By Stephen Kakfwi, former Premier of the Northwest Territories and past President of the Dene Nation, is currently the President and CEO of Canadians For a New Partnership; Rt. Hon. Joe Clark is Vice-Chairman of the Global Leadership Foundation, and Board member of Canadians For a New Partnership; Rt. Hon. Paul Martin is founder of the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative and Board member of Canadians For a New Partnership
With the closing gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission taking place in Ottawa, we cannot help but reflect on the important and monumentally difficult mandate the Commission was given. Recording the testimonies of over 7,000 survivors, visiting communities small and large across this vast country, and helping to found a research centre all within six years is an immense undertaking.
Throughout the mandate of the Commission, survivors have led the call for healing and for reconciliation. They have come forward to share the truth of the residential schools and the enduring impacts those experiences have on themselves, their families and their communities. They have told stories of pain and courage but also of lives rebuilt with resilience, love and honour.
Many survivors have pointed to the education system as a place where true change must be made if we are ever to succeed in bridging the cultural divide between us.
This is because the classroom is by nature a place of openness and exploration where children's perceptions of the world around them are being shaped. If our children and grandchildren are taught to value the immense contributions of Indigenous people to this nation, to recognize our shared history, and to understand the vibrant and living cultures of First Peoples, we will be well on our way to a new partnership.
Clearly, there is a growing realization across the country that now is the time for reconciliation. Despite the immense desire to move forward as a country, there are not enough resources in school or elsewhere to make this possible. What is needed are changes to provincial curriculum that fully recognize Indigenous history and worldview, changes made in cooperation with the great wealth of Indigenous educators that exist in Canada.
Following the release of the Commission's interim report in February 2012, Commission Chair Justice Murray Sinclair said, "… it is through the educational system that non-Aboriginal Canadians have been taught what they've come to learn about Aboriginal people, or not learned about Aboriginal people in this country." He went on to say, "We believe it is through the educational system that that information can be corrected, that that lack of information can be filled."
The bravery of survivors and work of the Commission brought national attention closer to the truth, but if we fail to go beyond apology and regret – if we admit the truth but ignore the necessary reconciliation – that would be to repeat the profound offences of the past. We must ensure that the Commission's recommendations do not fade from the national consciousness before they are addressed.
With the road map the Commission will lay out in their final report, we will be given an extraordinary opportunity to help build a better Canada. Wouldn't it be a great way to prepare for the nation's 150th anniversary for us all to commit today, next week and in the months to come, to work together to bring positive change to the relationship between First Peoples and others across this land?
We are looking forward to the findings and recommendations set to be released by the Commission on June 2. Like all the steps taken on this journey so far by the survivors, the Commission, and countless other individuals and organizations, this is just one step on the longer road to true partnership and reconciliation.