Remembering the Children Society members are not impressed with the federal government’s lack of commitment to the 94 recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report related to residential schools.
After six emotional years of hearings and testimony from survivors of the church-run and government-funded institutions, the exhaustive report was tabled on Tuesday.
In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that his government has already moved on from addressing aboriginal concerns after the government of Canada issued a historic apology in 2008.
Remembering the Children Society president Charles Wood, of Saddle Cree Nation, said judging by the government’s immediate reaction, he feels more pessimistic than optimistic that there will be action.
Wood said the government does not have a great track record dealing with First Nations issues.
He pointed to the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples’ recommendations that were never fully implemented.
“All those recommendations and the money spent and where did it end up?” said Wood. “I am hoping such will not be the case this time around.”
At least 6,000 aboriginal children died in residential schools over 120 years. An estimated 150,000 children went through the residential school system in Canada, of which there are some 80,000 survivors.
About 350 children attended the Red Deer Industrial School across the river from Fort Normandeau between 1893 and 1919. It was one of 130 schools operated over the years. The last school closed in 1996.
Lyle Keewatin Richards, a Red Deer social advocate and founding member of the Remembering the Children Society, echoed Wood’s sentiments on the government.
Keewatin Richards said he was not happy to see Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, sit during a standing ovation of the commission’s presentation on Tuesday.
“That’s just another insult,” he said. “It just makes a mockery of the apology. The prime minister wasn’t there for the presentation and his minister wouldn’t do anything to acknowledge the standing ovation. I am not very optimistic either that this government will follow through on many or any of the recommendations.”
The recommendations range include: reducing the number of aboriginal children in foster care, improving child and social welfare, launching an inquiry into the missing and murdered women, and restrictions on the use of conditional and mandatory minimum sentences for aboriginals in court.
“Learning about the true history of this country and not colour because we owe that to all the young people, not just the indigenous people,” said Wood about the commission’s conclusions. “We owe them that. It is our responsibility to teach them the truth.”
Wood reiterated that reconciliation is a Canadian problem, not simply an aboriginal problem.
“No longer should it be acceptable that one segment of the society decide what is good for another segment of society,” he said. “It has to be done in partnership.”
Keewatin Richards said more action is needed. He said the recommendation to improve education funding for aboriginals is good news but he hopes the proposal is put into action.
“Now we need to put it on the ground,” he said. “That’s making sure aboriginal students have supports in their schools to help them be successful. It has to happen on the local level to make it real.”
The City of Red Deer proclaimed June 11, 2014, Remembering the Children Day. Another commemorative event will be held at the Alternate School Centre on June 9 and a children-focused event will take place at Fort Normandeau on June 11.