Canada’s report card on reconciliation
Answering the calls
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action cover everything from health care to justice, education to culture and highlight how reconciliation is not just the responsibility of governments but media outlets, businesses, religious organizations, sports programs and individual Canadians across the country.
The federal government has a big part to play in addressing these calls to action — it’s responsible for 76 of them — but Ottawa’s progress has been slow. So far, the feds have completed somewhere between seven and 17 calls to action, depending on who you ask.
Below is a brief list of some of the bigger developments that have happened around the TRC calls to action over the past year. You can find more detailed information on the status of each call to action by checking out CBC’s Beyond 94 tracker. For recent developments, the Yellowhead Institute also puts out a yearly progress report; you can find last year’s here.
Lastly, it’s important to note that reconciliation means different things to different people, and Indigenous Peoples across the country will have different views on what constitutes progress. After the Pope made his apology to Indigenous Peoples this summer, for example, Assembly of First Nations Chief RoseAnne Archibald told Canada's National Observer: “There isn’t one thing to say about this papal visit that everyone would agree on.” The same is true when it comes to advancing reconciliation and the TRC calls to action.
Here are some of the big developments that have happened since last year’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation:
On child welfare
After a 15-year battle, Indigenous children may finally see reparations from the Canadian government for underfunding First Nations child welfare services. Earlier this year, Ottawa announced a $40-billion settlement agreement — the largest in Canadian history — aimed at reforming the current system and compensating those harmed by it. The proposed reparations include those affected by the federal government’s narrow definition of Jordan’s Principle, which says governments must provide First Nations children with the same public services available to everyone else and work out who’s responsible for the costs later.
The TRC made five calls to action on child welfare, including reducing the number of Indigenous children in care, educating social workers on the history of residential schools and empowering Indigenous communities to keep families together and children in culturally appropriate environments.
If the settlement agreement goes through, Ottawa has promised to drop its appeal of a Federal Court decision that requires it to compensate Indigenous children. But that remains a big if: both the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal — whose 2016 ruling is the reason for the settlement agreement — and the court have to OK the deal before any money starts flowing to First Nations families, who have waited years for reparations. At least one Indigenous children’s advocate says the current agreement doesn’t meet the tribunal’s standard. After a hearing last month, the tribunal reserved its decision on whether to green light the deal, but a final call should be coming any day now.
Meanwhile, some First Nations are taking steps to control their own child welfare systems. In March, the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations in Ontario signed an agreement that gives them control of child and family services in their communities, with support from the federal and provincial governments. It’s the second of its kind since Bill C-92 — An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families — came into force in 2020; Cowessess First Nation became the first last year.
On health care
Because responsibility for health services is divided between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, progress on the TRC’s seven health-related calls to action has been piecemeal. Across the country, anti-Indigenous racism in health care remains a problem, from B.C. to Manitoba, Alberta to Ontario and beyond.
Some provinces are taking steps to address the problem. In B.C., for example, the First Nations Health Authority has for years provided some Indigenous communities with access to culturally safe health care. Others, however, are slow to change: in Quebec, the premier maintains that systemic racism does not exist in his province.
But the death of Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman, sparked public outcry over just that. Before she died in 2020, Echaquan livestreamed health-care workers at a Quebec hospital hurling racist insults at her as she sought care. The Quebec coroner later told CBC if Echaquan were white, she would still be alive.
Since then, not much has changed. In 2020, Atikamekw leaders created a reform plan for the province’s health and social services called Joyce’s Principle; it was rejected by the Quebec government over its call to acknowledge systemic racism. The province tabled its own reform plan earlier this year, which aims to fix the health-care system within three years but includes no specific measures to address the health needs of Indigenous Peoples.
Elsewhere, however, some provinces have taken small steps over the past year. Last month, Manitoba’s Northern Regional Health Authority joined Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin in a partnership that seeks to eliminate anti-Indigenous racism in the province’s health services. In Saskatchewan, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations also created a First Nations health ombudsperson to help address anti-Indigenous racism in the health-care system, a role funded by the federal government. And in Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaq First Nations are now developing their own health authority, which received nearly $9 million in federal funding earlier this year.
On history and commemoration
Since the discovery of 215 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School last year, several First Nations communities have received funding to investigate former grounds in their own communities where survivors had shared similar stories. The results have been heartbreaking: as of last December, more than 1,000 unmarked graves had been uncovered.
The federal government put forward more money for community-led projects to locate and commemorate missing children in Budget 2022. Ottawa also appointed a special interlocutor this summer, who will work with Indigenous communities and experts to recommend a legal framework that ensures “the respectful and culturally appropriate treatment of unmarked graves and burial sites of children at former residential schools.”
Identifying those children is an ongoing process. The federal government still faces calls to publicly release any remaining residential school records in its possession, as does the Catholic Church. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation keeps a database of all publicly available records.
On justice and the legal system
Last year, Canada adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — UNDRIP for short — into law. Even among Indigenous Peoples, not everyone supports the declaration, but some view its adoption as an important step forward: the TRC calls to action mention UNDRIP nearly two dozen times.
Ultimately, the new legislation seeks to reshape Canadian law so it aligns with the declaration, ensuring Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination and that projects affecting Indigenous communities receive “free, prior and informed consent,” including things like pipeline construction, forestry cutblocks, oil extraction and so on.
As it turns out, Michelle O’Bonsawin, the country’s first Indigenous Supreme Court justice, may have a hand in deciding whether an earlier law that sought to contribute to implementing UNDRIP — Bill C-92, which recognizes Indigenous jurisdiction over child welfare — is constitutional. The federal government is appealing a Quebec court’s decision that struck down parts of the law earlier this year.
The federal government released an annual report on its UNDRIP progress in June, which lists its efforts to engage Indigenous Peoples in the co-creation of an action plan for applying the declaration to Canadian law. That action plan is expected to land next June.
Elsewhere in the legal system, TRC calls to action also urge Canada to tackle discrimination against Indigenous Peoples, address overrepresentation in the criminal justice system and educate current and future lawyers about Indigenous law. Some of these responsibilities lie with governments, others belong to the Canadian universities bringing up the next crop of lawyers and judges. Again, this means progress is piecemeal.
For some, the Pope’s apology this summer was a historic moment, as the most powerful person in the Catholic Church acknowledged the role some in his religion played in the residential school system, though he never specifically acknowledged the church’s responsibility as an institution. Still, the trip came after a years-long effort on the part of residential school survivors and Indigenous advocates, including a delegation that made its way to Rome earlier this year.
But while it’s taken years to receive a papal apology, those words are just the beginning: the TRC calls to action also press churches involved in the residential school system to educate their parishioners about its history and the importance of Indigenous spirituality, and to permanently fund community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has promised to raise $30 million for such projects by January 2027; it has raised $4.6 million so far.
Some Indigenous people have also called on the Pope to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery, a 15th-century religious document Europeans used to claim and colonize land they had “discovered.” The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops told Canada’s National Observer in August it was working with the Vatican on a statement from the church regarding the Doctrine of Discovery, noting: “Canada’s bishops continue to reject and resist the ideas associated with the Doctrine of Discovery in the strongest possible way.”
Holding Catholic priests accountable, too, is an important part of reconciliation. An Inuit delegation travelled to France last month to push for the extradition of Johannes Rivoire, a Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing Inuit children. While France is unlikely to send the now 91-year-old Rivoire to Canada to stand trial, Nunavut’s Inuit organization is considering “other opportunities for justice,” including charges in French court.
Meanwhile, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II has people around the world reflecting on the British monarchy’s legacy of colonialism. Some want to see the Royal Family apologize for its role in the colonization of Indigenous lands, but not everyone is hopeful.
Needless to say, there’s still a lot of work to be done. As Father Daryold Corbiere Winkler, an Ojibway priest, told Canada's National Observer in July, reconciliation is like climbing Everest.
“We’re just at the foothills here.”