate, punish, and compensate for violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

The federal government released a plan of action two years after the release of the National Inquiry’s report. But according to Indigenous women leaders and advocates, that plan falls short of the comprehensive, system-wide, inter-governmental responses that are needed to end genocide.

4) What will you do to ensure the federal government provides adequate support for Indian Residential School survivors?

The unmarked graves of children found at residential schools this year is the first time many have been confronted with what Indigenous communities have always known – and what was stated in the TRC report summary: these were schools “in name only … created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture.” In the words of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. MacDonald, they attempted to “kill the Indian in the child.”

The last of these schools closed in 1996, and the trauma experienced in these institutions is felt through generations of Indigenous families and communities. The federal government, meanwhile, is fighting to avoid having to compensate Indigenous children who were ripped away from their homes because of a chronically underfunded child welfare system. Nearly 15,000 children in foster care are Indigenous – more than 50 per cent of kids in the system.

By international definitions, Canada has committed genocide against Indigenous peoples, and our governments must stop hiding this truth from the public.

5) What will you do to educate the public about the legacy of Indian Residential Schools and ensure an Indigenous-led process of public commemoration?

Five of the 94 TRC recommendations specifically call on the federal government and churches to tell the truth about the children who were killed in residential schools, make documentation about their deaths and burial sites available to families and the broader public, and enable Indigenous communities to lead the process of revealing gravesites and documentation.While more and more grave sites are revealed and the public reckons with this news in a new way, the federal government has an important role to play in driving honest public education about the ongoing impact of residential schools – including the role that the federal government itself played alongside churches in creating and operating these institutions.