Building a Reconciliation Nation

  • National Newswatch

Almost a year ago, a cover article in Maclean's singled out Winnipeg as Canada's most racist city. It looked at the troubling relationship between settlers — everyone from the earliest European arrivals onward — and the city's Indigenous residents. The message touched a nerve, and prompted Mayor Bowman and local leaders to take action.We know, thanks in large part to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), that the problems in Winnipeg are national and historic in scope. But it is Winnipeg that is again in the spotlight this week, as the city hosts several events that offer a hopeful glimpse of Canada's possible post-TRC future. Two that we'd like to highlight here are the conference of The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (The Circle) on the theme of “innovation emerging from tradition,” and the Indigenous Innovation Summit, founded by a partnership between our two organizations, the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) — a national network providing direct services to urban Indigenous people — and the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation, a national private foundation that supports social innovation. The Summit includes a special event at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights called Reconciliation as Innovation, honouring TRC Commissioner Justice Murray Sinclair.The broader involvement of Canada's community sector in Indigenous issues is long overdue. Apart from the mention of churches, you have to look closely at the TRC's final 94 Calls to Action to find any reference to the community sector, and even then it's an oblique one.We call upon the federal government to establish multiyear funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation, and establish a national network to share information and best practices.With few exceptions — the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (now Indspire) and the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative come to mind — the history of community sector engagement in Indigenous issues is all too short. For decades, the sector regarded these matters as governments' responsibility, and was mostly oblivious to its complicity in perpetuating exclusion and ignorance.Addressing this gap was the primary reason that The Circle was established in 2012. More recently, other organizations have emerged — including Canadians for a New Partnership, Reconciliation Canada, and Dechinta — innovative efforts to forge collaborative relationships based on recognition, respect and a shared commitment to a Canada that is inclusive of Indigenous voices and values. Along with networks like Idle No More, these organizations were co-founded and co-led by Indigenous people.The commitment to reconciliation is spreading. We Days now includes an Indigenous program component and youth presence at their events. Along with several other national Indigenous and youth-serving organizations, YMCA Canada and the Assembly of First Nations have launched the 4R's youth initiative. And at the TRC's closing event last June, Community Foundations of Canada and Philanthropic Foundations Canada issued a Declaration of Action, committing to engage in and demonstrate leadership in reconciliation.One of the most important undertakings of the community sector is to support collective efforts to raise a reconciliation generation. This means bridging the gap in understanding between Indigenous people and settlers.Confronting the dark corners of Canada's history is discomforting, but the work ahead of us is not simply about remembering past abuses. Renewing a relationship can be exciting and joyful. The current moment is auspicious for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people alike. Indigenous peoples have always been innovative, and by the sharing of their ideas and energy, we're confident we'll find new solutions to old challenges.Reconciliation is not an Indigenous issue. It's a national issue. As we reflect on the progress that Canada has made since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, we're convinced that the future of this country is Indigenous, and all of us will be the richer for it.Jeff Cyr is Executive Director at National Association of Friendship Centres. Stephen Huddart is President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.