Today is the 4th anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s historic residential schools apology. Unfortunately, the promise of a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians that existed on the day of the apology has been squandered. National Chief Sean Atleo said that we are at a real moment of reckoning on the 4th anniversary of the apology.
The Conservatives have decided to pursue an agenda rooted in conflict rather than cooperation, unilateralism rather than collaboration and have failed to engage with Aboriginal Canadians in the spirit that 2008 apology demands. Despite the Prime Minister’s rhetoric at the recent Crown-First Nations Gathering about resetting the relationship, the Conservative government has refused to work with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to take the next steps indicated in the apology.
In the face of lagging Aboriginal educational outcomes, the Conservatives are doing nothing to address the growing $2000-$3000 per student annual funding gap between students on reserve and those in provincial schools. Ottawa school children marked the fourth anniversary of the apology with a rally for education equality for First Nations here on Parliament Hill.
With First Nations suicide rates five times the national average and Inuit suicide rates 11 times higher, the Conservatives are cutting the Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy. Even though Aboriginal Canadians are much more likely to suffer from diabetes, have significantly higher infant mortality rates and significantly lower life expectancies, the Conservatives are cutting Aboriginal health programs. They have cut the National Aboriginal Health Organization, the Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative, the Aboriginal Health Human Resources Initiative, and the Aboriginal Health Transition Fund.
The Assembly of First Nations, and the government’s own comprehensive survey, have identified the need for between $5.7 billion and $6.6 billion of additional federal investment to address the on-reserve water and sanitation crisis. Unfortunately the Conservatives have failed to make any real progress toward the right of every First Nations community to clean safe running water.
Despite overcrowding rates on reserves six times those of off-reserve and more than 40% of on-reserve homes in need of major repairs, the Conservatives have no plan to deal with a crisis in First Nations housing.
The apology means nothing if Canadians do not understand why the apology was necessary and the devastating multi-generational impacts that colonization, and specifically the residential school system, have had on Aboriginal peoples.
Implementation of the Indian residential schools settlement agreement began on September 19, 2007 and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has begun its work to learn the truth about what happened in the schools and to inform all Canadians.
But the Interim Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was released, all too quietly, on February 24, 2012, a Friday in a week that Parliament wasn’t sitting. The report was elegant and direct. The Commission will need adequate funding to do its work properly and its timeline extended. There must be adequate funding for healing, including restoring the funding for the highly successful Aboriginal Healing Foundation. This was the reason for an interim report – an open plea for help.
Despite the optimism that surrounded the apology four years ago, this government is turning its back on First Nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians and the Canadian values of compassion and fairness.
It is so sad. We must do better. The Truth and Reconciliation must happen. Stephen Harper spoke the important words of the apology in 2008, but has failed to live up to the real action that was to follow. He should be ashamed.