WINNIPEG – True reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada will require years of ongoing effort but progress is being made, hundreds of people attending a conference on reconciliation were told Thursday.
The Pathways to Reconciliation conference in Winnipeg comes one year after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a report on the effects of the residential school system.
Chief Robert Joseph said implementing the report’s 94 recommendations and addressing high rates of poverty, disease and incarceration among indigenous peoples is not a short-term project.
“I read an article that said there are still some Canadians contesting the idea that residential schools have anything to do with the chaos and harm and hurt that we find ourselves (facing), and I think ‘My God, we’ve got lots of work to do,'” said Joseph, a hereditary chief from British Columbia and co-founder of Reconciliation Canada.
“When we are reconciled, we will share the wealth and prosperity of this great country.”
Joseph said there are many encouraging signs — promises by the federal government to boost funding for First Nations housing, education and other items, as well as steps taken by some provinces to give First Nations more control over child welfare.
He also pointed to an opinion poll earlier this month from the Environics Institute for Survey Research. The survey suggested a growing percentage of non-indigenous Canadians who believe indigenous people experience discrimination on a regular basis comparable to or worse than that faced by other minorities.
The conference is being hosted in part by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which houses documents and other materials gathered by the commission. The conference heard from indigenous leaders in other countries who said ongoing effort is needed to maintain public awareness and address inequality.
“Our people are still struggling … to be able to engage in education, employment, housing and a number of these other issues,” said Justin Mohamed, an indigenous leader from Australia.
The Australian government issued an apology in 2008 for the removal of aboriginal children from their families.
“After about two weeks, three weeks, business as usual came about. Our politicians and many members of the public said, ‘We said sorry, what else do we have to do?'”