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An election resource from the Centre for Public Ethics at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.

Right Relations with Indigenous Peoples

The people of Ontario go to the polls on June 7, 2018, to choose their next provincial government. The Centre for Public Ethics has prepared these bulletins to help members of faith communities discuss issues and deliberate on their electoral choices.

Mutual Respect and Reconciliation

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, there are more than 300,000 Indigenous Ontarians.1 Nine in 10 non-Indigenous Canadians (often referred to as settlers) have come to understand Canada’s “indigenous history and culture as very (55%) or somewhat (37%) important characteristics of Canada’s
identity as a country.”2

The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) provided a summary of what David Newhouse has described as the “long assault” and the effects of colonization on Indigenous peoples in Canada – and offered a path forward.3 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has documented the “cultural genocide” resulting from Canada’s residential schools. The TRC recognized that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) provides a framework for the process of reconciliation in Canada.4 Results from a 2017 poll suggest that 53% of Canadians support implementing the UNDRIP.5

Canadian churches, some of which ran residential schools, and other faith groups have supported, encouraged and participated in the RCAP and TRC processes. Canadians have come to understand the pain, suffering and consequences of these policies of colonization, assimilation and genocide. A 2016 Environics poll suggests that 66% of Canadians have "read about residential schools" and 73% believe that challenges facing Indigenous peoples are the “result of residential school experience.”6 The TRC has proposed 94 recommendations, dubbed “Calls for Action,” be adopted by all levels of government, institutions, businesses, communities and individuals as a path toward building respect and reconciliation.7 Under the TRC recommendations, churches were charged with very concrete responsibilities for reconciliation.

The process of reconciliation and building mutual respect will face challenges. Treaties have formed the basis of Canada’s partnership with First Nations, but many of these treaties are not being honoured. That remains an obstacle to reconciliation. While this is largely a federal responsibility, provincial governments have an important responsibility in honouring Indigenous rights including land rights. Governments need to address poverty, housing and access to clean water. There is a need for $64 million to redress the shortfall in mental health services in Ontario (Jordan's Principle). And disparities in education funding for First Nation's children must be addressed, too (Shannen's Dream). 8

Ontario has a role to play in honouring these treaty relationships.

Many non-Indigenous Canadians reported that they have very little contact with Indigenous peoples. In a 2017 poll, only 43% of respondents reported “having read, seen or heard anything recently concerning Indigenous peoples." For those who had, it was largely about missing and murdered Indigenous women (34%).9 While Canadians are supportive of a better relationship, more bridges need to be built for mutually respectful and beneficial relationships to flourish.

"Substantially more" Canadians disapprove, as opposed to approve, of the job being done by their provincial governments with regard to managing Indigenous issues.10 Education will play an important role in raising public awareness and in helping to reconstruct our historical narratives that respectfully recognize the contribution of Indigenous peoples.

Canadian churches, while complicit, have also been committed to reconciliation. Since 1996, the church coalition KAIROS Canada has helped literally thousands of Canadians “unlearn the history” of this country through the interactive Blanket Exercise Workshop.11

Universities and schools will need to include Indigenous perspectives and knowledge in their curriculum and programs. KAIROS Canada has organized the Winds of Change campaign to call upon
“the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal Peoples, and educators, to make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students,” (TRC's Call to Action 62.1). Kairos noted in 2016 that the Ontario government said it was developing a plan "to ensure that the impact of residential schools, the history of colonization, and the importance of treaties is incorporated into mandatory learning expectations in Ontario’s public education system curriculum.”12

Right relations impacts more than Indigenous peoples. When asked in a 2017 poll, 25% of respondents said they had experienced racism.13 According to the same poll, 48% indicated Canada has a racism problem.14 When asked who the targets of racism were, 59% thought the likely targets were Muslims, 28% thought Indigenous people were victims, and 23% thought black people or East Indians were targeted. Somewhat paradoxically, a Leger Marketing poll found "Canadians expressed more positive views about indigenous peoples, Muslims and Jews in 2017 that in 2013" and that "relations have improved" with Indigenous and Muslim communities.15 So while Canadians are increasingly more comfortable with diversity, there remains a gap between the general acceptance of diversity and the racialization of the lived reality of Indigenous peoples and visible minorities, many of whom experience stereotyping and exclusion through racial profiling by police, businesses, and some segments of the general public.

Questions for Your Candidate

  • Do you support the implementation in Canada and Ontario of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada?
  • What policies would you put in place to build mutual respect, and support reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Ontario and Canada? Will you work to have Ontario honour the treaty obligations to First Nations?
  • What changes would you make to education and post-secondary education in Ontario to ensure a greater awareness and understanding of Indigenous history, knowledge and culture?
  • Ontario adopted and Anti-Racism Act in 2017 and established the Anti-Racism Directorate to address issues of racism. What needs to be done to close this racialization gap between what many people experience and Ontarian's aspirations for welcoming diversity and achieving inclusion?

Kairos Canada

For more information, check out KAIROS.

Many churches and faith groups in Ontario support KAIROS Canada. The faith-based coalition has resources available for working for a right relationship with Indigenous peoples.

KAIROS is a national organization that unites churches and religious organizations in faithful ecumenical response to the call “to do justice, and love kindness and walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8). It works on a wide range of concerns — notably Indigenous issues.

A Prayer for Ontario

For creation where many long for the good earth, clean water, and a clear sky,
For food where many are hungry,
For a home where many are homeless,
For a livelihood where many still can't find work,
For neighbours and friends where many are lonely,
For enough for all where some have too much,
We pray for wisdom to discern justice, to work for peace and to sustain God’s gift of creation.

For leaders offering to lead this province,
For Kathleen Wynne (Liberal), Vic Fedeli (Interim-PC), Andrea Horwath (NDP), Mike Schreiner (Green Party),
For all willing to stand as candidates in their ridings
Especially we remember... (Insert name of candidates in your riding),
For all the families of candidates and for those who work to support them,
We give thanks and pray they may be guided by wisdom, compassion, civility and a commitment to the good of all, especially the most vulnerable among us.

Endnotes

1 Government of Ontario, “Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation,” Text, Ontario.ca, Feb. 5, 2016.

2Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action” (Winnipeg, Manitoba, 2015).

3 David Newhouse, “Indigenous Peoples, Canada and the Possibility of Reconciliation,” IRPP, Nov. 17, 2016.

4The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” 61/295 § (2007).

5New Poll on Indigenous Issues Shows Lack of Engagement and Dissatisfaction with Governments – Innovative Research Group,” June 20, 2017.

6Canadian Public Opinion on Aboriginal Peoples” (The Environics Institute, June 8, 2016).

7Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action” (Winnipeg, Manitoba, 2015).

8Jordan’s Principle,” The Caring Society, accessed Feb. 5, 2018. “Shannen’s Dream for Safe and Comfy Schools,” The Caring Society, accessed Feb. 5, 2018.

9New Poll on Indigenous Issues Shows Lack of Engagement and Dissatisfaction with Governments – Innovative Research Group,” June 20, 2017.

10 Ibid.

11Blanket Exercise Workshop,” KAIROS Canada, accessed Jan. 22, 2018.

12Winds of Change: Read the Report Card,” KAIROS Canada, accessed Jan. 16, 2018.

13Canada Is 150 and Still Needs to Face Its Racism Problem: Advocates – National,” Globalnews.ca, June 29, 2017.

14 Ibid.

15 Andrew Duffy et al., “Canadians Increasingly Comfortable with Diversity: Survey,” Ottawa Citizen (blog), May 20, 2017.

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