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Residential school survivor Clara Spencer is comforted as she recounts her experience during sharing circle at The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, June 2, 2015 in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

As the Catholic Church has shamefully demonstrated yet again, the one word no one uses when confronting indigenous issues is "responsibility."

Responsibility is something the courts may or may not impose. Outside the courtroom, you rarely hear the word mentioned in the vestry or the deputy minister's office or at the band council meeting or in homes on or off reserve, unless "someone else's" precedes it.

The Trudeau government is determined to break the cycle of indigenous poverty, isolation and – too often – abuse. Money will help. But collectively accepting responsibility, embracing it, is the real challenge. For success, "someone else's" must be banished from the vocabulary.

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As Gloria Galloway reports, legal bungling by the federal government allowed the Catholic Church to wriggle out of its obligation to raise and then deliver $25-million for healing programs to aid survivors of abuse at residential schools.

The Catholic Church has always been reluctant to acknowledge its responsibility for what went on at those schools. But what leaps out for this reader is the church's admission that its fundraising efforts were "a fiasco."

Neither corporate nor private donors were interested in writing cheques to help residential school survivors. Yes, the church could and should have found the money from within its own resources. But the broader community is also complicit in this latest failure to fulfill a promise, as we have been so often in the past.

From John A. Macdonald to Stephen Harper, prime ministers and their governments have abused, coerced or, at best, patronized First Nations and other indigenous Canadians. (Mr. Harper's inability to achieve on-reserve education reform, despite years of effort, stands as one of his greatest failures as prime minister.)

Provincial governments have been too willing to slough off responsibility for the condition of their indigenous population, claiming it's federal jurisdiction. Just imagine what might happen if a premier were to stand in the legislature and say: "Indigenous education is this government's highest education priority; on-reserve housing is our province's No. 1 housing problem; improving indigenous health surpasses all other health-care needs." Think of what might then get done.

Many chiefs, individually on their reserves and collectively through the Assembly of First Nations and other organizations, have also shunned responsibility for conditions in their communities. Cronyism, misplaced priorities and a culture of grievance too often prevent real reform.

But this is everybody's issue. When it comes to improving the quality of life for indigenous Canadians, the rest of us don't hold our politicians' feet to the fire, we don't demand accountability, we signal in a multitude of ways, from what we tell pollsters to how we vote, that we have other priorities.

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No one person or group – political leaders, faith leaders, aboriginal leaders, business leaders, indigenous and non-indigenous adults and youth and you and me – can reverse so many decades of abuse and neglect single-handed. But collective determination, collective responsibility can move mountains.

In British Columbia, indigenous high school graduation rates have gone from 54 per cent to 63 per cent in only six short years, thanks to increased funding and a strong emphasis on a native-specific curriculum content.

In Nova Scotia, which has been using similar methods since 1999, and which achieved an astonishing 87-per-cent on-reserve graduation rate in 2014, half the teachers on Mi'kmaq reserves are themselves Mi'kmaq.

The Cree School Board of Quebec has set a "no excuses" target of graduating 50 per cent of its students on reserve by 2020, despite facing many of the same challenges that the Cree face on the Ontario side of James Bay.

We can extend those success stories into Northern Ontario and Manitoba, into Iqaluit and Regina and Toronto. But it won't happen until we stop arguing among ourselves over who is responsible, who is to blame, and simply resolve to get it done. Together.

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