Truth and Reconciliation Commission Closing Events: May 31 – June 3, 2015
Last week the country’s attention was on Truth and Reconciliation. We heard the stories of survivors of Indian Residential Schools. We listened as former students bravely shared the experiences that shaped this country. These are the experiences that must never be forgotten, must never be repeated, and must transform the way we relate to one another.
As National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, I was humbled and honoured to take part in Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) closing events in Ottawa May 31 to June 3, to walk with those who believe in reconciliation, to stand with survivors, to hear from the Commissioners and to help lead the way forward.
The Assembly of First Nations helped to bring to Ottawa more than 100 survivors from across the country who participated in the Walk for Reconciliation, education and awareness panels, the release of the findings and a moving ceremonial close at Rideau Hall.
On June 2 TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair and Commissioners Chief Wilton Littlechild and Dr. Marie Wilson released a summary report of their findings. This included 94 ‘calls to action’ in the areas of child welfare, justice, education, health and more. The full final report is expected to be released later this year and includes testimony from more than 7,000 survivors.
The calls to action will help guide the work ahead. An apology requires action, and today now seven years after Prime Minister Stephen Harper and all of Parliament rose to apologize, we continue to urge change. Our children must grow up safe and healthy in their own homes and home communities. Addressing the over representation of First Nations children in the child welfare system is essential. We know that if we do not act, we will lose our Indigenous languages, the jewels of this land.
I welcome the call by TRC Commissioners to the parties of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement for a new Covenant on Reconciliation to ensure the work of reconciliation continues. AFN’s commitment to reconciliation remains strong, and we know that reconciliation requires work across a range of issues rooted in the impacts of the Indian Residential School system. We must close the persistent, wide and unacceptable gap in the quality of life between First Nations and other Canadians. I commit to doing the work required to get this done – and will continue to press at all levels for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This would be a tangible and essential step toward reconciliation in all areas of our lives affected by colonization and the attempt at cultural genocide.
Canadians stood with us last week. They continue to support our efforts to set out and implement solutions. Part of the reason for this is that more Canadians are learning for the first time their true history. We agree with the call to action to ensure more efforts to educate Canadians about the residential schools as well as First Nations peoples, rights, laws and Treaties.
Reconciliation involves all of us. It means repairing and restoring our relationships. We know that when First Nations win the entire country wins. Our goal is healthy, thriving peoples and communities. The closing event of the TRC is not the end. It is only the beginning. We are ready to act. We are ready to transform this country.
As a leader, I see myself as a helper—in Cree, ‘oskapewis’— and I promise to honour the faith that has been placed in me. We will further review the calls to action and dialogue with the other Parties to the Settlement Agreement, Indigenous leaders and Canadians alike to bring about the transformative change we all want for our peoples. We will do so in honour of the former students, the survivors, and their families.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde,
Assembly of First Nations
To view National Chief Bellegarde’s statement following the release of the TRC findings visit: http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/national-chief/highlights-from-the-national-chief/response-of-assembly-of-first-nations-national-chief-perry-bellegarde-
For more information on the TRC and to view findings visit: http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=890
To view National Chief Bellegarde’s statement on the anniversary of the Apology offered by Parliament for residential schools visit: http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/news-media/latest-news/assembly-of-first-nations-national-chief-marks-the-7th-anniversary-of-