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One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver on June 21, 2019.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

A large proportion of Canadians recognize that individuals have roles to play in efforts to bring about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, according to a newly released survey.

The survey, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research in partnership with five other organizations, looked at the state of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in Canada.

The results come at a time of renewed focus on reconciliation in Canada. Political pressure on governments at both the federal and provincial levels has increased since Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said at the end of May that a preliminary search using ground-penetrating radar had discovered the remains of 215 children at the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, in British Columbia.

The survey was conducted over the winter, meaning it reflects pre-Kamloops attitudes.

Among the survey’s findings is that Canadians were somewhat more likely to express optimism than pessimism about the prospects for making meaningful progress toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Just more than half of respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” optimistic that Canada will make meaningful progress toward reconciliation over the next decade. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people expressed similar degrees of optimism. Seven in 10 respondents said individual Canadians have roles to play in efforts to bring about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The survey involved the participation of 5,814 adults. It was conducted online across all Canadian provinces between Jan. 25 and Feb. 17, and online and by telephone in all Canadian territories between Jan. 25 and March 1. The survey sample included 775 individuals who self-identified as Indigenous, including 332 who identified as First Nations, 323 who identified as Métis, 91 who identified as Inuit, 16 who provided another identity (typically a specific First Nation) and 13 who did not specify. According to Andrew Parkin, the executive director of the Environics Institute, the survey has no margin of error because it is not a strict probability sample.

Environics conducted the survey in partnership with the Canada West Foundation, the Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government and the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

The survey also probed Canadians’ knowledge of the history of Indian residential schools. About 60 per cent of respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” familiar with the history of residential schools in Canada, while 35 per cent said they were “not too” or “not at all” familiar.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which spent six years studying the legacy of residential schools, said more than 130 of them existed across the country. The schools were government-funded, church-run institutions that the commission said were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural and spiritual development of Indigenous children.

The survey found that familiarity with residential schools was higher among Indigenous people, with 77 per cent saying they were “very” or “somewhat” familiar with the history of the institutions. Among non-Indigenous people, only 59 per cent said they were familiar.

Regionally, familiarity with the history of residential schools was highest in the North (71 per cent) and in Western Canada (68 per cent), particularly in Saskatchewan (78 per cent) and Manitoba (72 per cent).

The survey found that 74 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they were “very” or “somewhat” familiar with the history of residential schools, a higher proportion than in older age groups. It also found that familiarity is somewhat higher than average among those who have a university degree.

Mr. Parkin said that the survey shows young people are more in tune than their elders on this issue.

“I think we have to take that as encouragement,” he said.

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