Commitment to reconciliation between Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and other citizens is vital for our children and grandchildren, Senator Murray Sinclair told a gathering at McGill University here Aug. 11.
“Reconciliation belongs to each and every one of us,” stressed the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Although it is “going to take generations,” reconciliation is “not a spectator sport” and requires action now, he added.
The former judge and law professor was in Montreal to receive the 2016 World Peace Award from the World Federalist Movement — Canada. The free public event at the law faculty also included a panel discussion with the theme, “From Global to Local: The Importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to Reconciliation in Canada.”
The event was held during the World Social Forum, which drew thousands of people from around the world to Montreal Aug. 9-14 to focus on social and ecological justice and human rights. (See related story, this page.)
Sinclair said Canada was one of many countries historically involved in “cultural genocide.” Few Canadians learned about harmful effects of colonial policies, he added.
Britain’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 outlining European settlement of Aboriginal territories “was one of the most arrogant documents of the world,” he said. While it promised to uphold indigenous sovereignty, after Confederation the Canadian government denied Aboriginal self-government and took resources from indigenous lands.
He said Canada also rejected indigenous peoples’ ability to maintain their economies and raise their children. Generation after generation, “resistance was considered futile,” he added.
Sinclair said many citizens and “some in the churches” denied harmful effects of seven generations of government-sponsored residential schools administered by churches. He said both residential and public schools taught the “mythology of Indian inferiority.” Indigenous people “were treated as irrelevant in the history books” and lost respect for themselves and their own people, he added.
However, after the TRC engaged with church and government leaders to seek their support, “the churches joined forces with the commission.” He said through TRC community hearings, they came to believe what the residential school survivors were saying.
Sinclair urged his audience to read the TRC’s 2015 final report which outlines what Aboriginal people “should be protected from and what they have a right to expect” in future.
He noted today’s young indigenous leaders are well informed, with both western education and teachings of Aboriginal elders. They will publicly protest, demonstrate and take legal measures to ensure Aboriginal rights, he said.
Conflict “could easily get out of hand,” becoming “more and more violent,” warned Sinclair. “We cannot allow that to happen,” he added.
Instead, we must peacefully develop relationships that ensure transitional justice on the path to reconciliation. “We must never lose sight of the principle of mutual respect,” he said. Leadership is needed by citizens as well as from provincial and federal governments, he added.
Sinclair encouraged participants to read the TRC report and focus on one of its recommendations. “Talk to colleagues” and employers, write letters to members of Parliament and influence others, he advised. “If they don’t hear from you, they will assume that you don’t care,” he added.
“Citizens of this country must decide to take action” for reconciliation and justice, said Sinclair. “When you hear about injustice, speak out about it,” he urged.