Canada Day 2017 - How will First Nations be included in Canada’s 150th anniversary next year?

Reconciliation? What does it mean?

A year from Canada’s 150th anniversary, can First Nations join in the celebration?

On July 1 we celebrate the last Canada Day before our 2017 sesquicentennial. That leaves us one year to figure out how we are going to invite First Nations citizens to next year’s ceremony in a way that will be genuinely meaningful.

The best thing Non-aboriginal Canadians can do between now and then is come to terms with the hard work that remains to be completed to achieve reconciliation. In an introductory video Murray Sinclair, the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, points out that seven generations of aboriginal children went through the punishing experience of the residential school system, where they were told they were ‘heathens’ and taught to feel ashamed of their heritage.

At the same time Non-aboriginal children were being instilled with negative attitudes towards this country’s First Nations. The work of undoing attitudes that have become so deeply entrenched – of healing – is going to take time and determination. “Because it took us so many generations to get to this point, it’s going to take us at least a few generations to be able to say that we are making progress,” Murray says.

Important work has already begun with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself, but the issues are dauntingly complex. It will take national will to carry on – a commitment on the part of individual Canadians to see this process through. That doesn’t mean average Canadians can be expected to understand the bewildering intricacies of reconciliation, but we will have come a long, long way if we take time in the coming year to understand the spirit of this massive enterprise, and demand our political leaders live up to that spirit.

At the outset, we should bear in mind that accepting responsibility is not the same as taking blame. In fact, accepting responsibility for righting grave historical wrongs is the only way we can avoid blame – for if we knowingly allow the injustices of the past to carry on unresolved into the future, we do become blameworthy. A deep, personal commitment to reconciliation on the part of individual Canadians is the only way of avoiding that dismal outcome.

The majority of Canadians know or are coming to know the truth. A recent Environics Institute telephone survey found that 66 per cent of Non-aboriginal adults are ‘learning about indigenous peoples and their issues.”

Disturbingly, that same survey also found that a significant percentage of Non-aboriginal Canadians believe Indigenous Peoples receive ‘special treatment’ from the government and 67 per cent “believe Indigenous People have a sense of entitlement to government support and services.” Of even greater concern was the finding that fewer than five per cent of Canadians can recall anything specific about the TRC’s calls to action, issued last year.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde is quoted in CBC coverage of the survey results as saying, “If you want reconciliation, you need to make space in your mind, your heart and spirit to get rid of the misconceptions you have about Indigenous Peoples. The stereotype that Indigenous Peoples are dumb, stupid, lazy, drunk and on welfare — put that aside.”

He said the survey results highlight the need for Non-aboriginal Canadians to be better educated about Indigenous Peoples.

The media has a role to play. The complexity of the issues, the arduous multi-generational process of healing, and the patience required even to build trust with First Nations leaders and communities, all make it easier for journalists to focus on other things rather than bring to the fore the most important National issue of our times.

We need to be informed. A good place to begin leading up to 2017 is with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself at trc.ca. Especially important is a grasp of the calls to action that have emerged through the TRC. They are posted via a link toward the end of the ‘TRC reports and findings’ page.