As we all struggle with the news of 215 Indigenous children found in a Kamloops graveyard, many are demanding that the Canadian government finally implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. I was general legal counsel to the TRC and previously executive secretary to the Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, both under the direction of Murray Sinclair and the other commissioners.
Some media have noted that five of six Calls to Action relevant to these children have yet to be fulfilled. But there are other calls that matter, and failing to name them hurts our ability to hold the government to account. The media needs to get this right.
(And when the government says that some of these Calls to Action are “in progress,” do not believe it. It has been six years since the commission finished its work. When does “progress” become “completed”? Those of us who have worked in government and seen replies to various reports know that “in progress” means the government does not intend to implement the recommendation but is trying to figure out a way to get credit for having done so.)
I want to highlight two of the TRC Calls to Action in particular: 81 and 82. Every time there’s an article about missing children, about a John A. Macdonald statue, about a Hector-Louis Langevin place name, and every time I see an article about a new monument for Canada’s dead soldiers in Afghanistan or the victims of communism, or a new parliamentary statement about a foreign genocide, I look to see if the news articles mention those two Calls to Action about Indian Residential Schools.
They never do. Why is that?
81. We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools National Monument in the city of Ottawa to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.
82. We call upon provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools Monument in each capital city to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.
Why do I care about TRC Calls to Action 81 and 82? It’s empty symbolism, right?
I care because I see them as being such an easy, inexpensive thing to do. I see 81 and 82 as a litmus test for our governments. If you’re not even willing to do this simple thing, what does it say about your sincerity, honour, goodwill and credibility on the other Calls to Action?
I care because our current monuments and place names and flags are such “in-your-face” and “rub-your-nose-in-it” strutting examples of colonialism and white supremacy. Canada desperately needs balance and diversity in our public symbols. We desperately need some historical accuracy.
I care because national and provincial public monuments would be a daily public statement that we remember, that we accept the truth of what we have heard and that we commit ourselves to be better.
I care because we create monuments to ourselves and our ancestors all the time. The lack of balance in monuments for other Canadians is a painful reminder of who we value and who we don’t value.
I care because the purpose of Calls to Action 81 and 82 is “to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.” Who could be opposed to that?
Here are other Calls to Action that are relevant to the missing children.
67. We call upon the federal government to provide funding to the Canadian Museums Association to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of museum policies and best practices to determine the level of compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to make recommendations.
68. We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian Museums Association, to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017, by establishing a dedicated national funding program for commemoration projects on the theme of reconciliation.
69. We call upon Library and Archives Canada to:
i) Fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Joinet-Orentlicher Principles, as related to Aboriginal peoples' inalienable right to know the truth about what happened and why, with regard to human rights violations committed against them in residential schools.
ii) Ensure that its record holdings related to residential schools are accessible to the public.
iii) Commit more resources to its public education materials and programming on residential schools.
70. We call upon the federal government to provide funding to the Canadian Association of Archivists to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of archival policies and best practices to:
i) Determine the level of compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Joinet-Orentlicher Principles, as related to Aboriginal peoples’ inalienable right to know the truth about what happened and why, with regard to human rights violations committed against them in the residential schools.
ii) Produce a report with recommendations for full implementation of these international mechanisms as a reconciliation framework for Canadian archives.
77. We call upon provincial, territorial, municipal and community archives to work collaboratively with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to identify and collect copies of all records relevant to the history and legacy of the residential school system, and to provide these to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
79. We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal organizations and the arts community, to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. This would include, but not be limited to:
i) Amending the Historic Sites and Monuments Act to include First Nations, Inuit and Métis representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and its Secretariat.
ii) Revising the policies, criteria and practices of the National Program of Historical Commemoration to integrate Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.
iii) Developing and maintaining a national heritage plan and strategy for commemorating residential school sites, the history and legacy of residential schools and the contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canada’s history.
Here is what the media is reporting as being the only Calls to Action relevant to missing children.
71. We call upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
72. We call upon the federal government to allocate sufficient resources to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
73. We call upon the federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children.
74. We call upon the federal government to work with the churches and Aboriginal community leaders to inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child's burial location, and to respond to families' wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home communities where requested.
75. We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children.
76. We call upon the parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies in accordance with the following principles:
1. The Aboriginal community most affected shall lead the development of such strategies.
2. Information shall be sought from residential school Survivors and other Knowledge Keepers in the development of such strategies.
3. Aboriginal protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site.
It is not too much to expect our media and our politicians to actually read all of the TRC Calls to Action and to discuss them specifically.