The Canadian Reconciliation Barometer’s first-ever report is highlighting gaps in understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians when it comes to reconciliation.
Researchers say Canadians largely acknowledge the past and ongoing damages caused by residential schools, but the difference in perception between the two groups is “worrisome.”
The study found 75 per cent of Indigenous participants agreed governments deliberately harmed Indigenous peoples through residential schools, compared to 57 per cent of non-Indigenous respondents.
Co-investigator Brenda Gunn says Canadians continue to wrestle with the idea that the harm was intentional.
“There’s a lot of work that Canadians need to do to reflect on that idea and to think about what is it that makes them resist or not yet understand,” said Gunn, who serves as the academic and research director at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The research group also observed similar discrepancies in opinion across a lot of other indicators like the extent of inequality Indigenous peoples face, Gunn told Global News on Tuesday.
Larger proportions of Indigenous participants agreed the two groups didn’t enjoy equal life outcomes and weren’t treated fairly in social systems.
The report based its findings on two polls that took place from Dec. 22, 2020 to February 19, 2021 and from April 22, 2021 to June 8, 2021, where a total of 1,112 Indigenous and 2,106 non-Indigenous respondents participated. The second survey ended after reports of unmarked children’s graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School emerged in late May.
Education and fair policies key to reconciliation
Education is important in aligning perceptions on individual and systemic levels, principal investigator Katherine Starzyk said.
“You can think of (reconciliation) as being at an individual level, and there are individual things that people can do,” said Starzyk, who also serves as an associate professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba.
“There are also system level changes that need to happen, and so that requires organizations and governments to understand how they’re contributing to progress toward reconciliation or lack of it.”
Governments should prioritize areas demanding the most work like the child welfare, criminal justice and medical systems to ensure budgets reflect those needs, Gunn said.
Gaps largest in Prairie region
Progress on reconciliation varied by region, with the largest gaps surfacing in the Prairies, the report says.
“We talk about it as a Canadian project, but our approach may not be one that can be sort of universalized for Canada,” Gunn said.
“Having regional specific data is really important so that the policy approaches, the changes that we’re advocating for can really respond to the situation of where we are in different places across Canada.”
Researchers plan on updating the barometer on an annual basis with hopes of inspiring Canadians and policy-makers to continue making progress on reconciliation.
“Our report suggests we have begun our walk — there are some bright spots in our findings — and that we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Starzyk said.