No Reconciliation without Justice

What will come of the massive report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the cultural genocide inflicted by the Canadian federal government on indigenous peoples? Will its 94 specific recommendations bear any fruit?

The TRC deserves praise for raising awareness of the horrendous suffering of the 150,000 indigenous children who were torn from their communities between 1883 and 1996 and placed in residential schools. As many as 6,000 of them died of malnutrition, tuberculosis, influenza and other diseases. Thousands were buried, forgotten, in unmarked graves. The survivors had to live with the painful memories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse that was rampant in the federally-funded, church-run schools.

In 2008 then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the “great harm” caused by Ottawa’s racist campaign “to take the Indian out of the child”, suppressing native languages, culture and identity.

The TRC justly demands much more than an official apology. Its call for “mutual respect” is embodied in the idea of a nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and 1.4 million indigenous peoples. That means honouring native land rights, and providing funding for health, housing and education. Fulfilment of those goals, not as an act of charity, but on a foundation of indigenous self-government, faces sharp resistance from the Canadian establishment. Not only from pipeline companies, energy resource industries and mining firms, staunch resistance will come from the ruling rich as a class, and from the state that guards their interests.

Mass protest actions of the kind initiated by Idle No More put the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women onto the political agenda. Many more such actions, in partnership with labour unions, social justice and environmental movements, will be required. In fact, the re-distribution of wealth and power necessary to end the present colonial arrangement entails nothing less than a revolution to abolish monopoly business control of the economy.