September 30, 2021 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, fulfilling one of many recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the “TRC”). It is an important milestone in Canada’s ongoing reckoning with our nation’s colonial past. As stated by The Honourable Murray Sinclair, Chair of the TRC, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is designed “to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
The Canadian Hispanic Bar Association (the “CHBA”) acknowledges the importance of and recognizes the responsibility we share as legal professionals in advancing the goals of reconciliation. The CHBA encourages its members to explore ways in which we can participate and take up the responsibility of gaining greater awareness of Indigenous history and laws, and become respectful and genuine allies with Indigenous peoples, be in our places of work or more broadly in the regions where we live and play – the opportunities are many and varied.
The TRC report documented Canada’s legacy of attempted cultural genocide and charted a way forward for reconciliation. Furthermore, the Calls to Action report articulates what must be done to begin to address the legacy of Canada’s residential school program, namely, the discriminatory effects faced by Indigenous peoples in all areas of Canadian society such as child welfare, education, health, and throughout the nation’s justice system.
In items 27 and 28 of the Calls toAction, the legal profession is specifically called upon to advance legal change, including addressing the over-incarceration of indigenous people; mobilizing resources in the best interests of indigenous children, as ordered through numerous decisions of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal; responding to the victimization of indigenous women, as noted in the Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women; and reflecting on how the Crown deals with claims of Aboriginal rights, including Aboriginal title.
The CHBA acknowledges that to contribute to, and be ready for, meaningful changes that reflect Indigenous laws and their applicability within the Canadian legal system, members can play a vital role by gaining greater awareness about Indigenous history and laws, and the diverse relationships that can propel that change. Importantly, for instance, the UnitedNations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act received RoyalAssent in Canada’s Senate on June 16, 2021, marking a historic milestone:Canada’s first substantive step towards ensuring federal laws reflect the standards set out in the UNDRIP. There is much more work to be done and we invite our members to consider and act on the words below.
“With determination, wisdom and kindness, The Honourable Sinclair remains steadfast in his belief that the path to actual reconciliation betweenIndigenous and non-Indigenous people requires understanding, and the acceptance of often difficult truths about Canada's past and present. He leaves Canadians with the challenge to choose one Call to Action and do what you can to make it happen.
- Alanis Obomsawin, Honour to Senator MurraySinclair, documentary featured at the Toronto International Film Festival,September 13, 2021.