NUPGE Statement on the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Thanks to a long line of reports and commissions, culminating this week with a landmark report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we know the truth about Canada's residential schools for Indigenous children and families.
Now, finally, it is time for the reconciliation to begin.
It is true that the federal government has already offered a formal apology for the residential school system. But that was seven years ago and for Indigenous people in Canada, little has changed. A recent poll found that more than 60 per cent of Canadians still believe Indigenous people themselves are to blame for their poverty and high rates of incarceration — sad proof indeed that apologies alone reconcile nothing. It is only through action that our nation will be able to truly move beyond this shame.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has laid out a clear list of 94 actions that Canada must take to repair the damage it has done. Completing all 94 will take time, years even. But every great journey begins with a single step and so on behalf of NUPGE's 360,000 members from coast to coast, I am calling on Stephen Harper to immediately act upon these five recommendations:
"We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation." More than 140 countries have already adopted this declaration, including the UK, Germany, Brazil and China. It is difficult to see how reconciliation is possible if Canada will not acknowledge to the world that Indigenous peoples have rights.
"We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Indigenous organizations, to appoint a public inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous women and girls. The inquiry’s mandate would include: an investigation into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls." NUPGE has consistently called for action to be taken over the crisis of violence facing Indigenous women and girls. The commission draws a clear line between residential schools and the fact that more than 1,000 Indigenous women and girls are missing or have been murdered. These women and girls, and their families, deserve justice.
"We call on the federal government to draft new Indigenous education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Indigenous peoples. We all deserve to know the truth about our histories, and those truths must be taught in our schools." The Northwest Territories has developed a curricula that could serve as a launch pad for the other territories and provinces.
"We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Indigenous 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." Canada enjoys an international reputation for helping to identify the dead in war zones and mass graves in the former Yugoslavia and Africa. We have the expertise to reunite Indigenous families with the remains of children that were taken from them — we must now marshal that expertise here at home.
"We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Indigenous peoples, to establish measurable goals to identify and close the gaps in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and to publish annual progress reports and assess long-term trends. Such efforts would focus on indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence, and the availability of appropriate health services." A significant number of our members work in health care, and so we understand how important reliable data is to improving peoples’ health.
Change is frightening to some, particularly those who feel they stand to lose in the face of that change. But when it comes to Canada's past and current treatment of Indigenous peoples, it is painfully clear that we must change. How will we live with ourselves if we don't? How will we be able to look ourselves in the mirror — feel proud to be Canadian — if we allow the establishment and inertia to convince us not to act?
Action speaks louder than words. Let us speak loudly now to our Indigenous people, and act on our sorrow for what has been done to them.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE