Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action: Learnings

Published on by David VanDusen.

Tomorrow, September 30, is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. There are online presentations all week, which so far have been invaluable for me. I have been seeking to better understand my role as a descendent of colonial settlers, and how colonialism is continuing today.

When I was in grade school in British Columbia, there was a meagre amount of content on Indigenous peoples, and what little there was was given from the English colonial perspective. Over the intervening years, thankfully, it has become easier to self-educate. Through my efforts to self-educate, my understanding of what progress has been made in the reconciliation process has improved.

I started with the question, “What can I do to expose the truth about the injustices carried out against Indigenous peoples of Canada and reconcile the relationships that those injustices have injured?” One of the most direct answers to this is in Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.

Among the 94 calls to action are numerous references to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is notable because the Calls to Action were published in 2012, five years after the Declaration, when Canada was one of the four countries who voted against adopting it in 2007. In 2016, Canada finally endorsed the Declaration, following the 2015 commitment to implement the 94 calls to action. Then, just recently in 2021, bill C-15 passed into law the Canadian government’s intention to carry out the commitments made by the Declaration.

There were several issues and concepts raised in the Calls to Action that I did not have awareness of before reading them. These include Jordan’s Principle, my understanding of which is that it is a legal obligation to provide First Nations children with the support they need in a timely fashion without discrimination. That is, funding disputes between levels of government would not delay or impede a child’s ability to receive care, which was an issue that led to the suffering and death of children across Canada.

Another issue that I was not sufficiently informed on was the conflict surrounding section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada—the “Spanking Law”. This law is used to defend physically harming children in a teacher-student relationship. Knowing the extent of the abuse that children suffered in the ‘Canadian Indian residential school system’, for a long time it has been proposed to repeal this law. However, the law has been defended in all calls to repeal it so far, though the reasoning behind those defenses remain incomprehensible to me.

Another topic that comes up in the Calls to Action that defies modern reasoning is the Doctrine of Discovery, or terra nullius: the idea that lands and resources belong to its conquerors. A good rundown of modern viewpoints on this are in these meeting notes from the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues: “‘Doctrine of Discovery’, Used for Centuries to Justify Seizure of Indigenous Land, Subjugate Peoples, Must Be Repudiated by United Nations.” The Calls to Action call on governmental and religious organizations to consider how they have used these concepts to justify sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands and to reform their stances and laws based on a modern understanding of the world.

The Calls to Action have been a gateway for me to improve my understanding of the struggles of the Indigenous peoples of Canada for self-determination. My efforts to be better informed continue with a desire to make choices that result in the improvement in all lives, especially the lives of those who were affected by the ignorant actions of colonialism. I hope that a reader of this post would take the time to read the linked documents and allow that knowledge to inform their own choices.