Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Greetings to everyone. I'm really glad to be here on Algonquin territory. I'm here visiting from the Northwest Territories, from Treaty No. 8 territory. It's nice to be in a room with my member of Parliament and one of our fellow northerners, Member Idlout, as well.
As mentioned, I was one of the commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What that means for today is that I was also one of the authors of the call to action that informs this particular legislative proposal.
As you know, we criss-crossed the country for six and a half years, listening to a very mixed legacy of painful achievements and devastating losses, including—as we all know by now—the loss of life itself in the thousands and still counting.
Our multivolume final reports and various summaries reflect all that we heard, and our 10 principles of reconciliation and our 94 calls to action charted a pathway forward for Canada, addressing action areas for all levels of government and all sectors of society. Among those was a call for a national council for reconciliation.
The significance of that, as we repeatedly heard from friends and colleagues both in Canada and internationally who had been involved in commissions and inquiries before, is that there's a need for an ongoing oversight mechanism; otherwise, things get forgotten and left on dusty shelves. There's a need for follow-up, not as a way to hold up continuing shame, but on the contrary to be able to track and monitor progress and hopefully improvement so that we can get all the full benefits of our work and the work of survivors for lasting impact to the benefit of all.
Today I want to make reference in passing to our call to action. Given time, I want to mostly point out areas where I hope you'll be open to hearing some suggestions for improvement of what is before you in your proposed legislation.
In 2015—on the fifth anniversary, at that point, of our report from the TRC—we expressed great frustration and concern about the slowness of the fulfillment of the calls to action. We specifically singled out the national council for reconciliation. The reason for that today is to say, “Finally, here we are.” I hope you'll hear what I'm saying as potential areas for improvement and not as anything I hope would ever be used as reasons for further delay.
I want to make observations in three specific areas.
The first is reconciliation as a shared purpose. I'll just say, for the analysts and others, that there is a longer form of this paper that I will provide for your purposes, but I'm just headlining here and hoping I'm not being too negative in the process.
The Bill C-29 summary says the purpose of the proposed legislation “is to advance efforts for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.” I think the purpose statement itself can and should be much stronger, not just “to advance efforts for reconciliation” but to ensure reconciliation, and not just “with Indigenous Peoples”, but between and among indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. As we said throughout our reports and repeatedly ever since, reconciliation is about the establishment and maintenance of respectful relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
Bill C-29 recognizes the need for an establishment of “an independent, non-political, permanent...organization”. I would offer that that language, too, could be even more precise to ensure that the non-political meaning is both independence from government and also non-partisan in spirit. That would be to protect its longevity, no matter which political party prevails in government over the years ahead.
The draft also uses the term “Indigenous-led”. Our TRC call to action does not use that terminology. Again, we specifically insisted, over the course of the commission and repeatedly since, that reconciliation is not an indigenous issue; it's a Canadian one. The very fact that we have this deliberation before a committee that is narrowly cast as “indigenous and northern affairs” underscores how easily reconciliation gets recast as an indigenous problem.
That's why we commissioners were very deliberate and precise in our wording in describing the oversight body with “membership jointly appointed by the Government of Canada and national Aboriginal organizations”—using the terminology of the day—“and consisting of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members.
The Bill C-29 proposal as worded, including its model for appointment rather than a collaborative approach, creates a silo approach that potentially divides the council internally before it ever begins. I have comparative examples that I can offer if time allows in the discussion.
The second point I want to address is accountability to Parliament. This is all about public awareness and accountability for improvement.
The section about reporting to Parliament that we had in our call to action is entirely missing from the Bill C-29 draft. Parliament is where the laws were passed to enact residential schools. The House of Commons is where national political leaders stood in front of national indigenous leaders to apologize for the fallout of those schools and to promise to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation. Parliament is where all Canadians have an elected representative to hear regular progress reports on whether we are actually living up to these latest promises made on behalf of the people of Canada.
I want to stress that this public accountability also provides transparency for prioritizing what we need to do next to celebrate where things are getting better and to fuel our encouragement as a country to keep at it and to keep trying.
On the point of financial resources, I won't say a lot. I'll just say this: Regarding financial resources, the draft is simply too generic on that point, with a generalized reference to a further call to action 55. In my experience, an intention without certainty of resources focuses all early efforts simply on trying to find the means to function.
I want to conclude by reminding you of three of the TRC principles of reconciliation that are especially relevant to my points today and to your deliberations.
Number 6 is this:
All Canadians, as Treaty peoples, share responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships.
Number 9 states:
Reconciliation requires political will, joint leadership, trust-building, accountability, and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources.
Number 10 is this:
Reconciliation requires sustained public education and dialogue, including youth engagement, about the history and legacy of residential schools, Treaties, and Indigenous rights, as well as the historical and contemporary contributions of Indigenous peoples to Canadian society.
I believe there's great urgency to these calls to action. Since we've already agreed, all parties across the House, that this is a priority, in recent elections recommitments were also made on the issue of reconciliation. I hope that with a few amendments to strengthen the purpose and potential of this legislative proposal, all parliamentarians will move quickly to get the national council for reconciliation enacted and fairly resourced as soon as possible. We've called it a vital tool for our country to reap the benefits of ongoing education, introspection, course correction, and celebration. It's an honest mirror, hopefully, that will help us all become the world leader we claim we wish to be in matters of good and respectful relations between indigenous and non-indigenous citizens.
Mahsi cho, qujannamiik, merci beaucoup, and meegwetch.
Thank you very much.