Surprised that the TRC’s Calls to Action Aren’t Being implemented?

The Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous think tank at Toronto Metropolitan University, has given up on monitoring the implementation of the 94 recommendations — Calls to Action — in the Truth […]
Published on January 17, 2024

The Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous think tank at Toronto Metropolitan University, has given up on monitoring the implementation of the 94 recommendations — Calls to Action — in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. These recommendations are what the TRC thinks are needed to bring about reconciliation between Indigenous people and other Canadians. After five years, the Institute realized that continuing to check on the implementation of these recommendations is pointless.

Nobody should be surprised. The majority of the 94 recommendations are so ill-defined and loosely put together that it is impossible to determine if they have, or have not, been implemented.

Let’s examine a couple of them.

Call to Action 1 states:

“We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care….”

It is easy to see problems with this recommendation.

First and most important, Canadians probably think that all children, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who need care should receive it irrespective of the number of children already in care. The primary obligation of the child welfare system must be to protect vulnerable children.

Second, the word “commit” is unclear. This word could mean that the government is planning to do something or is already doing it. “Doing something” is probably what the Commission meant to say. The Yellowhead Institute finally realized that the government was not doing what it said it was going to do, so the Institute stopped checking on the implementation of the recommendations.

Digging deeper reveals a third ambiguity. The Aboriginal population is growing surprisingly fast, and this Call to Action must report percentages because the changing population needs to be included in the calculation. Thus, the Commission should have written “reducing the percentage of Aboriginal children in care” and not “reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care.”

Let us move onto another Call.

Call to Action 61 says:

“We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for:

  1. Community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects.
  2. Community-controlled culture- and language-revitalization projects.
  • Community-controlled education and relationship-building projects.
  1. Regional dialogue for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self-determination, and reconciliation.”

This Call asks churches that were involved in the Settlement Agreement — namely, the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Mennonite, and Baptist churches — to permanently fund Indigenous educational and cultural programs that the churches will have no direct control over. In other words, these churches are being asked to dedicate scarce resources to Indigenous organizations without any accountability to ensure that the money helps achieve acceptable goals that will help achieve reconciliation.

Churches depend on voluntary support from parishioners, and they could hardly agree to fund ill-defined projects with no cost estimations that could, very easily, outstrip their ability to pay. Also, the churches would need assurance that acceptable goals are being met.

Surely the Commission and the federal government would not expect churches, or any other Canadian organization, to permanently fund such projects even if they think that reconciliation depends on it.

There is, however, an even more fundamental problem that underlies this recommendation and many others. The Commission expects various sectors of Canadian society — municipal governments, provinces/territories, schools, colleges, universities, professional associations, and indeed taxpayers — to support Indigenous people without any reciprocal responsibilities from them.

Not one Call to Action asks Indigenous people to invest any of their resources in reconciliation. All they need to do is to accept largess from other Canadians.

Thus, these Calls to Action are paternalistic, not expecting agency or responsibility from Indigenous people, even though, for years, they have been claiming that they do not appreciate being treated in paternalistic ways.

Fulfilling the Calls to Action in the TRC Report will, undoubtedly, further embed paternalism in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. The federal government, the Commission, and Indigenous people themselves have accepted this grand paternalistic scheme as a necessary step in reaching reconciliation.

Surprisingly, the peace treaties, especially the 11 numbered treaties signed between 1871 and 1921, are not nealy as paternalistic as the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action. The respect shown to Indigenous people in these treaties needed to be reflected in the TRC Report. If the federal government were serious about reaching an honourable and fair reconciliation, it would have sent the document, especially the Calls to Action, back to the Commission for redrafting prior to publishing the TRC Report in 2015.

Without a doubt, Canadians ought to have much higher expectations for the federal government, who is responsible for all Canadians, than what they have seen in the way it is dealing with the TRC Report and the recent claims that a substantial number of students were murdered and their bodies were buried uncermoniously in residential schoolyards.

The churches, other Canadian institutions, opposition parties, and indeed all Canadian must force the government to pull the plug on this ill-conceived and poorly managed paternalistic scheme. Nothing good is likely to come from trying to obtain reconciliation by continuing down this path. A non-paternalistic path is needed — a path that is based on truth, reciprocity, trust, respect, and gratitude between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.


Rodney A. Clifton is a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He lived for four months in Old Sun, the Anglican Residential School on the Blackfoot (Siksika) First Nation, and was the Senior Boys’ Supervisor in Stringer Hall, the Anglican residence in Inuvik. Rodney Clifton and Mark DeWolf are the editors of From Truth Comes Reconciliation: An Assessment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (Frontier Centre for Public Policy, 2021). A second and expanded edition of this book will be published in early 2024.

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