‘Diminished’ hope: Yellowhead Institute to end reports on TRC calls to action

OTTAWA — Canada has been so slow to carry out recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that an Indigenous-led think tank says it has decided to stop publishing an annual report tracking its progress.

“At first, the project invoked hope and determination. If only the Canadian public knew about their government’s lack of action, we believed, perhaps things would change,” said the annual report from the Yellowhead Institute, a research and education centre based at Toronto Metropolitan University.

“That hope, as those who have followed us on this journey may have noticed, has begun to diminish in the fifth year of this project.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent years investigating and documenting the history and lasting harms of church-operated, government-funded residential schools that more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend, often far away from their families and communities.

Thousands suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse and the Winnipeg-based National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says more than 4,000 children died.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 calls to action in its 2015 report, with recommendations for every level of government and other institutions, including academia and the media.

The 2023 report by the Yellowhead Institute released Wednesday found that no calls to action were completed over the course of this year. It says that if Canada continues at this pace, it will not finish the work until 2081 _ 16 years later than the projection it gave in its report last year.

The report said “there are limits to how many times you can write a report about how Canada, once again, has failed to make any meaningful progress.”

The Yellowhead Institute considers only 13 of the recommendations complete.

The centre said it is unclear how best to compel Canada’s federal government to complete the calls to action, accusing Ottawa of being an unwilling partner.

Matthieu Perrotin, spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree’s office, said in a statement Wednesday that the federal government remains “fully committed” to implementing the calls to action that fall within its jurisdiction.

He pointed to Ottawa’s work in establishing the National Council for Reconciliation through Bill C-29, which is awaiting royal assent, a landmark child-welfare settlement and the appointment of an advisory committee to see how the government can best ensure transparency of residential school documents, among others.

“A lot of the challenges we are facing as a country are rooted in hundreds of years of history and injustice, and finding true, lasting solutions is complex work,” he said. “We remain steadfast in doing that work, righting past wrongs, and moving forward on the path of reconciliation.”

In September, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu’s office pointed to what it considered progress on calls to action this year, such as announcing in June that a site had been chosen for the Residential Schools National Monument on Parliament Hill.

Not all the calls to action are the sole responsibility of the federal government, including the papal apology that came in July 2022. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had personally asked Pope Francis to issue the apology in Canada after years of pressure from residential school survivors.It also came after news from Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation that there were 215 anomalies found via ground-penetrating radar on the grounds of a former residential school, leading to public outcry and increased scrutiny on Canada’s colonial legacy both domestically and across the world.

The federal government spent at least $55 million to support the visit.

But the Yellowhead Institute considers that call to action to be incomplete, noting in its report last year that the content of the apology was considered lacking, including because it made no mention of sexual abuse, and that it wasn’t completed in 2016 as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for.

Eva Jewell, research director at Yellowhead and an author of the report, said the narrative around reconciliation and its meaning continues to move further away from what the survivors originally envisioned. She noted the growing popularity of “economic reconciliation” is part of that.

The term only gets brief mention in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.

But it has begun to lead conversations in Canada, especially around First Nations’ partnerships with resource extraction industries, Jewell said in an interview Wednesday.

Both the Liberals and Conservatives have touted economic reconciliation as a step forward in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous communities.

“And we don’t really hear enough about how Canada is committed to ending institutions of harm, like child welfare, chronically underfunded education or the ongoing marginalization of the Indian Act,” she said.

“So not only are the survivors not seeing movement. Another generation of kids will be harmed.”

The report said there are five main challenges to reconciliation: paternalism, structural anti-Indigenous discrimination, reconciliation as exploitation or performance, insufficient resources and the economic interests and apathy of non-Indigenous people.

While saying none of the calls to action were completed in 2023, the report pointed to significant legal victories for First Nations.

That included a landmark $23-billion child-welfare settlement agreement, along with another $20-billion commitment from the government toward long-term reform of the system.

The federal and Ontario governments also agreed to a $10-billion settlement with 21 First Nations in Ontario for unpaid treaty annuities dating back 159 years.

“When there is concrete action, it does not come from Canada ? but from Indigenous Peoples, who fiercely advocate for themselves and resist the full weight of Canadian intransigence,” the report says.

Jewell said that while Canada at large is to blame for the stalemate, Canadians themselves have a responsibility, too.

According to a recent report from polling firm Leger, the majority of Canadians don’t support increasing federal spending on services to Indigenous communities.

Nearly 50 per cent of respondents said Canada should spend the same amount, while 23 per cent said Canada should spend less.

The poll of 1,545 Canadians conducted early in December does not have a margin of error because online polls aren’t considered truly random samples.

“The Canadian government relies upon apathy and ongoing ignorance on the part of the public as an excuse to not act upon reconciliation,” Jewell said.

“If the Canadian public doesn’t care, the federal government isn’t going to implement the calls to action.”

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