The premiers of all 10 provinces and three territories in Canada have pledged to implement all 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations stemming from the scathing report that the panel issued in June, which called the nation’s residential schools program “cultural genocide.”
Among the many revelations in the report: More than 6,000 of the 150,000 children taken from their families and forced to attend boarding schools from the late 1800s until the early 1990s had died, with many of the deaths undocumented and the students’ fates unknown to their families.
Other children suffered years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, on top of being cut off from their cultures and families, forbidden to speak their native languages. The 381-page report included 94 recommendations that would help the nation move forward as a whole. Today, 80,000 former students survive.
“It’s a very serious matter [and it] was moving for us,” Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis said after meeting with indigenous leaders on July 15. “We support the 94 calls for action and as premiers we will lend leadership in our own provinces to ensure that we take action on these recommendations that are pertinent to our own jurisdictions.”
He and others also noted the glaring absence and inaction of the federal government at the meeting, which took place in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, preceding the premiers’ two-day Council of Federation meeting that began on Thursday July 16.
“Unfortunately, right now, it is our . . . collective belief, that the federal government should very much be engaged in this process and at this point in time, they are not,” said Davis, according to the Toronto Star. “We wanted them to offer leadership and join us as partners and provide that leadership and, unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde expressed satisfaction with the meetings’ discussion, which also included the scourge of missing and murdered aboriginal women that plagues the nation. The absence of federal representatives was felt keenly when it came to violence against aboriginal women, said Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
“It is an insult to the memory of those women and girls that they’re not here. It is an insult to the concept of democracy that Canada is based upon that we are all here. There is no Canada outside of the provinces and territories, so the federal government needs to be part of this discussion,” Lavell-Harvard told the Star. “I think it’s appalling and it’s a slap in the face to the memory of those girls, those women, who have gone missing, who have been murdered, and to those families that are still struggling to cope with that, wondering where their family member is.”
The participants also talked about energy policy, the economy, education, revitalizing indigenous languages and the disproportionate number of First Nations children who find their way into the child welfare system.
“Action and implementation––and that’s what I heard today, the premiers at various levels in their provinces and territories are implementing some of those actions already, which is good, and I just called on them to continue to build upon those recommendations,” Bellegarde told the Toronto Star.
“We will together, jointly, make this happen,” Davis said at a news conference following the meeting with the heads of five national native groups, according to the Canadian Press. “They’re important commitments that we need to follow up on.”
Bellegarde, too, noted the absence of federal government officials.
“Everything we talked about today is about closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples,” Bellegarde said in a statement. “The operative words are action and implementation. There are some positive developments underway in the provinces and territories but the federal government is the key player missing from the table. If we’re going to make Canada the best country it can be then the federal government needs to be with us every step of the way. All of us here today want the federal government to honor its responsibilities and join us at these tables.”