Truth and Reconciliation Efforts Take a Step Back in Canada, Still Haven’t Started in the U.S.

Much has been written about Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation efforts with First Nations Peoples. But this work requires long-term commitment and the latest news from Ontario is about backsliding and what appear to be bureaucratic and euphemistic explanations for cuts.

At the last minute, the Ontario Ministry of Education cancelled a project to upgrade school curriculum around the devastating impact of Canada’s residential schools (what are referred to in the United States as Indian Boarding Schools). According to a July 9 story in the CBC.

The previous government of Kathleen Wynne committed in 2016 to update course content at the elementary and secondary levels — including social studies, history, geography and civics — to teach all students about the legacy of residential schools.

Indigenous educators and elders were to travel to Toronto to participate in the curriculum revision project over the next two weeks, but team members received emails on Friday afternoon telling them the plan was cancelled.

Image from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The coded explanation: “efficiency.” Education Minister Lisa Thompson’s office released a statement about the cut, saying “all ministries will seek to carry out initiatives in the most cost-effective way possible.” The statement raised more questions than answers. It did not say how much money the government was saving by cutting this program, the CBC said. The Education Ministry pledged to continue the work but gave no specifics. Lacking more specifics, this has all the appearances of a politically motivated cut

While this news story raises concerns about Ontario’s commitment to this work, the United States has failed to even start a conversation around boarding schools and the larger issues of Truth and Reconciliation with indigenous people.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada completed its work in 2015. According to its website: “the journey of Truth and Reconciliation is far from over.” Its responsibilities now lie with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The Centre’s home page includes a list all former Canadian Residential Schools. For instance, in Ontario alone there was: Bishop Horden Hall (Moose Factory), Cecilia Jeffrey (Shoal Lake), Chapleau (St. John’s), Cristal Lake High School, Fort Frances (Coochiching), Fort William (St. Joseph’s), McIntosh (Kenora), Mohawk Institute (Mechanic’s Institute), Mount Elgin (Muncey), Pelican Lake (Pelican Falls), Poplar Hill, Shingwauk (Wawanosh) Spanish Boys School (St. Peter Claver), Spanish Girls School (St. Anne’s), St. Anne’s (Fort Albany), St. Mary’s (St. Anthony’s), Stirland Lake High School (Wahbon Bay Academy), Wawanosh Home, Dryden Hearing, Fort Albany Hearing, Manitoulin Island Hearing, Thunder Bay Hearing

The Centre’s website has the following referral: “A National Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to former students. This 24-Hour Crisis Line can be accessed at: 1-866-925-4419.”

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