Government speeches contradict aspirations of TRC

Julien Gignac
APTN National News
In speeches delivered during key moments throughout its mandate, the Harper government has painted an image of Canadian history the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says has been harmful.

The Prime Minister’s Office portrays Canada as wild, uninhabited and untamed until the “pioneers” arrived.

Gov. Gen. David Johnston was an honourary witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and deemed the occasion ‘historic’ on Wednesday. However, his 2013 Speech from the Throne expressed a different sentiment.

“And as we do now,” he began, “we draw on inspiration from our founders, leaders of courage and audacity. They dared to seize the moment that history offered. Pioneers, then few in number, reached across the vast continent. They forged an independent country where none would have existed otherwise.”

Johnston’s words, however, were not his own. The Speech from the Throne is traditionally written by the Prime Minister’s Office which hands the final draft to the Governor General who delivers it at the beginning of a new Parliamentary sessions.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made a similar remark during a 2014 budget speech.

“The men and women who carved this great country out of the wilderness simply called it ‘good government,’” he said.

The Canadian government’s slate is clean, according to a statement released by Former Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean during the Speech from the Throne in 2008.

“This institution [Parliament of Canada]…represents one of the longest and most unblemished records of peaceful, democratic self-government anywhere on Earth,” she said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2014 Canada Day speech made no mention of Indigenous culture. It was removed from the list, superseded by the Fathers of Confederation, the military and Olympics.

“Dear friends,” he said during his closing remarks, “the greatness of Canada comes from all of this and more, all of this makes us a role model for the rest of the world.”

It is this image of Canadian history that carries a message of “imperialism and colonialism” that needs to stop, said TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson.

During her speech Tuesday, Wilson said Canada’s education has failed to tell the true story of the country’s history by displacing Indigenous peoples’ place in the narrative.

“Think about your European history classes,” said Wilson. “Did the story of Canada begin only shortly before Europeans came up the river this city [Ottawa] is built on?”

Wilson said Canada’s history has for too long been taught through a “Euro-centric” lens.

“We must understand and acknowledge how deep the history of imperialism and colonialism runs in our society today,” she said. “It is not always overt. In fact, it is often so subtle and pervasive that it may escape notice.”

Wilson called upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, “in consultation and collaboration with survivors, aboriginal peoples, and educators to create curricula on residential schools, treaties, and aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for all students.”

A profusion of Indigenous colonies spanned the country and thrived for centuries, however, each strikingly different than the next with sophisticated political systems in place.

Across the border in the U.S., senior politicians have linked the formation of their republic to pre-existing Indigenous governments.

For example, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy said during a speech to the National Congress of American Indians in 1963 that the Iroquois influenced the formation of the U.S. governance structure.

“The men who framed out constitution are said to have drawn inspiration from tribal practices of the Iroquois League,” said Kennedy. “The concept of a union of sovereign states and the principle of government by the consent of the governed.”

Kennedy stated Indigenous Peoples’ flourished in the North America for centuries “before the name ‘America’ was thought of.”

Harper, on the other hand, downplayed the TRC report and its recommendations.

On June 2 during question period in the House of Commons, the day the TRC released its 94 recommendations, Harper evaded the use of the term “cultural genocide,” dismissed the notion to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and call a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Harper, instead, reminded Parliamentarians of his 2008 apology for the devastation caused by the residential school system.

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