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Canada completed 3 of TRC’s 94 calls to action in 2021

This brings the total to 11 completed calls to action since the TRC released their report in 2015. That’s fewer than 2 a year.

Last month, Eve Jewell and Ian Mosby published their 2021 Calls to Action Accountability Report through the Yellowhead Institute. They also published reports in 2020 and 2019.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a 6-volume final report to the Canadian federal government, which included 94 calls to action to address the ongoing legacy of Canada’s residential school system.

The work of Jewell and Mosby analyzes the work of the federal government over the past year to determine how many of the calls to action they’ve completed (their two previous reports analyzed the completed calls to action of their respective years).

In their 2020 report, Jewell and Mosby outlined 5 calls to action they were confident could be completed in 2021 if the federal government was determined to exert sufficient will.

  • #15: Appoint an Indigenous language commissioner
  • #53: Establish a National Council for Reconciliation
  • #54: Provide multi-year funding for the National Council for Reconciliation
  • #80: Establish a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
  • #94: Amend the Citizenship Act to include the observance of treaties with Indigenous peoples

According to Jewell and Mosby’s 2021 report, the federal government implemented 3 of those calls to action. On 3 June, Ottawa announced a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. They announced the appointment of a language commissioner—Ronald E. Ignace—11 days later. And they announced the citizen oath amendment a week later, on the 21st.

This brings to total 11 calls to action that the Liberal government has completed since receiving the TRC final report; although the government completed none of the other 8 last year.

The federal government is averaging less than 2 completed calls to action per year, and they still have 82 more remaining uncompleted. It will take until past 2060 until the final calls to action are completed if the government continues at this slow pace.

It’s probably no coincidence that the completion of these 3 calls to action all came within less than a month after news broke of a survey of the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site uncovered the remains of 215 children using ground-penetrating radar.

As Jewell and Mosby ask in their 2021 executive summary, “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?”

No further calls to action were completed in the last half of 2021.

Also in their 2021 executive summary, Jewell and Mosby highlight two key things for consideration.

1) Not every Call to Action requires Canada and Canadians to make the kinds of lasting, permanent and structural changes necessary to transform the relationship substantively. Some Calls to Action are symbolic, while others are structural, and Canada is choosing to complete the symbolic calls with expediency while neglecting the structural changes called for by the TRC.

2) Completing the Calls to Action is being treated as a kind of tallying exercise in which reconciliation can be achieved via a crude colonial balance sheet: once a Call to Action is complete, Canadians can then forget about it and feel better about themselves. We remind Canada that relationality—which, to our mind, is what reconciliation is trying to achieve—is an ongoing process, not a single event or box to check.

Jewell, E. & Mosby, I. “Executive Summary”, Calls to Action Accountability: A 2021 Status Update on Reconciliation, Yellowhead Institute, p. 3.

As I pointed out, the Canadian government is implementing the calls to action at a very slow pace, and Jewell and Mosby outline 5 structural barriers that are preventing the government from completing the remaining 82 more quickly.

  1. Paternalism
    The deep-rooted, ongoing paternalistic attitudes and behaviours of politicians, bureaucrats, and policy-makers, resulting in a “we know best” mentality that prevents Indigenous peoples from leading on issues with their own solutions.
  2. Structural anti-Indigenous discrimination
    Canada asserts legal myths to justify the dispossession of Indigenous lands and the subsequent manufactured poverty of Indigenous peoples.
  3. “The Public Interest”
    Policy-makers and Canada’s legal teams have used the interests of a non-Indigenous Canadian public to shore up their inaction on compensation for First Nations children and as the beneficiary of exploited Indigenous lands.
  4. Insufficient resources
    There’s no shortage of promises, but with ongoing and rampant funding inequities, meaningful reconciliation will always be out of reach.
  5. Reconciliation as exploitation or performance
    In the cases where “reconciliation” purportedly occurs, exploitative or predatory behaviour is rampant, and in the case of performative measures, actions serve to manage Canada’s reputation.

So what must change? Well, a start would be for the federal government accepting that structures still exist that actively harm Indigenous peoples; harm to Indigenous people is not just a relic of a racist past that no longer exists.

To our minds, 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.

Jewell, E. & Mosby, I. “Conclusion”, Calls to Action Accountability: A 2021 Status Update on Reconciliation, Yellowhead Institute, p. 31.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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