A new plan for reconciliation

A key element is missing from Canada’s pursuit of Indigenous reconciliation: a clearly understood end goal. Even the recent Speech from the Throne described reconciliation as a “process”, reinforcing the open nature of this effort to change the relationship between Indigenous peoples and other Canadians.

Reconciliation defies easy characterization; it cannot be reduced to a strategy. The list of complex issues is daunting: recognizing treaty rights, restoring political autonomy, improving infrastructure, revitalizing Indigenous language and culture, overcoming entrenched social pathologies, and more.

Thus, a path to reconciliation requires markers. Here are 10 to consider:

Language Revitalization – Efforts to regenerate the Indigenous language have been anemic; the language crisis is desperate. Full engagement must be launched, if only to show goodwill and recognition of indigenous priorities.

Co-production of policies – Indigenous peoples should not have policies developed for them or applied to them. They must be co-producers.

Reduce Litigation – Millions of dollars are spent each year on legal proceedings, with governments typically spending more than Indigenous claimants. Change is needed to correct the conflicted culture that defines Indigenous affairs.

Infrastructure and Service Standards – Conditions in many Indigenous communities are appalling, with boil water advisories being a visible example. Indigenous communities deserve infrastructure standards shared by all Canadians.

Equal Opportunity – Aboriginal people have the right to comparable education, training and career opportunities. The gap is unacceptable.

Land Claims – Much of Canada is not covered by treaties. These gaps limit opportunities and add strain to relationships. The new agreements will not look like 19th or 20th century treaties, but respecting indigenous peoples’ rights to access and use traditional lands is imperative.

Encourage investment – Indigenous peoples want to make major investments, but often lack the money to defend their interests. Governments and private funders must ensure that Indigenous peoples have the necessary resources to participate as shareholders in the Canadian economy.

Procurement Targets – The federal government has a five percent target for procurement from Aboriginal businesses. Big companies are even more advanced. Governments must set – and maintain – supply thresholds.

Justice Reform – Excessive incarceration and abuse of Aboriginal people is well known. Major revisions, drawing on indigenous systems of punishment and rehabilitation, are urgently needed.

Land management – Canada has taken steps to co-manage natural resources. Initiatives like the Indigenous Guardians program show potential for collaboration and improvement.

Canada must remedy the bad policies and paternalism of the past. Substantial work is required on education, self-government, health care delivery, Indigenous intellectual property rights, housing strategies, and more.

There is no easy way to undo the story of multigenerational trauma, but we must recognize the key realities. Indigenous peoples are still there, despite multigenerational efforts to take or assimilate their lands. Resilience remains a key component of Indigenous life. Indigenous achievements in business, governance, cultural expression, community renewal and the reaffirmation of Indigenous women in national affairs have been successful despite significant obstacles.

We must embrace reconciliation, not resist it. It tackles the challenges of the past, but also sets a course that is good for all Canadians. Self-reliant Indigenous peoples will be strengthened and Canada will benefit from the enhancement, renewal and revitalization of Indigenous lives. The task is formidable; it will not be cheap or easy. But to achieve social and economic justice, this must be Canada’s top priority.

JP Gladu is a senior researcher at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and an Indigenous business leader. Ken Coates is Distinguished Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and Professor at the University of Saskatchewan

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