A reflection on Hot Docs’ Curious Minds Panel curated by Tanya Talaga

2020 marks the 5th year anniversary of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. The TRC report is a compilation of testimonies from thousands of survivors affected by the Indian Residential School (IRS) system and is meant to inform Canadians about the reality of IRS. The report marks a major milestone in the fight for equity and justice for Canada’s Indigenous population. Given its significance, on March 8th, 2020, Hot Docs hosted a panel discussion aimed at taking a ‘reality check’ on what “reconciliation” with Indigenous peoples really means and what progress, if any, has been made since the report was published in December, 2015. The panel comprised of Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Max FineDay, a citizen of Sweetgrass First Nation and Co-Executive Director of Canadian Roots Exchange and Lee Maracle, a Sto:Loh nation, poet, author and educator at the University of Toronto. The conversation was moderated by Tanya Talaga, an Anishinaabe Canadian journalist and author. 

On average, the government has implemented 2.5 recommendations/year. At this rate of progress and assuming political will, it would still take about 40 years for all 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation commission to be implemented.

Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation

The event was inspiringly well-attended, despite it being a sunny Sunday afternoon. Discussion revolved around two main questions – what progress has been made since the release of the TRC report; and second, how can the Indigenous community heal and move forward. The evening started off with an emotive discussion around the first question. The panelists, overall, agreed that while some progress has been made, there is still a lot to be done.  The TRC report didn’t mobilize the government into action, the way rights’ advocates had hoped for, which has been disappointing. Specifically, extremely slow progress has been made by the government in implementing the recommendations of the report. On average, the government has implemented 2.5 recommendations/year. At this rate of progress and assuming political will, it would still take about 40 years for all 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation commission to be implemented. That said, the visibility of the challenges the Indigenous community faces has certainly increased over the last five years. Moreover, Canadians’, especially young Canadians’, understanding of these issues has also enhanced.

The panel then discussed ways to ‘heal’ from the historical and inter-generational trauma that has impacted Indigenous peoples. One of the key points discussed herein was that healing has to happen primarily within the community. Indigenous peoples historically and culturally have the tools required for the healing process and we need to, once again, rely on those. In this regard, working with Indigenous youth and empowering the next generation was stressed upon. As an observer to the panel discussion, the stories of injustice and abuse I heard were deeply disturbing. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of disenchantment at the lack of progress made towards implementing the recommendations of the TRC report and feel the frustration so visceral in the room. In many ways, I have gotten used to this feeling in the past few months as the long-simmering dispute over a natural gas pipeline in northern B.C. has grown into the biggest story in the country. The Wet’suwet’en protests and the RCMP’s heavy use of force against the protestors is symptomatic of a broken relationship between Indigenous peoples and the provincial and federal leaders who claim to care about their rights – something echoed during the panel discussion. The pipeline and the protests around it are ultimately about aboriginal right to self-determination. It is, like Grand Chief Fiddler aptly described, about being treated as equal Treaty partners (Treaty 9). Ultimately, when it comes to Indigenous rights, the federal government’s inability to back up its words with actions is evident in the way it has dealt with the Wet’suwet’en protests and the TRC recommendations. Max FineDay summed it up beautifully when he said that the word “reconciliation” was a gift 5 years ago. It was a way in which Indigenous communities reached out their hand to make peace and move forward, hoping Canada would reach back. But we haven’t gotten there yet.

By: Teslin Augustine, 2020 Graduate Intern, University of Erfurt

Teslin is pursuing her Master’s in Public Policy at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, University of Erfurt in Germany. She holds a dual Bachelors degree in Arts and Law (B.A., LL.B. (Hons)) from the National University of Juridical Sciences, India. Teslin is a lawyer licensed to practice in India and has over 6 years of professional experience. She has worked as a Legislative Assistant to a senior Member of the Indian Parliament and has, as a Public Affairs Consultant, advised several Fortune 500 companies on advocacy strategy and government relations. At the Willy Brandt School, Teslin is the sole Indian awardee of the DAAD Helmut Schmidt (Public Policy & Good Governance) Scholarship 2018-2020. She is also the Research Assistant to Prof. Patrick Mello, who is a known expert in conflict and international relations. She assists him with his research on the effectiveness of UN sanctions as well as humanitarian aid disbursement. Teslin is passionate about climate change and racial justice. Outside of work, she enjoys hiking and live music.