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Non-Indigenous education key to reconciliation: commissioner

‘We will encounter racism at a significant level.’
Former chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and former senator Murray Sinclair: “The forced urbanization of Indigenous people into urban areas was not of their choosing.”

Educating non-Indigenous people about First Nations will assist heavily in the process of reconciliation with Indigenous people, the former chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said Sept. 14.

Former senator Murray Sinclair said just as Indigenous children were taught they were uncivilized, violent heathens in both residential and public schools, so too were non-Indigenous children taught about the former group.

That, he said, has fostered racism and a belief in large sectors of the population toward Indigenous people that “almost blames them for their own fate.”

Sinclair said the idea that Europeans were saving Indigenous people during the colonial era if not beyond was used to justify removal of lands and resignation of territory into provinces or municipal districts without consultation.

And, Sinclair said, after the Second World War, there was “almost forced relocation” of Indigenous populations.

That was not only done through the taking of children to residential schools but also through the lack of provision of resources for infrastructure and schools to Indigenous communities.

That lack of resources led to the move of Indigenous people to urban areas, he said. Now, he said, 62% of First Nations people live in urban areas.

“That surprises a lot of people in Canada,” he said.

“What we see in fact, is an undermining of Indigenous communities and the resulting impoverishment of Indigenous communities,” Sinclair said.

“The forced urbanization of Indigenous people into urban areas was not of their choosing,” he added.

Moreover, Sinclair said, even today, the lack of high schools in Indigenous communities to provide a proper education can mean people do not get what they need to access post-secondary education.

Sinclair said municipal leaders have a role to play in leading people to the reconciliation process through education.

“We need to think about what it is we can do to change the thinking of the non-Indigenous people,” Sinclair said. “We will encounter racism at a significant level.

“The key to reconciliation is the education system.”

Moreover, said former Vancouver city councillor and strategic consultant Andrea Reimer, “Learning is as much about unlearning and that is where we need to start.

“I’d say go read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.”

Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin said relationships between Indigenous peoples and all levels of government are of increasing importance.

He said if people could learn from each other about decision-making processes and mutual issues, reconciliation can move forward.

John Jack, Huu-ay-aht First Nations councillor and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chair, said the path each Nation takes on its path toward reconciliation goals would be different.

Economic and business reconciliation will assist each of those nations achieve those goals, he said.

“First Nations are becoming the societies that they want to be,” he said. “First Nations know largely what they need to do to help the lives of people better. 

“You have to trust them to manage their resources even if you don’t think it’s the right way to do it.”

Further, he said, accountability measures built into First Nations plans need to be respected.

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