onfederation has been described as a turning point for
the worse in the lives of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada. Indigenous rights established through Britain’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 and subsequent treaties
were not upheld, it’s been well-argued. There was a steep
decline in the vitality of Indigenous cultures and languages,
and in people’s well-being, particularly after the Indian Act
of 1876. The country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, looking into the legacy and abuses of the residential
school system for Indigenous children, wrote in its 2015 report that “national reconciliation is the most suitable framework to guide commemoration” of Canada’s 150th anniversary, calling it “an opportunity for Canadians to take stock
of the past, celebrating the country’s accomplishments without shirking
responsibility for its failures.” The following are reflections from six Indigenous scholars at Canadian universities on their vision for a “
Naiomi Metallic, assistant professor and holder of the Chancellor’s Chair in
Aboriginal Law and Policy, Dalhousie University. Mi’kmaq, from Listuguj
Mi’gmaq First Nation, Quebec.
The 150th anniversary does not have the same celebratory tone for us as
it would have for other Canadians. What we hope other Canadians would
reflect on, especially after the TRC report, is how we can move the discourse forward into concrete action. There is a lot to atone for. The status
quo cannot continue.
In a reconciled Canada there would be a renewal of our treaty relationship, a recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination,
and a renewed nation-to-nation relationship. Among other things, this
requires a legislative response in partnership with Indigenous people.
For far too long the government has done things by policy and that can
change with each government; legislation demands greater accountability. For example, recognition of the right to self-government in at least
core matters relating to the good government and welfare of Aboriginal
peoples could be legislated, such as child welfare, social development,
housing, language and culture, and other matters of an internal nature to
communities. That could act as a foundation for subsequent negotiation
around other issues where there are overlapping interests and jurisdictions between Indigenous and other governments, such as lands, water
Indigenous people and communities would be treated as respected
partners, rather than as stakeholders, often consulted after the fact. It
would involve the phasing out of the Indian Act according to the desires,
needs and capacities of the different Indigenous nations. This direction
would require emphasis on capacity-building within Indigenous communities, as well as resources dedicated to helping achieve the goal of
self-government. Universities could provide space, research and other
services to help communities vision where they want to go and how to
get there, and assist in the capacity-building that has to happen.
Self-determination does not mean that Indigenous people separate
from the Canadian polity; in a reconciled Canada it would be the opposite. There are many areas of overlapping interests and jurisdiction that
affect us all. To have a genuine partnership and nation-to-nation relationship, we must share space in the places of power in this country, like in
Parliament, the Senate, and on the judicial boards and tribunals – that’s
part of reconciliation too.
Shirley Williams/Migizi ow-kwe, elder and professor emeritus, Nishnaabemowin
language, Indigenous studies, Trent University. Odawa-Ojibway, from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, Manitoulin Island, Ontario.
Canada’s 150th is not a time of celebration for Anishinaabe people; this
period represents 150 years of oppression. What we can celebrate is my
people’s history of resistance, resilience, resurgence and restoration. Reconciliation means telling the truth about what happened to us. It means
that we have to rebuild, together, what was broken.
I attended St. Joseph’s Residential School in Spanish, Ontario, from
age 10 to 16. The government and the priest came to get me when I
was seven, but my father was able to keep me at home longer by telling
them he would teach me himself, including the catechism – but he did
not say in which language. This meant that my Nishinaabemowin language was instilled in my mind; I did not learn English until I went to
The greatest thing that Canada could do for reconciliation would be
to help us restore the languages and cultures that were destroyed. There
are still barriers to getting funding to design and publish Indigenous-lan-guage teaching materials that are attractive and appealing to students, the
same as is done for other languages. We also need to eliminate barriers
against First Nations students receiving language instruction at school,
such as requiring at least 15 students before offering a program or only
offering it during lunch. There should be programs for adults who have