Apology without action "meaningless," says AFN National Chief
- EFN Staff | June 02, 2015
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde says all Canadians and all governments have a role to play in reconciliation and closing the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and Canadians.
He was responding to the release of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
“All Canadians are affected by the impacts of the Indian residential schools system and it is time to commit ourselves to reconciliation and action,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “The impacts of residential schools are still with us and are contributing to the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and Canadians. We must close that gap. The schools operated on the assumption that First Nations cultures and languages had to be eradicated and profoundly damaged the relationship between First Nations and Canada. We must repair that relationship. Action is long overdue and I believe that the Government of Canada must formally commit to working with First Nations and engaging Canadians in implementing the Commission’s calls to action.”
He conveyed that it would be difficult to focus on reconciliation when there are numerous problems still plaguing First Nations people:
- 1 in 4 children in first nations communities live in poverty;
- 124 communities live with boil water advisory;
- Overcrowded housing and over one hundred-thirty thousand units dealing with the backlog in housing, including black mold and the houses in need of repairs;
- Only 35% of our students graduate from school;
- Violence in our communities and over 1200 missing Indigenous women and girls;
- The high number of children in provincial care.
“When you invest in training, education, proper housing access to proper water, it’s good for everybody, because when we win everybody will win. There is a high social cost to the gap that exists and we need to work together to close it,” said Bellgarde.
Earlier this week, Bellegarde responded to comments by Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, where she said that Canada attempted to commit “cultural genocide” against Aboriginal peoples - something reiterated today by TRC Chief Justice Murray Sinclair.
“We fully agree with the Chief Justice’s statement that Canada’s treatment of our people is cultural genocide. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms our right to not be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of our culture - in essence, cultural genocide. The fact that the highest justice of Canada’s highest court is affirming this reality is tremendously powerful. Madam Chief Justice McLachlin’s understanding and recognition serve as a call to action for everyone in this country, including governments. It must inform the approach to policy making, law making and reconciliation that is required to move us all forward into a new Canada where First Nations children have the same opportunities as every other child in this land and where our rights, responsibilities and promises to one another are honoured and respected.”
The TRC is hosting its closing events in Ottawa this week, following six years of work and hearing testimony from more than 7,000 former residential school students from across the country. The TRC released a summary of its findings, including “calls to action” on a range of issues including child welfare, justice, education, health and more. The full final report is expected to be released later this year.
“Action on reconciliation will honour the former students of residential schools and their families and give meaning to the 2008 apology for the Indian residential schools,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “The work of the TRC gives Canadians an opportunity to understand their role in our shared history and our shared future, and provides governments an opportunity to work with us as partners in reconciliation. First Nations are committed to action and change. It is time to restore our original relationship of mutual respect, peaceful co-existence and sharing. It is time for reconciliation. The apology for the Indian residential schools was a shining moment for this country. But that apology compels action, otherwise it will be empty and meaningless. Together, we can and must take action to create a brighter future for us all.
“If there was a huge effort to enhance our languages, if there could be just as much effort to preserve, enhance and promote Indigenous languages as it was trying to get rid of them, that would really be reconciliation,” said Bellgarde.
In his closing remarks, Bellegarde urged everyone in Canada to clear their minds about the misconceptions of Indigenous peoples, the discriminatory attitudes, the racist attitudes to embrace the contributions that Indigenous people have made. He said it would be good to accept and validate Indigenous languages, culture and history because we have a shared history and a shared responsibility of going forward.
- Hundreds attend TRC commemoration ceremony in Saskatoon
- IN PHOTOS: Saskatoon TRC commemoration
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission releases its findings
- TRC finds Canada committed "cultural genocide"
- Agenda for Saskatoon's commemorative event
- Saskatoon to host TRC commemoration event
- Opinion: Learning to walk towards a residential schools solution
- Province looks to build on past successes as part of reconciliation
- Bentwood Box holds many symbols of reconciliation
- What the survivors think
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