The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has concluded its six-year-long work after listening to thousands of victims of this country’s residential school system and produced 94 recommendations.
The most explosive term that came out from the executive summary of the report was “cultural genocide.” The chairman of the commission, Justice Murray Sinclair stressed in his statements in no uncertain terms that First Nations of Canada were the subject of a systematic attempt to deprive them of their identity under a state policy, which was tersely formulated as “kill the Indian in the child.”
As expected there was a lot of reaction from a wide range of political, social and cultural organizations to the summary of the report, which is expected to be released in full sometime in early fall.
As the emotions begin to subside after the initial wave of poignant speeches and statements, one really wonders where this report will lead the Canadian society with its government, civil society, social institutions and various communities.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not personally react but his minister made clear that they were not very enthusiastic about implementing the recommendations. “We will study them,” said Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt. But what would you expect?
A government that has kept unspent more than one billion dollars allocated for social services aimed at supporting First Nations communities will certainly not change course with the publication of a report, even if it is the government that has officially apologized to First Nations for the savagery of the residential school system. (A proof that the apology was more of a ploy than a real expression of remorse, one aimed at creating what one First Nation chief called “manufactured consent” to deprive the Aboriginal peoples of Canada of their treaty-secured rights in order to exploit their resources.)
And it looks like it is not only the Harper government that is guilty of hypocrisy when it comes to treating First Nations fairly. Apparently, Canadian governments in recent history were well aware of the cultural crime they were committing because it was just recently revealed that in 1948, Canadian ambassador to the United Nations was instructed to object at all costs to the inclusion of the term cultural genocide in the 1948 UN Convention banning the crime. (http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canada-threatened-to-abandon-1948-accord-if-un-didnt-remove-cultural-genocide-ban-records-reveal)
Fortunately enough, the leaders of the First Nations are aware of the fact that Stephen Harper will sooner or later be out of the equation and they will wait for the time when they will have people at the government offices ready to hear what they have to say.
But more important than the federal government is how the Canadian society will react to the recommendations, which only appeal to common sense, asking better health care for First Nations communities, better education for their youth, more funding for the preservation and development of their languages and culture.
After the “Idle No More” movement of 2013, there is increased awareness among both the First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities that there are many wrongs that need to be righted. Hopefully, the wisdom that has been filtered through ages and empowered the indigenous peoples survive the colonialist repression will continue to guide the process of restoration of their rightful place on their ancestral land as well as helping the non-Aboriginals to confront and come to terms with their not so admirable past.