In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, I want to highlight an important piece of work that I think every Canadian should read, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (2015)[i] by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Before reading this Report, I vaguely understood the atrocities committed by our Colonial Government against the Indigenous peoples of Canada. I knew an immense wrong had been committed but I wasn’t aware of the trauma that has been passed down generations or the systemic racism that persists today as a result of the residential school system.
These perspectives were largely absent from my public-school curriculum, and I can only imagine many of you are in the same boat. So, this article will outline the report’s contents and why you should read it.
What’s in the Report?
I’ll admit, the Report is long, 536 pages to be exact. But it covers a part of Canada’s history that has largely been absent from public school curricula. It recalls experiences from over 6,000 living residential school survivors or their family members and makes 94 Calls to Action (specific actions governments, the church, and individuals should take to reconcile the past).
Reconciliation is described as “an ongoing individual and collective process and will require commitment from all those affected including First Nations, Inuit, Metis, former Indian Residential School students, their families, communities, religious entities, former school employees, government and the people of Canada. Reconciliation may occur between any of the above groups”.
I don’t expect everyone to read every page of the report, but I hope that after reading this article most of you will agree that a wrong has been done and begin to reflect on how to address the Calls to Action.[ii]
#44. We call upon the Government of Canada to develop a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
#58. We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada. (Which was not done)
Lasting Trauma: The Residential School System
Residential schools were designed to eliminate Indigenous people as distinct groups and to integrate them into colonial culture. The Report includes public statements from residential school survivors and relatives speaking on their behalf reflecting on their experiences of fear and abuse.
The last residential school closed in the late 1990s, within many of our lifetimes. So, it should not be surprising that the trauma from these schools continues to affect the mental, financial, and spiritual well-being of these individuals and their families.
[i] Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: http://www.trc.ca/assets/pdf/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf
[ii] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action: http://trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
What does it Mean?
Sustainable development refers to growth “that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.[i] This is an important way of thinking about sustainable development because it places human well-being at its very centre. Yes, it implies a limit on consumption, but one that is imposed by nature’s ability to absorb and recuperate from human activities such as carbon emissions and industrial agriculture.
The concept of sustainable development does not solely focus on saving trees and reducing our carbon footprint to avoid the apocalyptic affects of climate change in the future (some of which is already being felt). It also gives equal importance to the impacts on current human well-being and the well-being of future generations.
An Inter-disciplinary Perspective
The best way to demonstrate the many, yet overlapping issues related to sustainable development is through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Created in 2015, the SDGs urge developing and developed countries to address issues such as ending poverty, hunger and social inequalities, protecting and restoring natural landscapes, oceans and wildlife populations, and creating communities that can withstand impacts of climate change, reduce consumption and provide decent work for all by 2030.
Ambition is Necessary
This may seem like a lot to accomplish in 15 years, but if you consider a broad lens on some of these issues you will start to see some overlap. Ending hunger, for example, can be addressed while simultaneously tackling poverty, health, inequality, clean water, decent work, and several other goals. Similarly, the issue of eliminating single-use plastics can address goals related to health, inequalities, clean water, sustainable cities, reduced consumption, protecting our oceans and landscapes, and climate action. Yes, there is a lot to cover but the SDGs do not compartmentalize such issues, rather they integrate solutions for a broader impact.
What can You Do?
Now, on a personal note, think about what goals you identify most with. I then challenge you to think more broadly and look for ways that issue relates to other goals.
For more information on the SDGs and what each goal entails, visit the SDG website, click on whichever goal interests you, and review the targets associated with it. What are ways that you can help achieve that goal in your community?
[i] Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future (1987).