VICTORIA – Responding to the “calls to action” in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the B.C. government has strongly reaffirmed its commitment to advance the process of reconciliation with Aboriginal people.
“Given our history and the impacts of the federal Indian Residential School system, reconciliation was never going to be an easy journey,” said John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. “But our commitment to reconciliation with Aboriginal people is unwavering and we are making significant progress.”
Directed primarily at the federal government, the Truth and Reconciliation report includes many recommendations that can and are being addressed by the B.C. government. With the guidance of First Nations leaders and Aboriginal people, the Province is contributing to meaningful reconciliation in a broad range of important areas.
“Like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission we feel this is an issue, not just for First Nations, but for all Canadians,” said Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Reconciliation Canada Ambassador. “We are grateful to see the Province of B.C. working on a number of fronts – education, advanced education, health, child welfare and the justice system – to address the ongoing impacts of residential schools.”
In education, B.C. is about to take a major step forward that will respond to one of the primary calls to action. Aboriginal history, culture and perspectives have been integrated into the new K-12 curriculum about to be released to teachers and schools. The integration of the history and ongoing legacy of the residential school system will be further enhanced in the new curriculum – particularly when students study topics such as discrimination, inequality, oppression and the impacts of colonialism.
“With education comes positive change,” said Peter Fassbender, Minister of Education. “Through the revised curriculum, we will be promoting greater understanding, empathy and respect for Aboriginal history and culture among students and their families.”
The Truth and Reconciliation report also calls on governments to improve health services and eliminate employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
The new First Nations Health Authority is the first such entity created in Canada and is working with First Nations, Health Canada, the B.C. Ministry of Health and the provincial health system to implement the BC Tripartite First Nations Health Plan to improve First Nations and Aboriginal health programs and services, as well as fostering a health and wellness approach that reflects the culture of First Nations.
The Province is investing up to $30 million over three years for skills training in First Nations communities participating in LNG opportunities. The Province also commits $8 million annually to community and employer partnerships. Aboriginal persons are a priority for these initiatives. These projects help to ensure Aboriginal people have greater access to jobs, training, and education opportunities and support B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint goal of adding 15,000 Aboriginal people to the workforce within 10 years.
B.C. and First Nations have also achieved well over 300 economic and reconciliation agreements – more than 200 within the past five years. These agreements provide economic and social benefits for First Nations and greater certainty about land use and resources.
These are just some of the many ongoing steps the B.C. government is taking to redress the dark legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools system and seek reconciliation with Aboriginal people. Achieving reconciliation is a priority for government and will provide long-term benefits and opportunities for all British Columbians.
A backgrounder follows.
Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation
B.C. making progress toward reconciliation
“Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future”, is the final report of Truth and Reconciliation Canada’s findings following a six-year mandate to hear more than 6,750 survivor and witness statements after more than a century of abuse at Indian Residential Schools.
Indian Residential Schools operated in Canada between the 1880s and 1990s. The last residential school closed in British Columbia in 1983.
The report resulted in substantive recommendations to all levels of government to advance reconciliation with Aboriginal people. B.C. continues to make progress in key areas such as supports for children in care, education, health, and in working with Aboriginal leaders, government agencies, industry, and local governments to support reconciliation agreements with First Nations.
The Province’s reconciliation efforts are broad and comprehensive, firmly rooted in principles of justice and fairness, and go beyond issues of rights and title.
- First Nations communities have been left out of economic opportunities and consultation for far too long. Through economic and reconciliation agreements, the Province and First Nations are creating the opportunity for lasting resolution of First Nations and Provincial interests.
- The Province and First Nations have achieved more than 300 economic and reconciliation agreements in the last decade, more than 200 in the past five years.
- The provincial K-12 curriculum is being revised. The Ministry of Education has already been working with development teams and other educational partners to ensure the history and legacy of residential schools is even more thoroughly covered in B.C.’s curriculum.
- These partners include the First Nations Schools Association, First Nations Education Steering Committee, the BC Teachers’ Federation and the Aboriginal Education unit of the Ministry of Education.
- Fifty-six of B.C.’s 60 school districts have implemented Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements at the local level as a strategy to positively impact racism and build awareness of the residential school legacy.
- The Ministry of Advanced Education worked with Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Partners, including the First Nations Education Steering Committee, the Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association, and Métis Nation BC, to develop the 2012 Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework and Action Plan. The plan aims to increase the number of credentials awarded to Aboriginal students to more than 4,500 by 2020-21.
- As set out in that plan, and in order to reduce financial barriers for Aboriginal students (status and non-status First Nations, Métis and Inuit), the Ministry of Advanced Education has provided:
- $1 million in one-time funding for financial assistance for Aboriginal students taking masters and doctoral degrees (administered by the Irving K. Barber B.C. Scholarship Society).
- $2 million in one-time funding to establish the Aboriginal Teacher Education Award which provides financial assistance for Aboriginal learners in teacher education programs (administered by the I.K. Barber B.C. Scholarship Society).
- $4.3 million in one-time funding to establish an Aboriginal Emergency Financial Assistance Fund to provide support for students experiencing a short-term financial crisis.
- $12 million funding for the BC Aboriginal Award which provides financial assistance to Aboriginal students for post-secondary education and training.
Children in Care
- In the last 10 years, Ministry of Children and Family Development has more than tripled funding to Delegated Aboriginal Agencies to $96 million per year. These Aboriginal agencies provide child welfare and other child and family-related community services.
- A top priority for the ministry is ensuring Aboriginal children and youth have access to culturally sensitive mental health and substance use supports, as well as access to early intervention and prevention services to help ensure the cycle of intergenerational trauma and abuse does not continue.
- B.C. was the first province to endorse Jordan’s Principle, a child-first principle to resolve jurisdictional disputes between governments regarding payment for services provided to First Nations children.
- The ministry is implementing cultural competency training for employees, caregivers and community social service agencies to ensure the needs of Aboriginal children and youth are thoroughly considered when decisions about their care are made.
- The ministry is funding a new model of Aboriginal early childhood development that focuses on direct services and measurable outcomes for Aboriginal children and their families.
- In April 2015, under the three-year Provincial Domestic Violence Plan, MCFD provided $1 million to Stroh Health Care and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres for the development of preventative community-based programming for perpetrators of domestic violence.
Social and Cultural
- The First Peoples Cultural Council is a one-of-a-kind Crown Corporation responsible to the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation that focuses on the revitalization of Aboriginal language, arts and culture in British Columbia.
- The ministry has established the BC Aboriginal Youth Workers Network, comprised of 140 diverse service providers, leaders and advocates who support work related to youth engagement and youth leadership development.
- The ministry also provides support for the Unified Aboriginal Youth Collective, which has created an opportunity for government and Aboriginal youth leaders to work together on key issues that impact Aboriginal youth.
- The ministry formed the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Women and, in June 2014, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to end violence against Aboriginal women and girls and improve their quality of life.
- With over 75% of the Aboriginal population living off reserve, MARR, along with the Federal Urban Aboriginal Strategy and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities has been working with the BC Association of Friendship Centres, and the Métis Nation, to develop and deliver the Off Reserve Aboriginal Action Plan.
Sports and Reconciliation
- The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, through an annual contribution of $680,000 to the Aboriginal Sport, Recreation and Physical Activity Partners Council, delivers sport programs and services to Aboriginal people in B.C.
- In 2013-14, the Partners Council delivered programs to more than 7,000 Aboriginal people in First Nations, Métis Chartered Communities and urban centres at over 300 events.
- The Ministry of Health provides funding for the Aboriginal Healthy Living Activities program, also delivered by the Partners’ Council.
- The Ministry of Health works closely with provincial and local partners to provide culturally appropriate health care service delivery to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people both on reserve or within their home communities, and away-from-home (including urban populations and people living off-reserve or away from home communities).
- The Ministry of Health, in conjunction with Health Canada and Aboriginal organizations including the First Nations Health Authority, has implemented the Tripartite First Nations Health Plan and the Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nation Health Governance to develop and support programs addressing First Nations and Aboriginal health in British Columbia.
- Regional health authorities, in partnership with the Provincial Health Services Authority, provide assessment and diagnosis services for children with complex developmental behavioural conditions, including children who may have FASD. Since 2006, thousands of children and their families have accessed services provided by 52 contracted agencies.
- The Provincial Health Services Authority provides Indigenous Cultural Competency training to regional health authorities, the Ministry of Health, and the First Nations Health Authority. To date, more than 11,000 employees have completed the training.
- In March 2015, the Province provided over $1 million in civil forfeiture grant funding to support 58 projects that focus Aboriginal anti-violence and prevention initiatives.
- The B.C. government provides more than $660,000 in annual funding for Aboriginal-specific victim service and violence against women programs in B.C.
- The Ministry of Children and Family Development has implemented a number of initiatives, including:
- Cultural awareness training for youth custody and community youth justice staff.
- Specialized Aboriginal programs are available in both youth custody centres in the province (Prince George and Burnaby).
- Alternatives to custody for Aboriginal youth such as a community-based full-time attendance program for Aboriginal girls with substance use issues.
- Restructuring community-based custody alternatives like full-time attendance programs and bail beds to ensure they are addressing the needs of Aboriginal youth and that all programs are trauma-informed and culturally responsive.
- Through the federal Aboriginal Justice Strategy, the Ministry of Children and Family Development partners with Justice Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Justice to support culturally relevant community-based alternatives and/or supports to the formal justice system (e.g., diversion, restorative justice, crime prevention/early intervention, circle sentencing, court liaison).
- Since 1997, mediation has been used as a proven mechanism to work through child protection matters. Today, nearly one-third of the 61 child protection mediators in the program are self-identified as Aboriginal and many others have close connections to Aboriginal communities.
- B.C.’s Limitation Act provides no limitation period for claims of historical sexual abuse.
Missing Children and Burial Information
On March 28, 2014, through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission national event, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation provided British Columbia’s data on the deaths of Aboriginal children between the ages of four and 19 years of age for the period of 1870 – 1984. This was an important step in recognizing the scale of loss and suffering that occurred in the Canadian Indian Residential School system. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations protects burial sites under section 13 of the Heritage Conservation Act.
Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation