In June of 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its 94 Calls to Action after receiving testimonies from Indian Residential School survivors for six years. The Calls to Action provide a well-rounded pathway for Canada to redress the legacy of the Indian Residential School System, and work to ensure the dignity and well-being of Indigenous Peoples well into the future. The Calls are aimed at addressing gaps in the provision of basic services in the realms of health, education and child welfare, and at reforming inequities in the justice system. As well, they call for important steps, including apologies, the making of a new Covenant of Reconciliation and work to appropriately commemorate the children who went to residential schools.
This spring marks the five-year anniversary of this important milestone. However, a December 2019 report by Eva Jewell and Ian Mosby for the Yellowhead Institute found that only nine of the Calls to Action had been completed so far, despite significant commitments from the federal government toward reconciliation. Some of the Calls to Action that are considered complete are 13 (federal acknowledgement of Indigenous language rights), 49 (rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery by churches and faith groups) and 72 (federal support for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation). While these are promising steps, there is much more to be done.
Notably, the Calls to Action that would amend the institutionalized inequities between how the government provides care for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children need significant work. For example, while Jordan’s Principle—a child-first principle used to ensure First Nations children have equitable access to health care—was passed in the House of Commons in 2007 and Call to Action 3 urges all levels of government to fully implement it, this has not been achieved yet. Call to Action 8 calls on the government to eliminate the discrepancy between federal education funding for First Nations children. There should not be questions about whether there is enough money to fulfill these calls; access to health care and education are human rights. One critique of the government’s approach to the Calls to Action is that it has positioned some of them, such as the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in competition with “the public interest.” The Calls to Action are rooted in a desire to see the rights of Indigenous Peoples taken as seriously as the rights of non-Indigenous people. The lack of meaningful progress calls into question why Indigenous rights are not seen as an inherent part of the public interest.
As we learn how to live well and seek justice in a time of pandemic, we need to be creative and vigilant in how we approach reconciliation. We are all facing different pressures and strains because of COVID-19, but it is also imperative that we recognize the ways that First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities are disproportionately vulnerable to the pandemic because of generations of underfunded services and dispossession of land. While responding to emergent needs, we should also keep in mind ways that we can contribute to all sectors and levels of Canadian society doing the necessary work of responding to the Calls to Action. Implementing the Calls to Action is not only important for reconciling the past; doing so would also ensure Indigenous communities have access to what they need to be better prepared for future emergencies.
No single person can address all 94 Calls to Action alone, but if we each choose one Call to work toward and check on regularly, we might stand a chance at making meaningful change. Even as we are physically at a distance from one another, we can seek ways to form communities of accountability. Will other members of your congregation read and pray with you? Are there local Indigenous organizations or movements you can follow on social media for updates and that you might work alongside?
I invite you to spend time on this fifth anniversary by reading the Calls to Action. Whether it is your first time reading them or your 10th, it is an act of solidarity to choose to remember that there is still work to be done and to find ways that you can get involved. You do not need to read all 94 Calls in one sitting; take your time. Pray while you read. Pray for those who are tirelessly seeking justice and reconciliation. Ask how you can be an instrument of God’s peace in righting the wrongs that Indigenous Peoples still live with every day.