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Getting reconciliation right

“We have lost a generation since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and we must be determined not to lose this one.”

That was the overarching theme of Sharing the Land, Sharing a Future, a national forum marking the 20th anniversary of the RCAP final report. Organizers of the event – held last November in Winnipeg – have released a report summarizing the forum.

[RCAP conference]
Marlene Brant Castellano offers her comments during a tribute to the commissioners who served on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Organizers of Sharing the Land, Sharing a Future recently published a report summarizing the national forum on reconciliation, which was held last year in Winnipeg. (File photo by Ariel Root)

“By the end of the forum, there was a sense of excitement and a deeper understanding of how to move forward with reconciliation, achieving good relations between peoples,” says Marlene Brant Castellano, one of the forum organizers who served as co-director of research for RCAP. “The report contains tools that people can use to make a difference. It serves to remind people that the forum was more than just an event; it is part of an ongoing movement.”

The forum was organized in partnership between Queen’s School of Policy Studies and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, University of Manitoba. It included a mix of keynote addresses, panels, honouring ceremonies and breakout sessions. Several high-profile speakers participated including The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Perry Bellegarde, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, RCAP Co-Chair René Dussault, and Mark Dockstator, President, First Nations University of Canada.

Reflecting on lessons learned

RCAP issued a five-volume, 4,000-page report in 1996 that outlined a 20-year agenda for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. However, most of the 440 recommendations were not implemented. Many of those recommendations are mirrored in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report that was released in 2015.

As the 20th anniversary of RCAP neared, a group of volunteers including RCAP alumni, representatives from national Indigenous and civil society organizations, and academics gathered at Queen’s. They discussed ways to link together the RCAP anniversary and the work of the TRC in order to influence leaders and decision-makers.

“When we first met in July 2015, we asked the question: What can we do to ensure the response to the TRC doesn’t spin out and disappear from public awareness as happened with RCAP?” says Ms. Brant Castellano, Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Council at Queen’s University. “With this forum, we wanted to influence governments at all levels. We also wanted to show people of goodwill that we are not starting from a standstill when it comes to following through on the TRC. There is a whole history and momentum to build on.”

Tangible outcomes

At the conference, Library and Archives Canada announced the launch of an online RCAP database. Included in the material are RCAP final and special reports in both English and French, consultations, and roundtables, research studies and submissions from non-governmental organizations, as well as transcripts of more than 175 days of public hearings. The searchable database is available on the LAC’s website.

Edited videos of the plenary sessions at the national forum will be transferred to the website for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Organizers are also preparing an edited book and e-book that will include the academic papers presented at the forum.

Visit the Sharing the Land, Sharing a Future website for more information and to read the final report.