A meeting between the NDP candidate campaigning to represent this riding in the upcoming federal election and Canim Lake Band leaders was made more poignant with the long-awaited and much-anticipated release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report on the same day (June 2).
The TRC, which for six years investigated the notorious history of residential schools in Canada, made 94 policy recommendations to help achieve reconciliation between First Nations people and the rest of Canada.
The report documents thousands of deaths, physical and sexual abuse, substandard education, malnutrition, and a government policy of “cultural genocide” in the residential school system, led by church and government officials, which saw the removal of First Nations children from their families in an attempt to suppress and destroy aboriginal culture.
“Canadians are a very compassionate and just people, but we also have to seize this moment to be honest about our history,” says Bill Sundhu, NDP candidate for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo.
“We know the history of the country, good and bad, and we move forward in a spirit of reconciliation. If we do that, then we have a positive future for our children and grandchildren, to building a mature, just, fair country. And also one where we can leave behind the legacy of colonialism and impoverishment and the sidelining of aboriginal people for many decades.”
Some of the TRC’s key recommendations include more education funding for aboriginal students, addressing the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in the criminal justice system, the preservation of aboriginal languages, the creation of a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, and the creation of a statutory holiday and memorials to honour residential school survivors.
Some of the concerns expressed by Canim Lake Band representatives at the meeting had to do with poverty, underfunding education, funding for aboriginal bands and programs, and economic development with First Nations involvement.
Canim Lake Band Chief Mike Archie says First Nations issues need to be a priority for all political parties.
He points to the recent reports of spending shortfalls at Aboriginal Affairs as an example of First Nations being left behind.
Regarding the TRC report, Archie says it’s going to take a lot of time for the report’s 94 recommendations to be put in place, and some time after that for reconciliation to occur.
“A lot of it has to do with providing those services to First Nations communities to move forward. Until we deal with the history of Canada and treatment of aboriginal people, we’re going to be slow in progress. That relationship with First Nations is going to make a big impact.”