Canadians need to get involved in the reconciliation process, according to Justice Murray Sinclair, because the legacy of the residential schools is “a Canadian problem.”
Justice Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), was speaking at a recent conference organized by the University of Toronto and the National Centre for First Nations Governance. The TRC aims to provide former students and their families with a chance to share their experiences, and to set the historical record straight about the 150-year legacy of forced assimilation of native people through the residential schools.
Sinclair said the TRC has asked all parties to the schools agreement to dig deeper into the issue of reconciliation by asking them, “What is it that you want to attain by doing this? What’s the nature of the relationship that you want to have with the other party, to the reconciliation process?”
Marlene Brant Castellano, a Mohawk of the Bay of Quinte and professor emeritus at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., said achieving recognition of aboriginal rights is essential if individual, community and societal healing and reconciliation is to take place. However, she added, reconciliation in an unbalanced power relationship often means “reconcile yourself to the place that we’ve assigned to you.”
Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie said the reconciliation of aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples is the biggest problem facing the country and yet, it is not an issue that’s on the radar of most Canadians. “If you ask many Canadians, they feel that an apology and some compensation are required and that we should all move forward as undifferentiated Canadians.”
However, Supreme Court decisions that recognize aboriginal and treaty rights mean that a new era of Crown and aboriginal relations is dawning, said Binnie. Several landmark decisions by the Supreme Court have affirmed that First Nations people have rights over and above those who came from other parts of the world. They also point to “…something unique about First Nations by reason of their…being the founding culture of Canada,” said Binnie.
While he said he is heartened that many First Nations people have moved away from the concept of “apartness,” reconciliation should allow for room “in our constitution, our legal system and our culture, for aboriginal people to be original,” said Binnie.