6/2/15 Response of Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde to the Findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
June 2, 2015
Motivated by courage, the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools sought justice and recognition from Canada through court cases that set us on a course toward truth and reconciliation. To the former students – the survivors – I honour you and I thank you. I am humbled to be before you. On behalf of the Assembly of First Nations, one of the parties to the Settlement Agreement, we thank the Commissioners for your strength, courage and heartfelt approach to the important work of truth and reconciliation.
The Assembly of First Nations commitment to reconciliation remains strong. Reconciliation means so many things as we move through the aftermath of the Indian Residential School system, one that we know was designed to rid Canada of ‘Indians’. In its aftermath, we are left with the gap – a persistent, wide and unacceptable gap in the quality of life between First Nations and other Canadians. We commit to doing the necessary work to close the gap.
The calls to action describe and remind us of the work that lies before us – our children must grow up safe and comfortable in their own homes and home communities, so 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. Only three Indigenous languages are predicted to survive, the two First Nations ones being Cree and Ojibwe, so revitalizing and preserving our 58 remaining languages is an imperative as they are the heart of who we are. Committing to implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation is an essential first step to guide reconciliation in all areas of our lives affected by colonization and the attempt at cultural genocide launched by the Indian Residential School System.
We welcome the Commissioners’ call to the parties of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement for a new Covenant on Reconciliation to ensure that the ongoing work of reconciliation continues. For the past number of years, we have met many challenges and made progress. We thank you for your willingness to face the truth and work together. Continuing in that spirit will create the reality that we want for all peoples in the future: healing, peace, justice and the quality of life that we all deserve.
Education and awareness leads to understanding which in turn leads to action and ultimately reconciliation. The call to teach the history of the residential schools in schools in Canada is one that I will continue to support.
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 shall further review the Calls to Action and dialogue with the other Parties, Indigenous leaders and Canadians alike to bring about the transformative change that we all want for all of our peoples. And you, the former students and your families deserve nothing less than that.