A message from the president about truth and reconciliation
August 17, 2015
In June of this year, Justice Murray Sinclair released the final report of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Please review and reflect upon this report, and think about how NorQuest College can make a difference.
As stated by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada:
“Collective efforts from all peoples are necessary to revitalize the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and Canadian society – reconciliation is the goal. It is a goal that will take the commitment of multiple generations but when it is achieved, when we have reconciliation – it will make for a better, stronger Canada.”
To provide some factual background, “For over a century, beginning in the mid-1800s and continuing into the mid-1990s, Aboriginal children in Canada were taken from their homes and communities and placed in institutions called residential schools. These schools were run by religious orders in collaboration with the federal government and were attended by children as young as four or five years of age. Separated from their families and prohibited from speaking their native languages and practicing their culture, the vast majority of the over 150,000 children that attended these schools experienced neglect and suffering. The impacts of sexual, mental, and physical abuse, shame, and deprivation endured at Indian Residential Schools continue to affect generations of Survivors, their families, and communities today.” (Legacy of Hope Foundation, 100 Years of Loss, 2015).
It is now known that well over 4,000 children died while in the care of these residential schools (National Post, 2014). Additionally, in the 1960s to 1980s, another assault on Aboriginal children, families, and culture saw 11,000-20,000 children taken away from their families and placed in non-Aboriginal foster homes and care institutions “for their protection.” This atrocity, now referred to as the Sixties Scoop, was later exposed to be another racist and paternalistic intrusion (CBC News, 2015). Remarkably, in the face of these tremendous adversities, many survivors and their descendants have retained their language and their culture, and continue to work toward healing and reconciliation.
The recommendations the report makes are actually Calls to Action because while the federal government created the commission, the changes the commission recommended require action from a range of different societal actors, one of which includes post-secondary institutions.
Thanks to the commitment and passion of employees at NorQuest College, we are already starting to work on these recommendations. These recommendations include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Call to Action 11 asks that the federal government to increase the amount of funding in support of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education. Call to Action 16 asks that colleges and universities create more degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.
- Call to Action 62 (ii) asks governments to provide necessary funding to post-secondary education institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous Traditional Knowledge into classroom teaching methods.
- Calls to Action 24, 27, and 28 asks all of Canada’s medical and nursing faculties, law schools, and lawyers to introduce mandatory courses on Aboriginal health and law.
- For example, if you are going to be a lawyer in this country, you should know about the Treaties and Aboriginal-Crown relations. If you are going to be a nurse, you should know about specific health risks to Aboriginal Peoples, including those related to the social determinants of health still so prevalent in most Aboriginal communities such as chronic poverty, poor housing, and lack of access to basic services such as clean water.
- It is also critical that professionals such as these understand something about Indigenous Traditional Knowledge and perspectives on such critical fields as health, law, and lifelong learning, as well as having a basic familiarity with some of the important innovations and creative responses that Aboriginal communities have already made to the very difficult circumstances and conditions they face.
Although we cannot control how other institutions respond to these (and other calls to action), through our own will, passion, and ingenuity, we can control how NorQuest College will respond and the role that we will play.
NorQuest College’s response
NorQuest recognizes that post-secondary institutions must assume a leadership role in addressing the recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in regard to education. We are deeply committed to working towards implementting the recommendations of the commission and ensuring that the NorQuest community becomes active participants in the reconciliation process.
About a year ago, NorQuest College began a process of reviewing and transforming our programs, services, capacity, and the culture of our organization, with an explicit goal of much more effectively serving Aboriginal students and communities. To succeed in this long-term effort, we are reaching out to ask for the assistance and guidance of Aboriginal leaders and communities, and working with elders and a broad cross-section of our staff and departments to bring about the growth and development we require, and to sustain what is created.
Just recently, Premier Notley, apologized for Alberta’s failure to take action against the residential school system, called for a public inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women, and in a mandate letter to Cabinet Ministers, outlined expectations for a renewed and improved relationship with indigenous peoples.
The time for action is now and we are proud to be a part of it:
NorQuest College is on the traditional lands referred to as Treaty 6 Territory and the City of Edmonton and region, and all the people here are beneficiaries of this peace and friendship treaty. We understand that Aboriginal Peoples are the first founding peoples of our country. Our commitment to making Indigenous people and Indigenous thinking an integral part of our identity and our reality at NorQuest College is entrenched in our honour and respect of those roots.
Dr. Jodi L. Abbott, ICD.D
President & CEO