WINNIPEG – OPINION – All students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, need to learn that the history of this country did not begin in 1492, or even with the arrival of Vikings much earlier. They need to learn about the Aboriginal nations that the Europeans met, about their rich linguistic and cultural heritage, about what they felt and thought as they dealt with such historic figures as Champlain, LaVerendrye and the representatives of the Hudson’s Bay Company. They need to learn why they negotiated treaties and that they negotiated them with purpose and integrity and in good faith. They need to learn why Aboriginal leaders and elders fight so hard to defend those poorly worded treaties and what they represent to them and why they have been ignored by Euro-Canadian settlers and governments.
They need to learn about what it means to have inherent rights, what those are for Aboriginal people, and the settler government’s obligations, in those areas where treaties have never been negotiated in the first place. They need to learn of the many issues that are ongoing and why.
They need to learn that the doctrine of discovery – the politically and socially accepted basis for European claims to the land and riches of this country – has never been accepted in Canadian courts and has been repudiated around the world, recently by the United Nations and the World Council of Churches.
But this is not enough. As I said before, mainstream Canadians see the dysfunction of Aboriginal communities but they have no idea how that happened, what caused it, or how government contributed to that reality through residential schools and the policies and laws in place during their existence. Our education system, through omission or commission, has failed to do that and misunderstanding, ignorance, and racism has resulted, on the one hand, and shame, humiliation, a lack of self-respect and anger has occurred, on the other.
The educational systems of this country bear a large share of the responsibility for the current state of affairs. But it can fix what it has broken.
What our education systems need to do is this: it must commit to teach Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children – our children – how to speak respectfully to and about each other in the future. It begins with teaching them the truth about our history. Knowing what happened will lead to understanding. Understanding leads to respect.
Reconciliation is about respect. The relationship must be founded on mutual respect, but we must not lose sight of the threshold importance of ensuring that firstly, Aboriginal children are given an opportunity to develop their self-respect. That must come first.
Senator Murray Sinclair