Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 471, 12 January 2022

Canada: Compensation and reconciliation with the indigenous communities
Sarasi Ganguly

In the news
On 4 January, the Canadian government announced a settlement of USD 31.5 billion as compensation to the indigenous communities. Referred to as a landmark settlement, it was finalized at the end of multiple lawsuits filed by the First Nations activists and groups against the Canadian government. The case was brought to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2007 by the country's largest Indigenous group, "Assembly of First Nations." Indigenous leaders and advocates have welcomed the settlement. Saskatchewan First Nations social worker Raymond Shingoose stated: "I'm optimistic, but I've got apprehensions."
 
Issues at large
First, a brief hisory of the issue. The Indian Residential Schools were a major tool in the assimilation attempts of the colonial rulers who settled in the different provinces of Canada. Between the mid-1800s to 1900s, children from indigenous communities were forcibly taken away and separated from their families to live in boarding schools. If there was any resistance from the families, they were often punished with prison time and threats of losing their other children. The First Nations Children, Inuits and Métis were the main groups who had suffered the tragic fate of residential schools and their attempt to "westernize" their society. In 2021, researchers found 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. This was followed by a discovery of 751 graves in June at the cemetery of the Marieval Indian Residential School in the Saskatchewan province. Records of various eyewitness accounts were followed by using ground-penetrating radar (GPR), which tracked down graves of children aged seven to fifteen. The graves of children are evidence of the mismanagement of those schools where children were subject to diseases, starvation and physical and mental abuse.

Second, the idea and strategies of "assimilation." Students were not allowed to speak in their native tongue. They wore western uniforms and were trained to lead a 'better' life. Today, the survivors recall their experiences as a "cultural genocide," saying there was a deliberate attempt to cut them off from their roots. 

Third, the measures by the Canadian state to address the mistakes of the past. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was launched in 2008, as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). The aim of this commission was to act as the buffer organization between the state and all indigenous communities who were directly and indirectly affected by the residential school system. TRC spent six years all across Canada to record stories of more than 6,500 witnesses. This was combined with official records to present a final report for the reconciliation process of all communities in the country.
 
In perspective
First, the allocation of the settlement amount has made the childcare system of indigenous children its top priority. Equal amounts (USD 15.75 billion) are set to be spent in improving the child and family welfare of indigenous children in foster care, which assures equality in a faulty system that had been called inherently discriminatory.

Second, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is an indication of the state accepting blame for the tragic history and their willingness to right the wrong, even if it is late. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted Canada's role in the past and vowed to rebuild Canada's relationship with all the people who suffered and honor their legacy for generations to come.

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