On February 22nd, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that his government had assembled a working group of ministers to review all federal laws and policies as they relate to Indigenous communities. This group, chaired by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybuild, comprised of six federal ministers, aims to ensure that the Crown meets its constitutional obligations with respect to Aboriginal and treaty rights. Furthermore, Justin Trudeau declared that this review board will also assist Canada in complying with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
This review board will also assist Prime Minister Trudeau in fulfilling his promise of implementing all 94 TRC calls to action as they relate to the federal government. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 calls to action, the outcome of a six-year inquiry into Canada’s residential school system. Trudeau stated his government has already initiated action on 41 of the 45 of the Commission’s calls to action that fall under federal jurisdiction, which range from improved funding for child welfare and education to protecting language and culture. The government has also launched an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls, one of the commission’s key recommendations. As the Assembly of First Nations National Chief, Perry Bellegarde said, “a joint effort with Indigenous peoples to de-colonize Canada’s laws and policies is essential…First Nations must be engaged as equal partners and nations in this important work.” By fulfilling these essential concrete steps, Canadians are working their way back to a renewal of Canada’s nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.
Alongside the federal government, many communities and non-profit organizations are implementing the TRC’s calls to action and initiating projects to establish bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. These initiatives have sought to facilitate open dialogue, deepen Canada’s knowledge and understanding of Indigenous communities and enhance reconciliation. One such example is in New Brunswick’s public schools, where the Department of Education recently rolled out a ten-year plan, designed, in part, to meet the TRC’s calls to action. The Department of Education stated, “The goal of the department is to ensure that First Nation realities, experiences and contributions to Canadian society are embedded throughout the K-12 educational system, not just in one class.” Additionally, the ten-year plan aims to ensure that the provincial curriculum is reflective of First Nation history and culture. Programs such as this help place Canada one step closer to achieving true reconciliation and aid in repairing and rebuilding a tenuous relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
On March 14th, McGill University hosted a panel that provided students, teachers and activists alike with a unique opportunity to discuss reconciliation efforts throughout Canada. Coinciding with International Women’s Day, the panel focused on Missing and Murdered Indigenous women. The event was organized by a variety of institutions including the Quebec Native Women (QNW), the Indigenous Law Association, and Women in International Security Canada. The panel discussed Canada’s colonial legacy and the importance of a human rights based approach to end systemic marginalization and disempowerment of Indigenous women and communities. In particular, Ellen Gabriel, a UQAM student and activist said that, “Murdered and Missing Indigenous women remains a major human rights issue and requires all of society to become educated on how to resolve this violation through education, love, respect and compassion.” Speakers emphasized the important role of voicing concerns and recalling personal experiences as an essential element to change the current narrative. By sharing stories and individual struggles, we can put a face to the statistics and empower others.
In an effort to reclaim their voice, dignity and strength, many Indigenous communities have developed local programs to facilitate connectedness and foster reconciliation within their own communities. In line with this perspective is the Promoting Life skills in Aboriginal Youth (PLAY) Program. PLAY partners with more than 85 First Nations communities and urban Aboriginal organizations across Canada to deliver safe, fun and educational programming for Aboriginal children and youth. Each uniquely tailored play-based program is designed to enhance educational outcomes and foster strong relationships and bonds to increase employability and improve physical and mental health amongst Aboriginal children and youth. Initiatives such as these are putting the phrase “nothing about us, without us” into action, ensuring that effective policy or programs must have the full, direct participation of the members of the community impacted by that policy.