Upholding Indigenous Reconciliation at the Ballot Box

3 minute read

The NDP and Conservatives have already released their election platforms, while the Liberal platform is expected as early as today. This may have contributed to the slow start for the Liberals, with Trudeau’s campaign stops only recently starting to promote new commitments. Some of the proposals being pitched to Canadians are intended to support Indigenous reconciliation. On May 27th, in the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation near Kamloops, there was the shocking discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children. This initiated several other searches, leading to the finding of over 1,500 childrens’ bodies at the sites of former residential schools across the country. This has rightly sparked a national reckoning over Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people. There have also been renewed calls for reparations from governments and religious institutions.

The emotional impact of these tragedies led to increased focus on the incumbent government’s record and all parties’ commitment to reconciliation. Each party leader has made commitments to reconciliation on the campaign trail. Last week, Erin O’Toole promised progress on all of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). He pledged to fund investigations at all former residential school sites where unmarked graves may exist, including those that have already been discovered. The Conservatives also specifically committed to developing a comprehensive plan to implement TRC Calls to Action 71 through 76. When asked about the commissions’ other federal recommendations, O’Toole said he would partner with Indigenous leaders to establish priorities based on their needs – rather than those determined by the Conservative party.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh promised to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the TRC’s Calls to Action. Singh said an NDP government would commit to working directly with Indigenous peoples to co-develop a National Action Plan for Reconciliation. Through legislation, the NDP would establish a National Council for Reconciliation to provide oversight and accountability for this process. It would report regularly to both Parliament and Canadians. ‘We can’t look away,” Singh said. “We can’t look away from these kids. We can’t look away from this trauma. We have a responsibility to fight for justice.’” Singh also criticized Trudeau’s lack of leadership on these issues over the past six years as prime minister. Specifically, Singh pointed to the failure to  eliminate all drinking-water advisories for First Nations and to hold perpetrators responsible for their crimes at residential schools, as the Liberals promised to do in past campaigns. If they become government on September 20th, the NDP pledged to appoint a special prosecutor on residential schools and demand the release of all residential school records from governments and churches.

On Monday, the Liberals unveiled a plan to spend $2 billion over four years on housing for First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities. Before the campaign started, the Trudeau government also announced $321-million in additional support for Indigenous-led initiatives. This was intended to focus on survivors and to help Indigenous communities heal from the continuing impact of residential schools. Out of this funding, $83-million would supplement spending for community-led processes to research and locate burial sites, as well as commemorating the children who died at residential schools. The government said this money was in addition to $27.1-million that was committed in the 2019 budget. On the campaign trail, Trudeau added that the government is trying to “seek accountability in every possible way” – and the Justice Minister had been engaged with stakeholders to make sure the federal government is doing everything necessary.

Trudeau, O’Toole and Singh have each acknowledged Indigenous reconciliation as a major issue that needs to be faced head-on. In this election, however, promises will not be enough. Indigenous peoples and organizations are urging voters to carefully consider each party’s actions when going to the ballot box on September 20th. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, said the federal election is an opportunity for Canadians to act on “their growing outrage about the past and ongoing injustices facing Indigenous communities.” She went on to say “so far the government has counted on the Canadian public not caring or not caring enough – that allowed them to perpetrate these injustices.” For a growing number of Canadians, particularly younger voters, the authenticity and substance of these commitments could sway their decision on voting day.

Missed this week’s Campaign Spotlight?

We’ve got you covered.

Election-related articles we think you’ll like

Subscribe to our mailing list.