'Up to society' to make reconciliation reality: Senator Murray Sinclair

While Canadian society is beginning to move towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, the federal government still has a long way to go. That's according to Senator Murray Sinclair, the former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

For six years, the Commission documented the experiences of survivors of Canada's residential schools, the last of which closed in 1996 and where tens of thousands Indigenous children suffered physical and sexual abuse — and an estimated 6,000 died from starvation and disease.

The commission released its final report in 2015, which included 94 calls to action.

"We did not deliver the [TRC's final report] to government. We recognized that government was going to be slow to respond … but we're not writing it for them, we are writing it for the rest of society," Sinclair said.  

"It's up to society to step up and take the actions that are needed."

'Actions speak louder than words'

Sinclair said he sees movement towards reconciliation in certain parts of the country, including in legal societies, hospitals and post-secondary schools offering education like cross-cultural competency training.

He also said he's seen mixed results from cities and towns that have declared "years of reconciliation" — including Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.

"Actions speak louder than words," Sinclair said. 

"The reality is that we're really looking for action that shows leadership, that causes people to sit up and take notice and recognize that there is an important process underway here that they have to be part of."

While the Liberal government has promised to implement all 94 calls to action, Sinclair said it "hasn't moved as far and as quickly as they might have been able to."

​Where are we now?

Since assuming office in 2015, the Liberals have called a long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and adopted a UN declaration on Indigenous rights — both of which are included in the calls to action.

Sinclair was speaking ahead of an event set to take place in Toronto on Monday evening called Truth and Reconciliation: Where are we now? where the Senator will provide a progress report on the calls to action.

Former National Chief Phil Fontaine, a residential school survivor who launched the multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuit that lead to the TRC's creation, and former Native Women's Association of Canada head Dawn Lavell-Harvard are also speaking at the event, which is organized by non-profit think-tank Mosaic.