Six years, 94 recommendations and thousands of pages later, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has wrapped up its final report into Canada’s residential schools.
But Tuesday’s often emotional ceremony should be just the beginning, its authors say.
“Achieving reconciliation … is like climbing a mountain; we must proceed one step at a time,” TRC head Justice Murray Sinclair said on Tuesday.
“It will not always be easy. There will be storms, there will be obstacles, we will fall down from time to time. But we cannot allow ourselves to be daunted by the task because our goal is a just one and it is also necessary for our children.”
Perhaps as significant as what was included in the report is what wasn’t: Ottawa is in court fighting survivors of Newfoundland residential schools, who weren’t included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Ottawa has maintained it isn’t responsible for what happened at those residential schools even though it funded them.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to improve the relationship between the government and indigenous peoples.
“One of our goals is to help lift this burden from your shoulders, from those of your families and from your communities. It is to accept fully our responsibilities – and our failings – as a government and as a nation.”
Trudeau promised to implement all 94 of the commission’s recommendations, noting that his ministers have already begun consultation for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Trudeau said he’s setting up a national “engagement strategy” to develop a framework for implementing the 94 recommendations.
Some of the commission’s other remedies – such as eliminating the funding gap between children being educated on reserves and boosting the number of aboriginal students in post-secondary education – will cost tens of millions of dollars to implement.
Others may simply be beyond Trudeau’s reach: How will the Liberal government extract, for instance, an apology from the Pope for the Catholic Church’s role in the schools system?
“I think that expectations on governments for most people are way too high as it is,” said Rodney Nelson, chair of Carleton University’s Aboriginal Education Council.
Following through on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will take involvement from the whole country, he said – from individual schools to provinces.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett suggested as much in her remarks Tuesday.
“The recommendations that are squarely in our court, we will be accountable for,” she said.
“I think our responsibility as the crown is to keep track of how these 94 calls to action are going, but we are very heartened by how all the other levels of government and other sectors are taking up their responsibility and their role.”
Prioritizing could be tough, as well, Nelson said.
“Many of our communities are living in third-world conditions with no drinking water, no access to health care that regular Canadians enjoy,” he said. “I was recently in a community where half their elementary school was collapsed in on one side and they weren’t using that side.”
Choosing which to tackle first – woeful health care or inadequate education – won’t be an easy call to make in many communities, he said.
But overall, Nelson’s hopeful.
Canadians want change. And they’ve said it in electing Justin Trudeau as prime minister, but they’re also looking to a new relationship with indigenous people in Canada. I think it’s a wonderful time.”
With files from the Canadian Press