Truth and Reconciliation at the Local Level

After six years of hearings and testimony, a summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) summary report, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future, was released to the public on June 2, 2015. With this, the lasting legacy and deep impact of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system were brought to the forefront for all of Canada.

The report contained ‘Calls to Action’, several of which were directed to, or actionable by, local governments. To initiate dialogue on the TRC recommendations, Dr. Marie Wilson, Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was invited to address the assembly at the 2015 UBCM Convention in Vancouver. She reminded the assembly that this is only the beginning of the reconciliation journey, and challenged local governments to advance the process of reconciliation at the local level.

There are 94 Calls to Action, organized under the headings of Legacy and Reconciliation. Dr. Wilson’s presentation focused on the following 16 Calls to Action related to municipal and/or all orders of government:

Legacy

  • Language and Culture: enable affordable reclaiming of personal names (#17).
  • Health:  increase the number and retention of Aboriginal health professionals; cultural competency training for all care providers (#23).
  • Justice: creation and evaluation of Aboriginal-specific victim programs and services; public inquiry into disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls, including missing and murdered, and links to intergenerational legacy of residential schools (#40/41).

Reconciliation

  • UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): adopt and implement as a framework for ongoing reconciliation (#43).
  • Doctrine of Discovery: repudiate, and reform policies/bylaws that may rely on concepts of European sovereignty (#47).
  • National Council for Reconciliation: monitor and report progress on “the legacy gaps”; relevant annual data provided by all orders of government (#55).
  • Professional Development: educate public servants regarding residential schools, UNDRIP, treaties, anti-racism, intercultural competency, and human rights (#57).
  • Education: require that publically funded denominational schools teach comparative religious studies, including Aboriginal spiritual beliefs (#64).
  • Missing Children, Commemoration and Monuments: collaborate to identify, maintain, honour and commemorate gravesites of missing residential school children; support National Day for Truth and Reconciliation; install visible IRS monument in capital cities (#75/76/82).
  • National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR): provide relevant archival records (#77).
  • Indigenous Sports: educate public regarding athletic history and champions; support Indigenous athletic development and competitions; respect Indigenous territorial protocols and involvement of Indigenous communities in event planning and participation (#87/88/91).
  • Business and Reconciliation: (regarding municipalities as incorporated entities that deal with many other businesses) adopt and apply UNDRIP to policy and land considerations; commit to relationship-building and consultation, and informed consent on development projects; ensure equitable access to jobs, training, professional development (#92).

From Truth to Action at the Local Level

Reconciliation must mean real change for all of our people in all the places we choose to live, change that addresses the wrongs in a way that brings all of us closer together. Human rights, hope, opportunity and human flourishing are not the privilege of one group or one segment of Canadian society; they belong to all of us.

– Former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, speaking to the Senate on the first anniversary of Canada’s apology for the IRS System, in 2009.

Dr. Wilson emphasized that reconciliation will require the leadership and sustained efforts of all orders of government, including local governments. To this end, there are many local governments that have taken up the TRC’s calls, providing concrete examples of how to move forward on the reconciliation journey, at the local level.

In 2013, the City of Vancouver was the first city in Canada to declare a Year of Reconciliation, at the same time declaring support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This was followed by the development of a City of Reconciliation framework, which focuses on building cultural competency, strengthening relations, and developing efficient decision-making within the City’s service provision. It also aims to strengthen relationships with Vancouver’s host First Nations and the urban Aboriginal community. The City has formally acknowledged that it sits on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, and invited representatives from those Nations to work in partnership to develop appropriate protocols for City use. In 2015, Vancouver sponsored a resolution to UBCM and FCM requesting federal action on the TRC recommendations (2015-B106).

The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) encouraged its members to declare a Year of Reconciliation in 2013, and undertake further actions to inform themselves and their constituents about reconciliation and the impact of IRS within the region.  It has also invited Dr. Robert Joseph of Reconciliation Canada to meet with local leaders and senior staff, and has dedicated a section of its website to reconciliation information and activities.

The City of North Vancouver contributed to a project championed by St. Paul's Indian Residential School survivor Barbara Wyss that saw a monument, titled We are Still Here, erected near the former school site. The statue was created by artist Shayne Jackson, and bears the names and communities of the school’s 600 former students. Nearby, the North Vancouver District Public Library has created a program called the Truth and Reconciliation Pledge Project that provides resources and encourages community members to read the TRC’s summary report.

On National Aboriginal Day 2015, the City of Prince George renamed Fort George Park to Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park, in honour of the people who were forced to move their village in 1913 to make way for the growing city. The Lheidli T’enneh burial ground is located in the park. In addition, a number of Prince George staff members have participated in the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) Indigenous Competency Training. The City is also a signatory to the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination, which provides an additional forum for consideration of the TRC Calls to Action.

The Cariboo Regional District’s (CRD) reconciliation journey has included a number of events related to the St. Joseph's Mission Residential School Commemoration Project, including public events and seminars, as well as the unveiling of monuments at the St Joseph’s Mission Residential School site and in Williams Lake’s Boitanio Park. These events were planned through an inclusive planning committee comprised of former students, First Nations, Tribal Councils, local government, School District 27, the RCMP and the Sxoxomic First Nations School. As work was underway, the CRD learned of a former student who had her own orange shirt taken from her by the school, only to see another child wearing it days later. Consequently, September 30th was declared Orange Shirt Day, a day of commemoration for residential school survivors. A UBCM Community Excellence Award was awarded to Orange Shirt Day partners, and in 2015, the CRD’s resolution (2015-B107), which advocated for a national Orange Shirt Day, was endorsed by the UBCM assembly.

“Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.”

UBCM remains committed to reconciliation, subsequent to the membership’s support and endorsement of a Year of Reconciliation in 2013. This declaration set into motion a partnership with Reconciliation Canada that commits both organizations to working together to initiate, foster, and support reconciliation initiatives and activities to benefit British Columbians. This partnership has led to the organization’s involvement in the last three UBCM conventions, and will see reconciliation dialogue workshops offered throughout BC. In addition, the first UBCM cohort of the PHSA Indigenous Cultural Competency training has recently completed their training, representing a concrete step toward implementation of TRC Call to Action #57. UBCM has also conveyed 2015 resolutions B106 and B107 to the federal government, with associated follow-up work to be undertaken in the coming months.

At a national level, the recent mandate letter to Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett reiterated the federal government’s commitment to implementing all of the TRC’s Calls to Action. FCM’s Big City Mayors' Caucus also responded to the TRC’s report with a statement recognizing the deep and lasting traumatic impact that Canada's Indian Residential Schools had on individuals, their families, and communities both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.

The TRC summary reminds Canadians that “governments, churches, educational institutions, and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking action on reconciliation in concrete ways, working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples. Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.” As the order of government that most directly impacts the daily lives of community members, local governments play a key role in this work. Local leaders have demonstrated a commitment to making changes and fostering relationships with Aboriginal peoples that are built upon honesty and respect. These are the first of many steps to come on the path to reconciliation.

How has your community committed to reconciliation, or undertaken work related to the TRC’s Calls to Action? Do you have an idea for how UBCM can support BC local governments in their reconciliation initiatives? If so, please let us know by contacting Angela Turner, UBCM Policy Analyst.

Additional Resources

City of Vancouver:

Year of Reconciliation

City of Reconciliation Framework

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District:

ACRD Website: Reconciliation and the ACRD

North Vancouver:

We are Still Here Monument

NVDPL Truth and Reconciliation Pledge Project

City of Prince George:

Leidli T’enneh Memorial Park

Cariboo Regional District:

UBCM Community Excellence Award: Remembering, Recovering, and Reconciling - St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School Commemorative Project

FCM:

FCM Big City Mayors' Caucus: Statement of Reconciliation

Meta Navigation