The leadership of all three of our denominations have written to the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, concerning Bill C-33, First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act. Both letters indicate that this Act acknowledges the need to improve the education situation for First Nations and recognizes that it has been underfunded. They include a plea for the Government of Canada to immediately provide additional funding for Indigenous education. There is a recognition that the issues surrounding education for First Nations are complex and that trust needs to be built.
The letter written by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, and National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada also refers to the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The history of Indian Residential Schools, along with insights from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), highlight how easily one culture can fail to respect another with devastating consequences. In order to build trust with Indigenous peoples, a new process for justice and equity in Indigenous education is needed. This will require patient dialogue and resolute action that respect the diversity and unique needs of Indigenous communities and learners. As the TRC concludes its mandate, we move into an important era of continued healing, new understanding and the reversal of historic wrongs. Education was at the heart of these errors; education will be an essential element of healing and reconciliation, and the forging of better relations with the First Peoples of this great land.
In her letter, Nora Sanders, General Secretary of the General Council of the United Church of Canada, writes that “addressing long outstanding challenges in Indigenous education presents a major opportunity for our country to take a significant step of justice and healing on its journey towards reconciliation. … Resolving the issues will take a concerted and good faith effort by all parties. Yet to do otherwise would constitute the continuation of an unjust and intolerable situation that is widely recognized in Canada and beyond, including in the recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur.” There is a need to “work courageously to rebuild trust in our relationships and to develop a new pathway forward characterized by respect, justice and equity.”