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Reconciliation: Let's Climb!

In his victory speech on election night Prime Minister Trudeau expressed a commitment to Nation-to-Nation relationships with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. This important statement, which reflects the relationship of equality between peoples enshrined by the early treaties, followed a number of profound commitments in the course of the campaign: to implement the 94 Calls to Action (recommendations) of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; to build Canada’s compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People;  to hold a public inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW); and a commitment to  funding equity and Indigenous control of  Indigenous Education. Implementation of these commitments would most certainly shape a new stage in the reconciliation journey between Indigenous people and the rest of us who live in this place called Canada.   

At the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, we believe that reconciliation with our Indigenous neighbours is a central justice issue. We’re happy to say that we’ve rarely been more hopeful after almost a decade of partnership, research, education, mobilization, and advocacy for reconciliation and justice. We keep asking each other, “Is this hope? Can I feel hopeful about this?” because of all the signs of progress towards reconciliation we’re seeing. We were exhilarated to see that many of the principles of Indigenous-led Indigenous education reform are included in the government’s plans!

Obviously, the commitments made under the Liberal’s banner of “real change” will take a great deal of political will and public encouragement to be real contributions to reconciliation. Here are some hopeful signs that we see in the early days of this government:

  • The Prime Minister surprised policy wonks like me and released the text of Cabinet Members’ mandate letters. These letters are normally kept out of public view. The release of the letters is a symbol of transparency and accountability. The letters are also very clear in encouraging Ministers to work for “constructive dialogue with Canadians, civil society, and stakeholders.” Living out this commitment will be a refreshing new tone of trust and partnership – both essentials for the progress of reconciliation policy development. After years of closed doors for civil society organizations like us, this is very welcome news.    
  • One sign that makes us particularly hopeful is the appointment of Jody Wilson-Raybould as Minister of Justice. Wilson-Raybould is a member of Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation (B.C.) and has wide experience as a lawyer and Indigenous leader. This is a big deal—she is the first Indigenous Minister of Justice, and it’s no small role. The Justice Department plays a lead role in shaping legal relationships between Indigenous communities and the Government of Canada. It is responsible for Canada’s negotiation stance in treaty, resource sharing, and self-government agreements, and for advising the government on legislative responses to court decisions relating to Indigenous people and communities. The Justice department can – and has in the past – approach these duties in an adversarial way. We’re celebrating this appointment because Wilson-Raybould has a long history as a consensus builder and is showing early signs of continuing that leadership as Minister of Justice.  Moving the relationship of the Justice Department and Indigenous communities from an adversarial tone to one of trust and collaboration will be a critical step in the development of Nation-to-Nation relationships.
  • Long-serving Parliamentarian Dr. Carolyn Bennett has been appointed Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Bennett has recounted a story that an Indigenous Elder has encouraged her to consider herself "minister of reconciliation". She is thoughtfully consulting families of missing and murdered Indigenous women for the shaping of a public inquiry on this tragedy. And Dr. Bennett’s mandate letter from the Prime Minister shows great promise on key issues like education reform, implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the TRC Calls to Action, and building meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities for decision making.

We’re excited to see the reconciliation promises and tone of the new government. Reconciliation is a calling and task for governments as well as citizens and civil society – including our churches. The hopeful signs of reconciliation at the policy level will take root in real change when citizens show ongoing commitment to reconciliation. It’s also important to recognize that policy change is only one important part of the reconciliation journey. Knowing the full story of our shared history and building relationships between Indigenous people and Settlers – person to person – is also fundamental to reconciliation. We know that God’s reconciling Spirit has been active in the process of the TRC. Together we can work and pray and live into the hope of reconciliation.

In that spirit, we’ve put together a pledge for citizens to commit to holding our government and communities accountable to implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As Justice Murray Sinclair of the TRC, a man of great wisdom, said upon the release of the TRC report, “We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the way to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.” Let’s climb!

[Image: by Dena Nicolai, for Centre for Public Dialogue]

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

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