A study by a group gauging progress on reconciliation suggests non-Indigenous Canadians have developed a deeper understanding of the harms that were done by residential schools.
But it also found there is still a gap in grasping the effects on Indigenous people today.
About one-third of the study’s non-Indigenous participants said they had never heard of residential schools.
The Canadian Reconciliation Barometer is a project developed by researchers and academics in Manitoba and British Columbia to better understand what reconciliation means to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and ways to track reconciliation efforts across the country.
The group released its first report Tuesday, which includes online surveys from more than 3,200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people taken last year.
It found both groups of respondents believed they have a good understanding of Indigenous peoples’ past and present experiences, but there was a knowledge gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in that understanding.
“People tend to say that they have a good understanding of the harms that residential schools caused, the ongoing harms in the current day, government harms and just kind of a good understanding of Indigenous peoples’ current and past realities,” said Iloradanon Efimoff, a PhD candidate at the University of Manitoba and a student collaborator with the project.
Researchers said the finding implies there need to be ongoing investments in education about residential schools, and Indigenous peoples’ experiences in Canada more broadly.
The team developed the survey by examining statements and testimonies made during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, conducting focus groups and interviews with reconciliation leaders across Canada, and connecting with groups around the world that have developed measures of reconciliation.
This resulted in a survey that included 13 indicators of reconciliation.
The study showed that most agreed that reconciliation is important, but it also found that more work needs to be done to help non-Indigenous people recognize issues important to the Indigenous community.
“I think the report is helpful because it shows some progress and I think it’s important for people to see and acknowledge some progress but it’s also important to see we have a long ways to go,” said Brenda Gunn, academic and research director at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
“It highlights what areas we need to continue to work on education … provides useful information on where education is needed.”
The horrors of what some students faced at residential schools were thrust into the spotlight last spring with the discovery of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, and later other former residential school sites.
Because most of the data were collected before those discoveries, the team expects they could see different polling results in the future.
Katherine Starzyk, a University of Manitoba associate psychology professor and the project’s principal investigator, also expects a change in perceptions as younger generations educate older ones.
“I think that you would expect that over time if this continued education occurs and maybe becomes even deeper that you will find that, as people get older, success of generations will have a better understanding of things,” she said.
Researchers said participants expressed concerns about how Indigenous people are treated within the justice and child welfare systems.
The two groups also agreed Indigenous people are not represented as leaders and decision-makers in key sectors.
Overall, Indigenous respondents perceived less or no progress for seven of the 13 topics, including systemic equality and nation-to-nation relationships.
The group hopes to continue annual national polling to track progress over time and to help inform different policies and approaches to work toward reconciliation, said Efimoff.